Kick Open the Door to Opportunity

The music industry is a business based on relationships. You may have noticed that music industry jobs—even when advertised—tend to go to someone through an “inside” connection. That’s what makes this field more difficult to enter than others. But there is a way to overcome that. And it’s called networking.

We all know the old saying, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Well, there is some truth in it, but there actually is a bit more to it than that. Really, it’s who knows you. And to take it one step further, it’s how you make them feel.

Your success in the music industry not only depends on your talent, it depends on your ability to make an impression on those you come in contact with. Before someone is willing to listen to your music or hear about your job qualifications you need to be able to raise their interest level towards you. How do you do this?

Be interested in them.

“What about me?” you may ask. Don’t worry; we’re getting there…

People love talking about themselves. It makes them feel good. When you can make someone feel good, they’ll be more interested in learning about you. So while you are networking, instead of starting up a conversation about you, find out more about them. Compliment them or ask them what they do. Let them talk. Just listen. And be interested. Then listen some more. Eventually you’ll get your turn, but this way you’ll have opened them up a little so that they’ll be more receptive when asking about you. In the process, you never know what you may learn, or what things you might have in common, or even who you might have in common. The music industry can be a small world sometimes.

“Getting people to like you is simply the other side of liking other people.” —Norman Vincent Peale

After your initial meeting with someone, the next step is to find a way to keep in communication with him or her. Not only do you want to provide them with your business card when networking, but you need to get theirs as well. This provides you with an opportunity to communicate with them again and again. By the way, if you don’t have a business card, then you need to get them. I found a place on the web that offers 250 FREE color business cards! An $85 value! It’s worth checking out.

If you have a website, make sure it’s prominently featured on your business card and invite them to visit it. As for giving out CDs and press kits there are various opinions on the subject. For me, I wouldn’t immediately hand them to a person I just met. I would wait until I contacted them again and ask if I could send it. By doing this, it would qualify the prospects and save on sending out costly CDs and promo to those who wouldn’t look or listen to it anyway. Not every contact will lead to something, so you have to make a determination which ones to nurture and which ones to leave alone. When you’ve learned more about them, what exactly they do and whom they are connected to and how influential they are, you’ll be better prepared to make this decision. So keep up your interest in them and really listen. (Note: resources for getting CDs and promo made are listed at the bottom of this article)

For really hot prospects you should go the extra mile by sending “nice to meet you” cards, “thank you” cards, or even cool useful promotional gifts like a CD opener with your name imprinted on it. I got one of these from a CD duplication company over 6 years ago and still have it. The more useful it is, the more it will be seen, keeping your name in front of them.

When my partner and I were promoting our composing company, CinemaTrax, we got these really cool calculators made with our company name and phone number on it. The calculator was shaped like a film clapboard and opened up into a calculator. People loved these. And used them! It was a great marketing tool for our company and a nice usable gift for them. You don’t even have to spend a lot of money on these things. Just make sure they go to the right people. One company on the web that imprints promotional items is ThrowThings.com. They have thousands of items including CD openers, key chains, and music note lollipops.

No matter who you meet, whether they are a hot prospect or not, be polite, kind, and a good listener. It will go a long way towards building friendly relations and will help you to make a good impression. Even when you are rejected or find that someone can’t help you, always remember to keep your cool. There’s nothing worse than being on the receiving end of an emotional outburst. How likely would they be to help you in the future? Not very. Keep in mind that these individuals may know of someone else who can help you. Just ask.

For the most part it is human nature to want to help other people and not hurt their feelings. If a person has just rejected you or told you they can’t help, they’ll probably feel bad, and to make themselves feel better, would probably be more than willing to redirect you to someone who can. But this would happen only if you’ve been nice to them.

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” —Carl W. Buechner

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Improving Your Likeability

Beyond being nice and polite find out what your networking prospect needs. This again requires listening. If you don’t have what your prospect need, be honest with yourself. Instead, recommend someone who does have what they need. Because not delivering what’s promised is the fastest route to a bad reputation. You may not get this particular job, but you’ll have established a stronger connection with them that you can continue building on. This is an important part of the networking process.

Of course, if there’s anything you can do to help them out, take the opportunity and don’t let them down. Sometimes it’s a simple as sending them some news you’ve come across that they might be interested in. Or it could be to help them set up for an event or something. Most everyone has some kind of problem they are trying to solve. Find out what theirs is and just help ‘em out!

An example of this is a fresh graduate from Berklee School of Music named Greg. Greg came to LA and signed up to volunteer with the networking organization I co-founded, The Film Music Network. He was great—very organized, efficient, polite, and eager to do whatever he could to help. A few months later I hired him to come work as an assistant for the magazine company I had at the time. This was mutually beneficial as he helped us out tremendously, and at the same time, he used the opportunity to network with all kinds of people in the music business. After Greg left, he went and worked as an orchestrator for an A-list film composer. Nowadays he’s working on big budget films doing what he loves most. It actually only took him a couple of years to make it big!

Another example is a young man who had just moved to LA named Brian. Brian learned about me and my partner’s company and started corresponding with us through email. Again, Brian was very polite. He had asked us if there was anything we needed help with, and at the time, we did need someone to work a few hours a week helping us to get better organized. He worked out really well for us and later when a composer friend asked if we knew anyone to help him, we recommended Brian. It was the least we could do. At first, Brian worked as the assistant to this composer (an ASCAP most performed music award-winner). But the composer got so busy that Brian is now composing scores for some of the most popular animated television series on TV and is very, very busy.

Just about everyone in the music business has networking stories like these. Well now it’s YOUR turn to open opportunity’s door. Even if you’ve been in the music business awhile it’s important to keep networking so that you’ll continue to meet new people and build your network of music business associates.

Where to Network

Ideally, you would network anywhere you go—standing in line at the post office, riding on an elevator, waiting for clothes at the laundry mat, etc. Obviously this isn’t for everyone as it takes a high level of confront to approach strangers on a regular basis. But you’d be surprised how many people you meet who have family or friends in the music business even if they themselves are not. If you do go this route, make sure that you are armed with promotional materials at all times. Things like business cards, CDs, and postcards. If it has your photo on it, all the better. It will help them to remember you. Just make sure that when you present yourself that you are enthusiastic. And come up with something catchy to really create an impact and be memorable. Instead of the typical phrase “I’m a (fill in the blank),” say something like “I’m a Jerry Maguire for music acts.” Or, “I write ethnic-trance music and just got a song placed in the new John Travolta film.

For more practical networking you’ll need to get yourself to as many music industry events as possible. Start with your local organizations to find out what’s happening in your area, and then sign up with music industry news services like mi2n and Music Dish to get the lowdown on upcoming events. When you are at the event, don’t be shy. Just start talking to people. You’ll find that pretty much everyone there is trying to expand his or her network as well. You don’t have to limit yourself just to potential employers or dealmakers, because even if they are there for the same reason as you, you might be able to establish new friendships.

The event hosts are always good people to meet because they usually know a lot of people. To really get on their good side, offer to volunteer at future events they may have. This is greatly appreciated and may come back to you down the road. Guest speakers are usually the ones everyone wants to talk to. Definitely try to meet them. If you know who they are and see them before the event begins, this is generally a good time to approach them as they aren’t completely crowded yet. Also, take notice of who they came with because this will usually be a friend who is also in the music business.

If going to events isn’t really practical, there are other options, however face to face networking is the best way to get to know someone. Beyond their words, you’ll be able to tell if they are sincere or not. And they’ll be judging you to determine whether or not they want to be connected to you. Trust me on this. I’ve had experience where a person seemed normal by email but when I met them they were just out to lunch (or more likely on drugs). This was not someone I’d do business with. That’s why it’s always important to be professional, even when out on a social networking occasion.

Forums are another means of meeting people and can be really useful. You’ll get information fast and will discover people who share common interests with you. The best part is that everyone there is approachable. Even with email and forums be polite. Pissing the wrong person off can lead to trouble. Just use common sense.

One of your best resources for networking is your friends and family. If you really start talking to them and asking who they know, you might be surprised to find that someone will know someone who can help you. Just before I moved to LA, one of my friends very nonchalantly mentioned that she had a cousin living in LA and that she was pretty sure he was working as a musician. So she gave me his number. The amazing thing was that he was a GREAT musician working on the exact kind of projects I wanted to break into. He was really nice and invited me to his recording sessions at all the huge scoring stages in LA. While there, I just soaked it all up; meeting lots more musicians along the way. He also introduced me to composers, music editors and scoring engineers, and since I visited every week or so, they all became very familiar with me. It was quite exciting!

If you’ve already grilled your relatives for information, try to find some more relatives. There’s a great service called MyFamilyFinder at Ancestry.com. It lets you check census records, historical newspapers, military records, etc. and is one of the coolest places on the web. This may help you to expand your own network. Since family ties are the strongest (in most cases) this would be one of the first places I would look for new contacts.

One more option is to let your fingers do the walking. Yes, I mean pick up the phone and do some cold calling. Unfortunately this is the most time consuming and probably the least successful method, however it can be done as long as you have patience, don’t give up and really follow through with the contacts you’ve established. For this method you’ll need a directory. AandRonline sells the music business registry directories that are updated frequently. As of this writing there are directories for A&R, Publishing, Film & TV, Producers & Engineers and Music Attorneys . One of these should work for you. But if you need something covering booking agents and places to play then I’d recommend the Galaris Musicians Directory.

When calling, just make sure you verify the prospect is still there or is working in the published capacity. The music industry is known for continual personnel changes and you wouldn’t want to waste your time tracking down the wrong person.

With all your new contacts you make, take notes after meeting them to help you remember where, when, and how you met them. Keeping notes of their interests and a brief description of what they look like is also helpful.

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” -Milton Berle

Keeping in Touch

Once you’ve made some good contacts, your next step is to find a way to get back in communication with them again and again. You’ve already spent a lot of energy seeking them out and making the connection. Don’t waste this effort. And don’t expect them to contact you. There are numerous ways to do this, but you’ll have to determine which is best for you.

Email – If you got their email address, simply send them a note every once in awhile. These are best when the contact is targeted as a luke-warm prospect.

Telephone calls – When someone you meet discusses a referral or potential project give him or her a call to get more information. Hot prospects fall into this category.

Newsletters – These are great to send out to everyone in your email or mailing list. Just make sure you provide a method for unsubscribing when sending out email newsletters. Include information about projects you’ve just completed or upcoming concerts/music licensing deals you’ve signed, etc. Using photos also enhances the impact. Newsletters help build your credibility over time. Prior to the Internet I used to send out postcards announcing completed projects. I even included potential prospects that I located in directories. What’s interesting about this is that commonly when I would meet someone new they would have already heard about me.

Do lunch – Offer to buy them lunch in exchange for picking their brain. This will work for some and not for others, but mostly people will be flattered to be asked. I’ve had the experience both ways and can tell you that is mutually beneficial. The buyer will receive first-hand information and the guest will get a free meal and the opportunity to help someone. As I mentioned before it is human nature to want to help others, but not everyone falls into this category.

Letters – For completely cold prospects letters can be a gentle way of approaching someone, even if to ask if you can contact them by phone or email. One caution though: don’t send CDs or promotional items until they have communicated back to you. These items are better received when you’ve already made some kind of initial contact. It’s possible that they will end up in the trash (or even returned as unsolicited material). That would certainly be a waste.

Building up a network of music industry contacts takes some time but it is well worth the effort. The more people you know the more likely you’ll get offers for projects, hear about exciting jobs, and other opportunities. Sometimes you get really lucky and will find someone in a pinch needing your services right away. Take advantage of every opportunity you can, be professional, and keep paying it forward.