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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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Nov.01.2015 @ 3:29 PM
Simeon Smith
I'm a huge believer in "fake it until you make it". I'm generally a pretty chilled and distracted guy, motivating myself to develop my own skills isn't my strong point, but agreeing to do stuff and then having to work out HOW to do it has taught me basically everything I know.

"Hey, Simeon, we'd like you to shoot this music video, but we want you to shoot it to 35mm film!", "Sure." = An instant crash course in analogue cinematography.

It's also really influenced the gear choices I've made "Hey! can you do these gigs for us on bass? The guy that we usually use plays a Fender P.", "Sure, I can find one."

I'd say that points 2 and 3 are extensions of each other. The kind of people at these mixers are the kind of people that need business cards to tell you who they are.

Nov.01.2015 @ 3:59 PM
Don't Be an Asshole.
Along the lines of 6., very few musicians are so talented and charismatic that they can sneer and bad mouth and belittle others they encounter along the way. If you're in a position where you'd benefit from networking, then fake it until you make it applies to being nice, or at least civil and easy to deal with. Most of that diva shit you hear about rock stars comes after success, when there are no fucks left to give; I guarantee 90% were pretty cool, and enthusiastic, and exciting to be around when they were coming up. e.g. Kenye before college dropout wasn't the same Kenye we live with now. And washed-up assholes are the worst. Every local scene is lousy with douchebag musicians who bought into their own hype and started treating other musicians, agents, audiences with distain until no one wanted to put up with them again. Being gracious and listening and keeping you negative opinions to yourself will make your life much easier over a long career. Not saying one has to suffer fools gladly; when dealing with assholes there's no probably reason for niceties. But most people in a position to help you along the way will be way more inclined if your not insufferable to be around.

Nov.02.2015 @ 6:03 AM
Chris Randall
@puffer: That was actually my first lesson of the semester. Not being an asshole (or at least, knowing when you can/should be an asshole) is a tenet of the methodology I espouse. So I didn't put it in my "tips," as it sort of seems to be self-evident.


Nov.02.2015 @ 6:17 AM
The #1 should be don't be an asshole, though following any of these other provisos is well-nigh impossible for actual assholes.

I had lunch a while back with one of the booking agents at A Large Booking Agency. I'm not close friends or anything with him, he's someone who came up through the ranks in the Midwest Rave scene and managed to become successful in the real music business.

We were discussing various electronic music acts he booked, and he talked at length about what a pain in the ass some of the acts he'd bring over from the UK/EU were. Requiring babysitting from the booking agency, horrible to promoters and fans, etc.

This was in ... 2008? How time flies! But the moral of the story is this: I remember who those musicians/producers/DJs were, who were all on the edge of becoming a big deal, and NONE of them are still touring in the US, or getting much press or respect any more. Whereas some of the nearly unknown people he was working with, that he spoke warmly of, have become very successful.

A similar thing happens in the Movies/TV business in LA. I have family that work there, and the people who keep getting work are good at their jobs, but they're also nice people who behave professionally. Anyone who is difficult, who hasn't demonstrated that they're indispensible cash cows, is back in Peoria inside a year.

Nov.02.2015 @ 8:46 AM
The best distillation of the don't be an asshole mantra I've heard was "Be someone somebody else will want to spend time with." This was in the context of working long hours in a recording studio, but I think it's broadly applicable.

I've found 2 and 3 above to be fairly on the nose in the music tech business as well, other than the very narrow trade show booth caveat for business cards.

Nov.02.2015 @ 10:48 AM
Great list Chris, and the "assumed" #1 rule as presented by Puffer, absolutely.

I guess it falls in the venn-diagram of your rules, but perhaps "reading a room"?... The best producers and musicians etc... as you well said, don't insert themselves immediately, and know how to both navigate between artist and label etc... Know the personalities you are dealing with before you open your mouth... I'm not saying change "who" you are, but know who the others "are".... who is the bloviating jackass, who is the lying cretin, who is the true talent and visionary, etc... learning to read those dynamics both in a networking sense and in the studio go a long way... and get the best out of many situations in many ways... but I think all of what I just incessantly typed you covered... (in "listen well" etc...)... so my apologies. Cogent list.

good read, food for thought, and you had me totally laugh with most of these.. All true, so they are funny.

Nov.02.2015 @ 8:44 PM
Indeed I am fairly certain we've talked about the "don't be a dick" edict around here before --probably the sense of deja vu I experienced typing it.

I've found the #4 is just a good general rule for life.

Nov.04.2015 @ 12:33 AM
"Not being an asshole (or at least, knowing when you can/should be an asshole)"

That's the part where i suck. I don't know when i should be asshole. As generally i'm far from it, but sometimes it would have saved a session.

If you need to tell someone not to be a dick, that person probably has no future in the business anyway. Can you un-learn of being a dick?

FAKE IT 'TIL YOU MAKE IT is the best advice that can be given to anyone starting on anything. Atm i'm struggling on mixing a metal album as i have zero experience on that genre or live recorded music in general. Soon i know a lot a bout it :D

Nov.04.2015 @ 11:30 PM
totally misread.. thought that said "Sex networking tips..."

Nov.06.2015 @ 8:30 AM
I'm with boobs.

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