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Wednesday
Nov092011

How To Reach Out To Industry Execs

Every now and then, I go on an open mic binge and discover new little spots and new artists honing their craft. There was this one girl who was absolutely amazing. I told her what I did and she started asking questions. Our conversation came around to how one can get the right exposure and further their career. I shared with her a lot of things, but one of them was about reaching out to industry insiders and building a professional network that will help propel her career forward. It’s not enough to play live. You have to also work hard at building your professional network in the music industry. Finding contact info is easy. There are directories and registries out there you can buy. However, there are some realities concerning industry people that you have to understand before you reach out to them. Or else, you’ll only annoy and alienate them. Here are those realities. 

  • They each have very specific objectives and goals. And you have to fit into them.  Contrary to rookie belief, industry execs aren’t sitting around waiting for something awesome to drop in their lap (i.e. your awesomeness). They are business people. And business people always have something specific that they are looking for and are aiming to do. I read something interesting somewhere about Scooter Braun (manager of Justin Bieber and Asher Roth). He literally had a goal of signing and breaking a young boy singer, a white rapper, and a female singer. So he went out and worked toward that goal. He ended up with Justin Bieber (the young boy singer) and Asher Roth (the white rapper). I haven’t heard anything about a female artist, but I’m sure it’ll happen considering how driven Scooter Braun is. Point is, don’t be discouraged when you get rejected or ignored. It’s nothing personal. It’s business. Yes, sometimes, it’s because the music plain sucks (to them). But a lot of times, it’s because you simply do not fit into their objectives and goals. But, you have to keep reaching out and building your professional network until some relationships start clicking together. 

  • Timing is everything. It’s not just about fitting into their objectives and goals. It’s about fitting into their objectives and goals at the moment. As with anything in life and business, there are times when you need certain things and there are times when you simply don’t. We work with what’s useful to us in a particular moment. Well, industry execs aren’t any different. If you’re not useful for the moment, they really don’t have time to deal with you. Really. They LITERALLY don’t have time. You’ll be amazed at how many things they are juggling at one time. I remember landing a film/tv licensing agreement for an album because one of my team members email that company at the exact time they were looking for music like mine. I can tell you, we were reaching out to people regardless of being rejected or ignored. Then, something clicked! Timing has a lot to do with persistent effort. Mainly because persistence will always catch up to right timing.  

  • They have a special disdain for neediness. You know that vibe you get when you know someone just wants something from you. That look in their eyes? The things they say? It’s horrible. Most of us are uncomfortable with it. Industry execs aren’t any different. If you have something you want them to check out or listen to, keep it short and sweet and let the chips fall where they may. “Hey, I’ve got this new track. Will you check this out when you get a chance to see if it fits with anything you’re looking for or working on? Thanks! If you need anything, let me know.” Done! Move on. 
  • They like gifts, but more so, givers. After all, who doesn’t? Really, it’s about how willing you are to be useful. Yes, to be used. Some say, “I hate being used.” I say, “Use me, please.” Then, I’d work hard to make myself indispensable. Whether you’re an upcoming artist or aspiring exec, be willing to be used. Russell Simmons, in his new book, Super Rich, shared an amazing story about the early days of Lyor Cohen (the much-respected CEO of Recorded Music at Warner Music Group). Lyor was doing concert promotion on the West Coast when he first connected with Russell Simmons putting together and promoting a hip-hop concert.  That show went well, but a little later on, his concert promotion venture basically failed. So, he got in touch with Russell Simmons wanting to work for him. 

    Lyor Cohen flew out to New York to meet with Russell Simmons. During the meeting, a situation came up where the tour manager of a hip-hop group went awol, completely missing. And the group was supposed to leave that day for a European tour. Lyor, without hesitation, volunteered to do it since he could. He didn’t worry or care about being paid, didn’t even ask. Just volunteered. Russell agreed. Lyor, with his unpacked bags, immediately went to meet the group and took them on tour. He did such a phenomenal job that Russell had no other logical conclusion but to bring Lyor on as part of his team. Working with Russell Simmons led to the executive rise of Lyor Cohen to one of the most important posts in music today. 

    The moral of the story is: Be a giver! Have the right spirit about you. Don’t have the grimey, needy spirit about you. If you worry more about being paid than being useful, you might as well quit now and stop wasting your time. Even if you have an ounce of a career, it wont last.  Industry execs love givers and hardworkers. Those kind of people are indispensable. 
  • They’re not your filters. They are the industry’s filters. This is an important thing to understand. Too often, people reach out to industry execs with really sub-standard materials (music, marketability, career-advancement). Before you reach out to an industry exec, your stuff needs to pass with flying colors to your family, friends, and strangers who aren’t in the music industry. (Given that you demand absolutely honesty, even if it hurts, from them.) Hone your music, persona, and get some things going for yourself before you reach out to anyone in the industry. They’re not there to be your filters. They’re there to do what’s best for their business - they’re filtering for their business. Don’t use them to find out if you’re good enough. It doesn’t work that way. Prove you’re good enough by having a fanbase, by having things going for yourself. Have some real value. Then, see if your value can bring increased value to them and what they’re trying to accomplish. 
  • It really is all about relationships. This shouldn’t be hard to understand. The music business isn’t any different from any other business. You want to succeed? Build your professional network. It takes years to have a significant, valuable professional network in any industry. When I first started out, the first thing I did (after making good enough music) was go to industry events - to “catch the spirit of the industry” and to meet people (those who are up-and-coming and those who are more established). When you’re an artist, it goes without saying that you should be playing out live (or having your dance music spun in clubs). But if you’re not also working to build your professional network, you wont have a real substantial career. I’ve shared this story before, but I’ll share it again.

    Moby was once asked why he succeeded in such a spectacular way while others did not. He answered by saying that while others were running around town promoting their gigs, he was out networking and meeting industry people that could propel his career forward. Build your professional network. This is second only to honing your craft. The relationships you have will make or break your career, whether as an artist or as an aspiring exec. 

I’m sure there are more realities that could be covered, but I feel like these are the most important ones to understand. In the words of Dale Carnegie, “speak to the other person’s interests” in everything you do…especially when it comes to reaching out to industry execs. And in the wise words of Jesus, “the greatest among you will be your servant”. How well can you serve someone else’s purpose? The better you can, the better your career will be. 

—-

Minh is an artist, producer, and entrepreur based in the DC area. His site is www.reachminh.com

 

Reader Comments (8)

Some great points here,

From my experience within the system though, there are very few hard and fast rules. As you said, there are many realities. The only constant is change, and I've seen that in revolving door A&R, and the outright closing of positions of "executives" in most majors.

New Major players rarely pop up as phenomenon, those who do wield the most power, while the rest are generally lumped into quasi development deals which may or may not bear any type of fruit at the end of the day.

The most powerful position you can have in the industry today is that of someone who develops an artist, from soup to nuts. If you can take someone from nobody to somebody with little help from the labels themselves, you're a commodity, and that's not only a person they're cancel meetings to see, it's someone they want to employ.

A good childhood friend of mine moved into Brooklyn about five years ago, he had no real idea what he was going to do, I had already lived here for some time. At one point he met a burgeoning young producer, a little jewish kid from Virginia named Benny. It wasn't always easy, but he nurtured him and helped protect him and looked out for what he thought was his best interests at the time for years, with little to no pay.

Today Benny Blanco has a slew of hits and a exclusive production deal with Dr. Luke, and right now my buddy is the guy to know....because of what he did and how he did it. He wasn't an industry mogul that everyone knew, he didn't have a name, people didn't care who he was half a decade ago, but he hustled and figured out the game IN THE MOMENT HE ENTERED IT as opposed to listening to the old guard and attempting to play by old rules.

So in short, be that guy or know that guy. Keep your ear to the ground. Look out for the young guns, hang with them, watch them move. Be a porsche instead of a Sherman Tank, be malleable. Sites like this are good, but in many times just a barometer for what the industry is trending towards, which in many cases is already 3 steps behind.

Does this equate to success? No.

But, chances are you will have a better shot at tilling new fields than mining old ones.

November 9 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

No disrespect, but if that industry guy in Brooklyn REALLY understood the music industry, he would never have let Benny Blanco sign under another producer, he'd have built him to BE the next Dr Luke. So his lack of understanding (and apparently yours) has cost Benny Blanco, not helped him, actually. One conversation with someone who knew better could have benefited both Benny and your friend. The only real winner in THAT situation is Dr Luke and Sony, who owns a % of everything Benny produces. Dr Luke is the value, not the producers underneath him. Benny has no freedom, ownership, or autonomy and is being pimped by a great brand (Dr Luke) and now is exclusive to Sony. How's that a win again?

No disrespect either, but I have to agree with some of the points ExperienceOverArrogance made. Only thing is, I feel, as a matter of opinion only, that Bennys sounds are still not developed enough to have commanded his own brand name, as a producer, which is why he fell into the type of deal that he has. He has one aspect or "thing" that allows Dr. Luke to piece together hits, but so do all the other kids he works with. This is definitely all from a lack of not only NOT understanding the music industry, but sound in general and the things it takes, sonically and structurally to make hit records.

I do agree with "Keep your ear to the ground. Look out for the young guns, hang with them, watch them move." and: "Sites like this are good, but in many times just a barometer for what the industry is trending towards, which in many cases is already 3 steps behind." but I'd say 10 steps behind. Respectfully speaking, of course.

November 9 | Unregistered Commenterr.p

@ Experience over arrogance,

I see your points, though, the details of Benny's deal are not exclusive or in perpetuity. In fact, he has free reign to do a lot of things. I appreciate your idealism thinking that Benny's manager could have parlayed a better deal for him. However, I would look at benny's deal with Luke as a development deal for a developing producer, albeit one who showed an understanding of pop music and production from a very young age.

Would it be nice to have all of the pie at the end instead of a piece? sure. However that's not how the Majors work. Even Luke's productions go through about 4 or 5 hands. You have co producers and top line writers, things generally go through a remix process before they even hit the radio or mainline distro.

part of this is because that's just how songs are written, part of that is because Majors need to see that it was touched by someone with a track record before they sink millions into promoting it. ...especially in a constantly changing and volatile market.

Whether you like the content and production or not, Benny is a success story, as is his manager. Producers (and their management teams) creating songs of that caliber of sales and recognition are literally the 1% of the music making population. It's very easy to think that they could have done better, and perhaps you're right if it was a fluke. End of the day, they both not only have percentages of numerous worldwide hits, they have something else, Brand Equity and a proven track record and that's something that keeps the phone ringing and the lights on.

November 9 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

@ExperienceOverArrogance and r.p.

I think it's a mistake to knock Benny Blanco or the gentleman who brought him to this point in his career. Both should be congratulated and celebrated. They've made a mark on music and achieved that which whole lot of people cannot say they have.

Also, it's important to consider that it has always taken a team effort to craft "hits". And in every team, there is a team leader - the person that can pull everyone together and make the creative process work! This is the case with Dr. Luke and his team. Tricky Stewart and his team. Bruno Mars and his team. Stargate and their team. The list goes on and on.

When you hear these guys speak (or fortunate enough to meet them), you'll find that they all have a really humble, collaborative spirit about them. We'd be foolish to be any different.

November 9 | Registered CommenterMinh D. Chau

Some true and great points and advice here...definiitely a good read. I will be getting that Russell Simons book too!;-)

November 9 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Coombs

Thanks for a well crafted post, Minh - some solid advice all the way around.

And Benny and his mgr have definitely succeeded - everyone grows in stages, including Dr. Luke, who didn't always have the credibility in the industry he now enjoys. This is a good example of being willing to give in order to participate - at the top level, no less.

Might just be what Benny needs - being in that environment, developing his sound, making the connections - in order to be the NEXT Dr. Luke. Rome wasn't built in a day.

November 9 | Unregistered CommenterDG

Fans actually like to feel that they are the bigger part for their idol's success. When you show them that you so need them or their opinion, they feel that they are part of the collaborative process and your rising as a star. But as EOA notes, you really have to develop into a full-range artist and the marketing will be a breeze, otherwise, you'd end up with a commodity that can easily get past being noticed.

November 9 | Unregistered CommenterDenis Paxton

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