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.