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It's all who you know?

When you hear, “It’s all who you know,” it sounds so intimidating - like you need to be a former roommate of Mark Zuckerburg, cousins with Richard Branson, and dating Taylor Swift.

But simply contacting a stranger can lead to a worldwide network of connections.

When I was 18, at Berklee College of Music, we had a guest speaker named Mark Fried, who was an executive at BMI - a big music company in New York City.

He walked into the classroom just before class began, and I heard him ask the teacher, “Oh, I thought we were going have food.”

The teacher said, “Oh, no, sorry, I thought you ate already! Didn’t you have lunch?”

Mark said, “Damn. No. And it’s a two hour class. Oh well.”

Hearing this, I quickly ran out of the room and called Supreme’s Pizza, asking them to deliver three large pizzas to classroom #115.

45 minutes later, the pizzas showed up. I gave one to Mark and shared two with the class.

He smiled at me and said, “Good move. I owe you one. Here’s my card. Call me any time, and let me know how I can help. When you come to New York City, I’ll be happy to meet up.”

For the next two years, I took him up on that, sending him my new songs for feedback, and he’d tell me his insights and advice about the music industry.

When I told Mark I wanted to move to New York, he said, “Send me your resume, and I’ll find you a job.”

Sure enough, a few weeks later, I got a call in my dorm room from Julie Gengo at Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, saying, “We need someone to run our tape room, and Mark Fried said we should hire you. Can you start Monday?”

Just like that, I was in.

Because I was working inside Warner Brothers, it was easy to meet everybody in the New York City music scene. Every person I met connected me to many more. A few years later, it was no problem to move to Los Angeles, because I now had a huge network in LA, through one degree of separation.

Now it’s grown worldwide. Whether I’m visiting Iceland, Shanghai, Rio, Japan, or Silicon Valley, I’ve got a wonderful network of connections to call on, and people worldwide who can call on me anytime. Usually we know eachother loosely - having only traded a couple emails - but those quickly turn into real friendships.

All because I bought a pizza for a stranger.

Surrounded by success

Soon after arriving in New York, I was surrounded by successful people. I was only 20 years old, but I learned so much from watching how people become successful, hearing their stories, philosophies, and mistakes. Opportunities were everywhere. (A chance recommendation from my roommate got me a gig touring the world, playing guitar for Ryuichi Sakamoto.)

These people shaped the way I see the world. The people you surround yourself with don’t just open doors. They change the way you think, and change your self-image of your capabilities!

When you’re surrounded by successful people, it feels so easy, it’s obvious. Their attitude and actions rub off on you.

But I meet so many people that feel that success is so far away, so impossible to imagine, that they act accordingly, aim low, and complete the self-defeating circle.

I know much of success is luck, but I never realized how much the mindset of success comes from who you know.

Luckily, who you know is up to you, not luck.

No need to be in the big city

I used to advise ambitious people to move to the big city, where everything is happening. And it’s still true that it offers some benefits.

But more and more it feels like “where everything is happening” is online - and the way to be there is to create something that adds to it.

Most of the fascinating and successful people I know now are people I met online. I see something they’ve done, or they see something I’ve done, one of us sends the other an email, and that’s it. A few emails, maybe a phone call, and we’re friends.

What’s even more fascinating is finding out that the super-connectors, the people who know everybody and everybody knows, are often physically remote.

For example, some of the most connected people I know now are:

The reasons they’re so connected are:

  1. because they keep creating great stuff and posting it online, which gets the attention of their peers, so soon “everyone” knows who they are
  2. because they reach out to say hello to the people they admire

So if it seems that there’s an uncrossable canyon between you and your heroes, don’t forget that all it takes is one connection to catch your rope, so you can shimmy across. And you can do this from anywhere by creating great stuff online, and reaching out to potential friends.

No need to attend Harvard with Mark Zuckerburg. No need to become a cousin of Richard Branson. And no need to date Taylor Swift.

(See. There are three things you can cross off your TO-DO list now.)

References (1)

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  • Response
    It's all who you know? - MTT - Music Think Tank

Reader Comments (10)

Yeah, I'd agree on the creative aspect, can do it from anywhere and can act like a magnet, just need to find the right antenna sometimes.

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Meeting people is a big part of our social life. If you want to have connections you have go out into the world and do something with your life. You can wait for lady lucky to come to you.

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterPuiu

as usual, derek has great insight. but also don't forget that nothing beats the personal touch to strenghten a relationship, and for making new relationships. so, be sure to go to things like sxsw, cmj, and other conferences where you can look people in the eye. all the tweets in the world can't beat the impact of meeting someone face to face.

February 12 | Unregistered Commentermason

Very nice article, enjoyed reading it. And totally agree with it to.

Nice Derek. Always enjoy reading your anecdotes! Most important in this business is to always maintain a positive presence. There isn't just one way to get to where you want to go. It takes some people a lifetime to realize that.

This is how I got to play the World's Largest Music Festival - Summerfest

Just by saying yes, staying positive and putting my all into every opportunity.

Read more on how I've been able to survive as a full-time musician on Ari's Take

Ari Herstand

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterAri's Take

Great article! Now where exactly do I send your pizza?

February 14 | Unregistered CommenterDamianJay

You make excellent points but it's worth noting that your success started when you fed a hungry man a pizza, face to face, in person. You didn't make that connection online, and I doubt posting your music online would have bonded you with that BMI executive. Also worth mentioning is that your success in the music industry makes you more attractive to people online who are trying to rub shoulders with YOU now. Starting from ground zero online is a whole lot tougher, as we all know. Though we can all meet people online, it's not the same as personal interhuman contact. Furthermore, copyright holders need to be wary of "sharing" their intellectual property online, as they stand to lose much more than they stand to gain. Yes, branch out and meet strangers. But don't forget that the internet has not changed the world as much as the technophiles would have you believe. Besides, your life is worth a lot more than sitting at a computer 24/7. If you're a musician, you are likely spending more than enough time looking at a CPU as it is. Don't ever let ambition rob you of your precious human life. Get out and take a walk, breathe some fresh air, go get a pizza and share it with someone...

February 14 | Unregistered Commenteramplefire

I'm a composer and a musician and very new to the business. I'm not an "act" or a "performer". I'm not blessed with social skills, only musical and technical ones. I found a publisher immediately when I started to look into monetizing my works so I've just been sending material to him and not worrying about "selling" the material myself. I've read so many articles that seem to elude that I will not find success in promoting myself. If it's not in one's nature to "self promote" are they just doomed to be discovered 100 years after their death?

February 15 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Hardee

Hey Derek,

Hope you're enjoying a great new day! Thanks for your buying the pizza and your great blogs. I've been a CD Baby member for several years and would like to take my music to a larger, wider international level.

new music video:
more music:

Please review my website and music. I would appreciate any insight you might want to share.

Thanks again,


Smartfrets!! Fun & Inspirational Music
Acoustic Guitarist Charles David Smart

web site:

February 16 | Unregistered CommenterC David Smart

Note to Larry Hardee - you say you are "not blessed with social skills, only musical and technical ones". You weren't born with ANY skills - you developed them because either you wanted to or you had to. Same with social skills - they don't come naturally to many people so we all have to learn them if we want to survive and prosper. Barring those who suffer from severe autism , we are all capable of learning those social skills.

February 21 | Unregistered CommenterKerry Harvey-Piper

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