In the music industry it's all about “who you know” and “who knows you.” If you find yourself counting your industry contacts on two hands, it's time to roll up the sleeves, get out of the house, and meet some quality people who you can count on. This won't require employing the newest social-networking tips from the latest guru—it will come down to old-school personal communication.
In the six years I spent producing networking events in the music industry, following this principle of genuine connection, kindness, and thoughtfulness has brought me together with some of the finest people I know. In my work I communicated regularly with both students and executives, and we all found success when taking genuine interest in a person and his or her goals. Of course, I witnessed the worst traits, as well—for example, the student who convinced me to check out his band on MySpace (strike 1) because he was so much better than the band I had selected to perform at my event (strike 2). The statements, while bold, came across as pushy and rude, and needless to say, didn't fly with me.
But rather than talk don'ts, let's think opportunity. Whether initiated through an exchange of business cards at a music conference, or inspired by a random conversation about music in line at a coffee shop, your network can grow at every turn. You'll always have a common love of great music and drive toward financial and creative success. The rest is just details, as far as how we can help each other get there. Here are my top tools for old-school networking today at industry events:
Start With Get-To-Know-You Conversation
At my first music conference (West Coast Songwriters), I didn't know who were experts vs. attendees, and just decided to meet people, period. I introduced myself to someone and broke the ice by talking about just that—ice (hockey). A month later, I was singing harmonies onstage with him, and we remain friends today. I met my lawyer in a similar way, by striking up simple, light conversation. In this case, he was alone at an event, and I just asked him what he hoped to get out of the evening. He said he was looking to help independent artists with better agreements. A month later I needed the exact kind of help he had described, and we've been happily working together for the past four years as both colleagues and friends.
Look People in the Eye, and Remember their Names
Simple, but true. There is nothing squirmier than talking to someone and having the person look over your shoulder the entire time. Don't be that guy. Stay engaged with the person, even if only for two minutes. To add to this sincerity, when you meet people, have a system for remembering his or her name (whether via voice recording, scratched notes, or e-notes) Avoid being remembered as the person who can't remember someone.
Take Time To Look Dapper or However You Want To Be Perceived
If you are an artist, dress like an artist. If you are an attorney trying to meet indie bands, don't wear a suit, but don't try to look homeless just to fit in. When I was starting out in the industry, I was told I looked really young. I therefore made a point of always dressing up—business professional—so that my age wouldn't be a deterrent from my authority.
Use a Pen Every Once in a While Instead of a Text
Everyone has the capacity to write a quick thank-you email from an iPhone or a Facebook friend request to the conference speaker. But why not send a handwritten note after your next meeting—or as an introduction to someone you respect? You'll stand out. One way to start is sending holiday cards. It's not old-fashioned, it's classy.
Hold Your Card—Save CDs for Snail Mail
CDs and download cards may be your marketing piece, but when you meet someone, have a real conversation. Talk about life. Hold your cards and save the distribution for the mail. If you sense interest, follow up via email with the offer to send the CD (or top song) that person''s way. Even better, follow up by sharing interesting points or resources you might have mentioned. Even if it was just a link to the best Tenacious D video online, send the link with your follow-up note.
Don't Be Afraid To Be Funny and Honest
Recently, I had a meeting with someone who is very high up in the industry. An old-school pro, he initiated a conversation about my life experiences and passions, and we talked about sports. When he asked if I was “one of the guys,” I responded, “Yes, and just like in the locker room, band rooms are the same . . . as a woman outnumbered by guys, you'd better be ready to handle dirty jokes, or you''re out of luck.” I am paraphrasing it, but the point is, I took a risk and said something somewhat inappropriate in front of one of the most influential industry-makers. Point taken: My contact knows I have a personality and can hang with the tough guys. Obviously, use common sense and evaluate each situation individually.
Word to the wise: In get-to-know-you and business communications, be the best version of yourself. You'll attract people like you. If you act fake, you'll attract fake people. If you are enthusiastic, you may build a buzz around you. Your connections may not happen overnight, but you will build a lifelong network of meaningful relationships.