How to Network in the Music Industry
Networking in the music industry is quite simple, but I see people butcher this process time and time again. There are two ways you can go about networking. The first way is by building genuine friendships with people, and the second way is more business oriented and focuses on mutually beneficial business relationships.
Creating a social network for yourself fulfills specific needs while building a business network for yourself meets different needs altogether. These two networks may cross over from time to time, but I believe it’s generally best to keep them separated. Socializing often requires compromise, compassion, and caring, while solid business decisions are usually fact-based, calculated, and in some cases vicious.
Within this article, I make a clear distinction between these two types of networks and detail why they’re both important in their own way. The main mistake I see people make while networking is that they get their wires crossed. They either try to create business deals from within their social circle, or they work to develop friendships within their business network.
While in some cases these crossover deals/friendships can be successful, there’s a lot of risks involved which I believe far outweigh the reward. The last thing you want to do while networking in any domain is burn bridges, and that’s precisely what mixing your social network with your business network can result in.
The majority of my friends are music producers or people who work in the music industry. I actively put myself into situations where I’ll meet others with similar interests as myself, and whatever happens, happens. People need companionship, and they bond over similar interests. You should be friends with people because you like them and enjoy their company; not because they can help you advance your career.
Creating a social network is essential, and if your primary focus is music, it makes sense to have friends that enjoy the same thing. When you have a genuine relationship with someone, you know it, and they know it too. I would consider these authentic relationships like a foundation. Your friends will act as a support group that you can fall back on when the going gets tough.
These aren’t the type of people you should be striking business deals with and trying to “use” to better yourself. This devalues your relationship with them, and every time you ask them to “put in a word with so and so,” or “send my demo to so and so,” the sincerity of the relationship takes a hit.
I’m not saying that you can’t help your friends out, or ask them for favors. Just be careful about mixing business with pleasure. These people are there for emotional support when your new album flops, and they’re also there to pat you on the back when you when you see success. Treat them with respect and dignity, and 20 years down the road you might have a lasting friendship with some of these people.
While social networking is absolutely essential, I would consider it slightly detached from the type of “networking” that people commonly refer to. When someone says “I need to network more,” it’s often a placeholder for “I need to create more business opportunities for myself.”
Social connections can sometimes lead to business connections by chance, but this isn’t the type of thing you should bank on. I just recently found out that my fiancee happens to work with someone who’s son just got signed to RCA records. They offered to put me in contact with their son, which is a very kind gesture, but I’m not marrying my fiancee based on her second-hand connections to the music industry. See my point?
Make Business Deals
This is the juicy section where I tell you how to network in a way that will help you advance your career. If you’ve been trying to form social relationships with people to ask favors of them, you’ve been barking up the wrong tree. Regardless of the poor morals surrounding this, it’s a complete waste of time.
If you want something from someone, you just have to ask; there’s no need to infiltrate their social life, get close to them, and then ask them to premiere your new single on their record label. It’s entirely acceptable to contact someone either face-to-face, over the phone, or via email, and make a business proposition. The issue with networking in this way is that not everyone can do it. You need something of tangible value to offer if you want to make business deals, and not everyone has that.
If you have nothing of value to offer, you’re not doing business; you’re begging. You might get lucky and have someone toss you a bone here or there, but that will only get you so far. By building up your value, either through acquiring new skills, creating a product or via other means, you increase the number of people that you can strike fair, mutually beneficial deals with.
Assuming you have something of value to bargain with, it’s often quite easy to make business deals. You can generally send off an email introducing yourself, stating your proposition, and clearly describing how you can provide value to the person you’re contacting. More often than not, if it’s a win-win for both you and the person you’ve contacted, the deal will go through and you’ll both benefit. People are the keenest to enter into low risk/high reward business agreements with you, so when you’re creating your business pitch, this is something to keep in mind.
Instead of focusing on what other people can do for you, focus on what you can do for them. Target people who have something that you would like, and then figure out how you can provide them with something of value in return. Ask yourself, “Will the person I’m offering my goods/services to find them valuable?” If they will, perfect, you just struck gold. If not, you need to reassess the situation and offer them something that they want or need.
People often talk about making “meaningful” connections. I have meaningful connections with my friends, but why on earth should I care if my business connections are meaningful? What does that even mean? Running a business is about making a profit, and if your business isn’t doing that, you’re not running a very good business. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m in a mutually-beneficial business agreement with someone, that’s the most “meaningful” business connection I could have. I’m making money, they’re making money, and we’re more than likely to do business together again in the future.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be kind to your business contacts, or that you shouldn’t treat them like human beings. Of course, you should because nobody’s got time for ass holes, but you don’t need to ask your business connections about their extended family. Just be pleasant, approachable, and dish out value to these connections in excess.
How you approach someone will determine the type of relationship you form with them. Bonding over similar interests is a sure way to establish a friendship with someone while offering them a deal right out of the gate will most definitely imply that you’d like to form a business relationship. People appreciate when your intentions are clear, whether that means establishing a friendship or striking a business deal.
Networking in a Small City
I have a unique perspective on networking because I grew up in Winnipeg, MB which is a relatively small city on the prairies of Canada. There weren’t many face-to-face connections to be made when I started my journey into the music industry because the artists around me at the time were extremely few, and just as lost as I was.
The effect this had is that these artists and I clung together for dear life, and formed a reliable social network. It was a good environment in which to grow as an artist because meeting up was relatively easy, and everyone in the scene knew each other or knew of one another. Unfortunately, due to the population of the city, the music scene was unusually small, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities to connect with people working in the music industry at a professional level.
Networking online is your best bet if you live in a small city. It’s slightly more challenging to form genuine relationships online than in person, but if you keep in contact enough, it can definitely happen. The best thing about the internet is that you can reach out directly to any industry professional that you can think of. Their contact information is usually readily available through their website.
Networking in a Big City
Fast forward 6 years and I’m in the process of moving to Los Angeles. Everyone and their dog is a music producer here, and half the Uber drivers I get into a car with are telling me to check out their Soundcloud page. There’s an abundance of people involved with music, and at times it can make you feel like you’re a tiny fish swimming in a giant ocean.
Living in a large city gives you perspective. Whether you’re from a tiny town in Ohio or a music capital like New York, there are thousands upon thousands of other people out there grinding away at this music thing. Living in a small city doesn’t change this fact, you just don’t realize it until you move somewhere else. Coming to this realization can be overwhelming, but instead of viewing these people as competition, you should consider them as potential connections.
Take advantage of the number of people around you who are interested in music, build new friendships and create mutually beneficial business deals with other industry professionals. Living in a big city allows you to attend more events, meet with more prominent names in the industry, and connect with people face-to-face. Networking in a big city definitely has its perks, but there tend to be a lot more distractions. When there are amazing artists playing shows every night of the week, it can be hard to lock yourself up at home at and put your nose to the grindstone.
"Going Out” to Network
I want to make it very clear that meeting someone does not equate to networking unless you form a stable connection with them. I’ve met hundreds of people in my life, but I would hardly consider the majority of them a part of my social, or business network.
I can almost guarantee that you have that one friend who always says something along the lines of, “I met [insert big artist here] last night, and was chilling backstage with them." Unless your friend has created a meaningful personal relationship with this artist, or they have something of value to offer them, they’re walking away from this interaction with nothing more than a cool story to tell you and your friends.
Getting a phone number or contact email is excellent, but you can usually find that information online. My business number and contact email are posted all over the Black Ghost Audio website, and many other music industry professionals are quite easy to get a hold of; especially those who do client work. “Going out” isn’t essential if your goal is to get in touch with industry professionals.
I think that attending certain events that are industry-focused like NAMM, AES, and others, are a great way to meet people that you can create healthy business relationships with. However, these events aren’t going on every Friday and Saturday night, so your friend who’s going out “networking” to the club every weekend is more likely an alcoholic than a business entrepreneur.
Judging the Quality of a Business Connection
It’s easy to talk the talk, but much harder to walk the walk. You’ll run into a lot of people who talk themselves up far beyond what they’re capable of. This can get people interested in them at first, but when they’re incapable of producing results, the facade quickly fades. They provide little to no value in a business relationship and should be spotted immediately.
To identify people who are going to waste your time, it’s best to look past what they say about themselves and focus on the quality of the results they produce. A portfolio of work, past achievements, and statistical results are all good indicators of someone’s ability. Pitching this type of information to a potential business contact isn’t snobby, it’s precisely the type of information they’re looking for if they’re trying to build business relationships. Remember, good business partnerships are built on data, tangible results, and proven track records.
To summarize, there are two forms of connections you can make; social connections and business connections. Each kind of relationship has its own perks, and the way you go about creating and nurturing each type of relationship is entirely different. It’s important to avoid getting your wires crossed and allow these different types of networks to bleed together too heavily. While in some cases this crossover can result in a new friendship or business connection, the risk involved is often much higher than the reward.
There are benefits to networking in a large city, but this also comes with some distractions that can draw you away from your work. You can create a reliable social network, and business network regardless of where you live thanks to the internet.
Make quality business connections by looking at the results people produce and take what they say with a grain of salt. It’s natural to talk yourself up slightly bigger than you are when trying to impress someone new, but this can be very dangerous if you take everyone’s word at face value.