November 1, 2015

Six Networking Tips For The Music Business...

by Chris Randall
 

As many of you know, I teach a class on entrepreneurship in the music industry. We recently did a little block on networking, and I put up my axioms for interaction in the music business. It was intimated that others might like to read it / rip it to shreds / dismiss it with a hand wave, so I decided to put it up here.

Some context: business courses that talk about networking go through the usual Zig Zigler bullshit. That doesn't apply to our business; most people chose this business because it's cool, not so they could finally afford that Donald Trump tie set. As a result, networking in the music business isn't like networking at an insurance actuary convention. Sure, there are parts of the business (mostly on the tech and manufacturing side) that are more or less indistinguishable from normal business, so these tidbits of info are meant to apply to the music side of things (bands / labels / live show / that sort of thing) and not the tech side of things (manufacturing / distribution / retail).

1. NO GHERMING!

This is the cardinal rule. "Gherming", if you're not familiar with the term, is the act of being a slobbering fanboi to a celebrity. If you find yourself in the position of talking to someone that can make things happen in your career, you don't need to tell them that you're a big fan. You don't need to give them a litany of their own achievements. Successful artists and businesspeople are much happier when they just assume that you already know their bona-fides. You don't need to tell them about everything they've done and what it meant to you. If you do, they immediately put you in the category of "fan," and successful artists have a way of dealing with fans that is very different than how they deal with people that they do business with. You don't want to be in this category, because it will heavily inform all future interactions, and not to your benefit. Assume that they know what they've done, and let them assume that you're familiar with it, but not to a creepy stalker degree.

2. BUSINESS CARDS

Almost any networking resources tells you to have business cards and have them ready. This is nonsense. Business cards only matter to business people, and in this context they're kind of weak and smell of desperation. Networking in the music business is an exercise in finesse, and the business card is a blunt instrument that carries with it a burden of societal standards that people that work in the music side of the music business are actively avoiding. In short, unless you are you're on the music tech side of things, and working a booth at a convention, there's no context in which a business card will be useful, and it actually may hurt the interaction. A successful musician or label owner doesn't need to carry a business card, because everyone knows who they are, at least contextually, and they'll just put yours in their pocket and it'll get washed in to a little doughy blob of pulp. Think of other ways to exchange credentials. See also: tour laminates. People that aren't important on tours have to wear laminates. People that are important generally don't. When you're the roadie, you have to wear a laminate. When you're the lead singer of the headlining act, you don't.

3. AVOID THE MIXER

Any industry event or service that advertises itself as something where networking can occur is the last place networking will occur. The reason for this is simple: the entirety of the attendees will be people that need to network. To shine a clearer light on it: I am someone that can make things occur, to a certain extent, and at a lower tier than a real "industry player." I would never attend one of these events, and I sure as hell know that anyone that is more powerful than me in the industry (which is almost the entire industry) wouldn't, either. So everyone that is at a mixer is less capable than I am of "making things happen." And I am only barely capable. That should tell you everything you need to know. If you're kicking ass, in the places where ass-kicking can occur, people that need ass-kickers, or can help ass-kickers get to the next level of ass-kicking, will see you and ensure that your ass-kicking is rewarded. Paying to attend a cocktail party, where no ass-kicking can occur, is a waste of money.

4. LISTEN WELL

One of the more annoying facets of modern conversation is that it tends to be something of a competition. You want to speak to someone as an equal, but when you're talking to someone that is a posteriori more successful than you, this is essentially impossible, and the human brain offers up all sorts of annoying tics to deal with this. Don't try to compete with someone that can help you. Listen to what they're saying, and respond to questions. Don't interview them, or tell them about "this one time at band camp" unless they ask. Nobody gives a shit about how your band opened for Creed this one time, or how you found yourself in a men's room peeing within FIVE FEET!!! of Martin Gore. Keep it to yourself.

5. FAKE IT 'TIL YOU MAKE IT

This is somewhat tender. Don't big-up yourself, or lie about your capabilities, but on the other hand, never say "no," unless you're physically incapable of saying "yes." As the old saw goes, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." If you become known as someone who can get things done, then people will want to network with you, and you won't have to work as hard for opportunities. If a situation presents itself that is outside your comfort zone, do it anyhow. Make it happen. People admire a failed attempt way more than they admire hesitation and uncertainty. If you don't put yourself in positions where you have the opportunity to excel in the face of difficulty, well, those situations don't happen accidentally.

6. CONTROL YOUR BASE INSTINCTS

This one is simple: with notable exceptions, people that are successful in the music industry tend to have good self-control. This business is intrinsically tied to vice, and most vices are readily available, so the ability to actively avoid your vice of choice is valuable. If you know you're a sloppy or mean drunk, don't drink where business can occur. If you like drugs, don't put yourself in situations where drugs are available. Nobody cares what you do on your own time, but if your capabilities during a show or in a business situation are hindered because of your vices, this will greatly affect potential outcomes, and not in your favor. I will add a caveat to that: true "genius" artists generally get a pass for bad behavior, because the value of their art to society outweighs the damage they do to that society. But if you were one of those (and they're fucking thin on the ground) you wouldn't be sitting here learning how to network.

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I open the floor to you, AI readers. Now that you see how I'm damaging the youth of today, thoughts? Additions? Subtractions?
 
 
 

19 comments:

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Nov.06.2015 @ 10:05 AM
inteliko
6 B - Better yet, stay off drugs. Alchohol is ok. When you cant pay a drug dealer they hold your gear hostage, or worse take your gold record off your wall as payment, not by your choice.

Obamacare... If your gonna drink and indulge in vice ( X, spacedust etc.. ) for 15, 20 years your gonna need it... Not gonna mention names but when you been druggin for the past 25 years and have no teeth, it harder competing for gigs with pretty twenty somethings...
 
 

 
Nov.06.2015 @ 10:11 AM
inteliko
6 c .. Dont pay drug dealers with beats... When they realize it isnt easy to become a rap god they will want there product back which will most likely have been ingested by your sorry ass and your leaching friends... You will have to cough up the money.. And have a .09 mm in your face... Your gear will be pawned quickly to save your ass...
 
 

 
Nov.07.2015 @ 10:45 PM
bongo_x
I'm a huge believer in fake it until you make it. BUT... do your homework. Have some skills. You have to make it work more often than not. There's also "you never get a second chance to make a first impression". I know people who are accomplished in their field, but know others who still think/talk of them as "that dipshit who doesn't know what he's doing" from an incident 10-15 years earlier. Many of the people I know got past it obviously, but if it happens too many times then a lot of people think of you as that dipshit.

It's good to stretch and take chances, crucial even. But if you keep promising something you can't deliver, you better have amazing bullshit skills and enjoy that kind of life. You could end up a huge music producer with your own label or work in movies.
 
 

 
Nov.07.2015 @ 11:01 PM
bongo_x
To clarify, even though it's drifting from the networking theme;

Someone asks you to do X. You don't know how to do X, or have little experience. It takes a pro T (time) to do it for M (money). You have to figure out how to deliver a great version of X even if it takes you 3T or 10T and you get paid ½M. You can't deliver a shitty X and expect anyone to care about your reasons.

No one cares that you didn't make much money on it, or anything. They care about the results. When people tell stories about X that was done for no money, or lots of money, or no time, or lots of time, they're talking about things people like. "I know it's shitty, but I didn't have much time or money" doesn't get you anything unless you're trying to bust into the "mediocre work for cheap" market and there's a LOT of competition there.

Delivering shit never works out for you. If you take on a job do everything you can to make it great, whatever the cost. Your reputation is everything.
 
 

 
Nov.08.2015 @ 7:57 AM
Chris Randall
What bongo_x said. A lot of times I'll take on things that I know are possible, but I don't know how to do directly. A good example of this was the TASCAM PCM Recorder and 4-track apps. I had no fucking clue how to do either, but when Jeff asked me, I thought about it, and thought that I could see that if I couldn't do them, I knew people that could, and worst case scenario I'd sub-contract some (or all) of the work.

The secret is to be very comfortable with your own capabilities. My own skill-set may not include whatever the job in question is, but my own skill-set DOES include an ability to learn semi-quickly. So as long as it falls in the same general zip code as "things I find interesting," I'm comfortable that I can accomplish it to the satisfaction of the client.

And furthermore, this is how you expand your capabilities. I personally have a general knowledge of a lot of different technical skills as they relate to the music industry specifically, and making things in general, as a result of just saying "sure, I can do that." I will grant that my knowledge base is a mile wide and an inch deep. I can't write DSP, but I can implement existing DSP in a generally working fashion. I'm not a graphic designer, but I can make a UI that is not displeasing to the eye. I'm reasonably competent in a lot of different musical genres and on several instruments, although nobody would mistake me for a virtuoso in any of them. I don't have the dedication and fortitude necessary to put in the practice to become a true master of anything, but I'm pretty happy with the skills I have.

-CR
 
 

 
Nov.19.2015 @ 10:24 AM
msouthard
A little late to the party on this one. I'm basically unknown when it comes to the music business and I've started networking with some equally unknown producers to share promo tips, give feedback, collaborate, remix, etc. Everyone in my group seems to be making better quality music but we're all still unknown. Is this a case of the blind leading the blind, or is there some merit to power in numbers?
 
 

 
Nov.20.2015 @ 9:35 AM
ashtarbrian
msouthard: ABSOLUTELY! getting better through the trials and tribulations of others is part of the process... I am pretty much semi-no one myself, just have spent 25-30 years doing it... We all start somewhere.. and from there you grow. You can't wait for some deutchbank to bless you and then you are on your way.... heart, hustle, and muscle. I remember meeting a young Chris Randall almost 25 years ago at the Die Warzau house and talking to him about the relative merits of the 808 kick drum and midi delays etc... We hadn't accomplished that much yet at all, but with some of the friends we met back then, we were able to gain access to information, gear, and contacts etc, (and adhering to the rules posted in the OG post by CR), that's how it works... The wealth of information available to you now through different sources is far greater then we had then, so the learning curve can be a lot faster... But I always learn something from everyone I work with or talk to in those regards... (or try at least!)
 
 

 
Nov.20.2015 @ 10:03 AM
msouthard
Thanks ashtarbrian, I've been making music for about 15 years now, and I've learned more in the past two years than I have ever. What's funny is most of the guys I work with are teenagers. If the stuff that's available now was around when I started, who knows where I'd be. Regardless, seems like a good time for anyone to get in the business, the ability to reach so many people is amazing, there's just ten thousand other jerks with a similar style trying to do the same thing as you, I'm slowly learning how to navigate through that mess.
 
 

 
Nov.21.2015 @ 1:23 PM
ashtarbrian
cool msouthard! I definitely learn a lot from "youngsters" myself, as their paradigms might be different then my own... and regardless of genre, taste, and sometimes music I want to step on with my foot, usually can take away something learned from every person I work with, or try to, whether it's something like using clamps on an acoustic guitar to give focus to the mid range of strings, or manipulations of different warp engines in ableton to get desired locution of a track etc... I still suffer from "get off my lawn" moments, as you are right, the stuff that is available now would have saved years off my life 25 years ago... but I think I have come around to just realizing that that contributes to an greater understanding of the underpinning of all we do. It's like what they had to do in the past with track bouncing, proper gain staging, etc... also translates to the more, well, electronic realm, of when you were sitting there manually cutting samples in an old akai to then replay on midi for your desired tempo or part versus just throwing it in ableton or whatnot... or working with one crappy fx box that you learned inside and out, because you had to... I prefer knowing more about less then being overwhelmed with the combinatorial explosion of possibilities these days, but hypocritically at the same time love options... oh well! ..and to your last point, I think that it becomes easier to navigate that mess when you move off the similar style and try and bring your own voice to it... but of course easier said then done!
 
 

 
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