Why You Suck At Networking
I hear artists say this every day. “I suck at networking”.
You do suck at networking.
But it’s because of these 2 reasons so it’s totally fixable.
- You think you suck at networking
- Therefore, you don’t network.
It’s a muscle that you must develop. You’re afraid to develop it because you think you need to be the “life of the party” to make it happen.
What is absolutely required for effective networking is
Show up. If you’re not there you can’t network. You can’t win if you don’t play. Oh, and you must KEEP ON showing up.
Are you needing band members? Show up. Go out to all the clubs as much as you can to see the bands and pick your players. If you’re good they’ll consider it. This is how the best musicians from all the local bands gravitate to one another. If they’re not giving you the time of day, it’s because you’re approaching them in an obnoxious way or you need to work on your artistry more.
Presentation matters. These new band mates and business associates are going to need to see something tangible. They are not going to see your potential so plan to put at least one decent recording together to use as a calling card.
I just had a reunion of sorts with a guitar player friend of mine who played with me in a solo project I did for a hot second in LA. I met him at a restaurant bar. The bartender was an artist I was doing a little producing for. We talked and I mentioned I was looking for a guitar player. I left him a CD of some tracks. He called me on my way home and was like, “I’m IN!”
Had I not had that recording demonstrating my songs, professionalism, and attitude, he wouldn’t have called, I guarantee it.
One of my favorite hit songwriters is a guy I met out at Loser’s which is a common industry hang out here in Nashville. We became friends and he was regularly emailing me to say hello and stay in touch. I presented him with an artist for a co-write. He began a long-standing relationship with that artist, resulting in multiple cuts, and they’re now on their second single. It’s charting on the Music Row chart.
I see him out all the time. The other evening I wanted him to meet a writer friend of mine that was in town from Miami. I texted him. He came right over. I introduced him to the songwriter and he introduced me to this incredible new artist he’s been writing with and maybe we’ll do some business. Who knows?
But he was there. Get it?
Every relationship you make may not have any value but just about all of them won’t have immediate value. That’s where most people fall off.
They lose interest if there is no immediate satisfaction. They also get sour about it sometimes. Like if you meet someone you’re attracted to, immediately ask them for sex, and then decide to hate them because they said “NO”. (that’s called Cognitive Dissonance…but I digress)
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Realize that you’re laying down railroad track as opposed to putting the actual train on the tracks. I have many lifelong relationships that were started in odd ways with no expectations whatsoever.
When my band initially signed with a huge regional booking agency out of Minneapolis, the first thing I needed to know was what the competition looked like.
Who was the best?
I reached out to the receptionist and asked. She told me it was a band called “Mannekin” and they would be in Milwaukee on tour in 2 weeks. I said I wanted to go, but I was only 19 years old. Michelle told me that she would set it all up with their manager Mark O’Toole.
That evening I got my ass KICKED artistically.
That band was freaking amazing. I couldn’t believe I saw them in a club. The bar had just moved up and I needed to know more so I simply asked Mark if I could take him out to eat after the show. He happily agreed. I bought breakfast at 3 am and started asking as many questions as I could get away with.
Here’s the deal. That was the start of a lifelong friendship, literally. We lost Mark a couple years ago, but he always had my back. When we needed a photo shoot for our poster, he offered to “piggyback” us on his photo shoot for Mannekin with Prince’s photographer, Al Beaulieu. That cost us $600 including hair and makeup. He constantly helped me with negotiating strategies with club owners when we were touring. All because he was a good friend.
My point is I couldn’t have predicted all that, I just wanted to learn and he was willing to teach. I expected nothing more than that first meal, but he liked me. He saw something. I was so lucky.
I think that artists tend to subconsciously avoid networking because they don’t see an immediate return on the time investment of creating the relationship. That’s a mistake because you never know what could happen.
Every semester I am blessed to have a bunch of interns. One of the value-adds I offer the interns is access to certain industry functions (when possible) and the ability to hang with me at certain showcases and artist shows. I’ll introduce them to everyone I speak with. I tell the interns, they’re not required to attend when they get the text invite, but they’re encouraged to attend. The relationships they will make probably won’t amount to much if anything at all, but imagine them interviewing with a record label for job a couple years in the future and sitting across from someone they already met. “Hey Ms. So-And-So, you probably don’t remember me, but we hung out one night with Johnny D from Daredevil Production watching this artist at this club.” Already, subconsciously, the intern has moved their application to a different mental pile because they’ve already met.
Does that make sense?
Without humility, you’re not going to create many relationships.
Especially in the music business.
When I met Mark, I was young and very green and he knew it. I wasn’t trying to pretend I was some big shot and he appreciated that. I was a sponge.
I paid for that dinner at Denny’s because I had so many questions, you know? He loved that. I was asking the right questions about the business as opposed to “How can you help me get famous?”
Every week I get hit up on email, Twitter, and Instagram with artists who shoot me messages like, “Yo, let’s do business. How do we get started?”.
What’s your name? What’s your story? Have we ever met? This is not only a complete turn-off, but it’s a dead giveaway to a rookie with poor communication skills.
Something humbler like, “Hey Johnny, this is so-and-so from this band and I like what you’re doing, can we possibly set up a time to talk about working together?” would be a better way to spin that approach.
Always be humble and kind.
Music industry people are generally really good people and like to help other people as long as they believe that person isn’t a schmuck. You’d be amazed at what a little humility and an honest, “I need some help” will get you.
I remember when I first came to Nashville in 1995. My friend John Prestia told me that he was good friends with a hit songwriter named Kim Tribble. He told me to go and meet with Kim.
Kim was the kindest and most gracious soul. We spoke for about an hour in his office. The whole time I was worried I was taking up too much of his time. Kim could sense that. After an hour, I couldn’t help myself, I told Kim, “Hey I know you’re super busy and I’m so thankful for this time, Kim! I’ll see myself out.”
I didn’t want to impose.
To which Kim replied, “It’s cool, man. I like you. I have to run some errands and you’re welcome to join me if you want. Do you have time to hang?”
See how humility worked there?
I had NOTHING else to do. I spent the whole day with Kim. He listened to all my songs and that led me to 2 other writer/producer relationships that I still currently have.
And finally, Authenticity.
This is a biggie. I think most artists feel terribly uncomfortable networking because they feel like they have to be something they’re not. I think they feel like they have to be this huge gregarious personality that everybody loves in order to an effective networker, but that just isn’t the case.
Just be yourself.
Just be real.
THAT is what makes you amazing, and THAT is what people will respond to. When you meet people be your authentic self and they’ll respond authentically.
Personally, I can tell you that I’m not for everybody. I do have a big personality and it’s a turn-off sometimes. That’s ok. When I feel someone responding in a negative manner towards my personality I realize that we’re probably not going to do business together or I’m needing to provide more value in this relationship to make it “worth it” for the other person.
I also realize it’s probably time to shut up, but I digress…
Don’t worry if everyone doesn’t like you or love you. You can’t be all things to all people. You’re going to get this. Don’t take it personally.
The ones who DO respond to your authentic-self are going to create deep relationships with you because they know who you really are.
That kind of relationship is one of the best gifts you’ll ever receive.
Have confidence in yourself in that regard. Just go meet people and get to know them. Ask them about themselves. The more you get them talking (and people LOVE to talk about themselves) the more you’ll learn.
FYI, I can’t tell you how many times I met someone, got them talking, and through listening realized that this is NOT someone I want to do business with. All without opening my mouth after saying hello.
The truth is unless you’re a hermit with zero friends, you’re a great networker. You’re just thinking about it the wrong way. You know how to make friends and influence people, but when you put in the context of being intentional about it, it seems daunting. It’s also scary with strangers.
I get it.
But Networking is a mission critical part of your career, my friend. It’s a muscle you MUST develop.
So, what are you waiting for?
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