Networking is the best way to get ahead in “the biz.” It isn’t all about sending your music to Pitchfork and blogs to hope it gets some airplay in the corners of the internet. It’s about talking to the people who matter most in your town to help each other out and to build a core fan base you can build from in the coming months.
The whole purpose of networking is to establish relationships with people who can mutually benefit by helping you out. Or, you helping them out. When you start talking to bands, bloggers, press, or super-fans in your town, the goal is to build a positive relationship with all of them so that you can help them get things like stories for the blogs/papers, more fans out to their shows, or free swag (for the fans). The only way to help your local scene grow is by being a part of it, not just expecting people to drop what they’re doing and flock to your new creative endeavor.
Go To Shows
The first, and probably best, way to get more exposure locally is to talk to people at other bands’ shows.
Talk to the bands who are playing and congratulate them on the great job they did. Introduce yourself and ask if you can buy them a beer after the show. Just hang out. This isn’t about pushing your own shit, it’s about talking to other HUMAN BEINGS about the thing you love so much: music. Talk local music, albums, new artists, and life in general.
The goal here is to make your presence known and get to know other local bands on a personal level, not just from a distance. Knowing bands personally will open up many doors down the road.
There’s never a huge press presence at local shows unless there’s a festival going on. Nashville (the city I live in) has local music festivals a few times a year and all of the newspapers and local music magazines make a point to show up to take some photos and see who’s big at the moment.
Try to go to these festivals to at least say hey to the guys/gals that write for the magazines you’d like to get a spot in. Again, don’t pressure them when you first meet them. This stage is all about just saying hello and letting your presence be known.
Networking – General
The internet has done wonders for reaching out to people in a virtual world, but face-to-face communication is still the strongest way to get to know people. Make it a point to meet new people every time you’re at an event. The more people you know, the bigger your network becomes. As mentioned before, this isn’t about advertising yourself to everyone you meet. The goal is to simply meet people and as time goes on with your relationships, your own life will eventually come up.
Networking positively means talking to other people about THEMSELVES. People love to talk about their own lives, so help facilitate it and learn to be a good listener. You never know who you’ll meet!
Follow-up With People
Alright, so you’ve met a bunch of people, now what? Well, now it’s time to maintain those connections.
Every few weeks, I like to follow-up with people I’ve met to see what’s happening in their lives. If it’s a band we’re talking about, I’ll ask if they have any shows coming up, or if it’s someone from the press I’ll see what new bands they think I should check out from the local scene. This is all done through a text message or a quick email. You don’t have to invite them over for a 4 course dinner, but following up shows that you’re maintaining your commitment to benefiting the local scene and you weren’t just a fly by nighter.
Following up is crucial if you want your connections with people to last.
Wait Longer to Ask for Favors
All of this “meeting people” business is great, but what good does it do you if you never get to ask them for something in return? I like to think that the only way bands are going to help a local music scene succeed is by putting more into it than they ask in return. For every handful of things you do to help other people out, consider yourself in good graces to ask for ONE favor. If you’ve gone to a couple shows, bought some CDs, chatted with local press a few times about tacos and your favorite local breweries, you can shoot out a text message to them to let them know about your next show. Or, you can leverage your connections to get on bills with bigger bands.
Jumping the gun and promoting “me me me” style is going to get you a bad reputation, and fast.
Is any of this ethical? Before the comments section gets bombarded with people saying that “tit for tat” type favors are shady and that doing business in this way is greedy, you may be right. But it’s business. All of the press people and bands you help out are in this business for lots of the same reasons. Bands want shows, fans, and exposure. Helping them get that in exchange for them helping you out in return is a business partnership, not sneaky.
The whole point of networking is to meet new people and to, above all else, make your local music scene a better place! None of this is ethical if you’re doing it just to stroke your own
dick ego and pretend that you’re a hot shot rockstar.
The Networking Plan
So now you’ve got an idea of what it is you should be doing, but HOW should you be executing this strategy? There are so many ways to go about meeting new people that making a guide almost feels silly, but if you need a jumping off point, here are some ideas:
Shows: Go to 1 show each week. While you’re there, make it a point to talk to one of the bands after the show. Offer to help them load their gear into their van or buy them a Tall Boy.
Press: Email local press once per week. Don’t bombard every single publication, but instead just rotate who you email and who you chat to. If there are 6 publications in town, email one of them each week (maybe to see if they’re going to the same show you’re going to?). Reach out, see what’s up, and foster any connections you may have formed from face-to-face meetings.
General: If you’re going to be in the business of talking to people on a regular basis (you’re a musician after all), it might be time to practice just talking to people regularly. Whether you’re at a coffee shop and see someone listening to something cool or you see someone with a band’s t-shirt that you like, just say hello. Career aside, talking to strangers is an important skill in lots of other aspects of life. You’ll build confidence and learn that strangers aren’t so scary.
It’s a long road to building up a book full of local music contacts, but adding one or two names each week will add up to quite a few when it comes time for your next record release or when you’re building a fan base at shows. As mentioned many times, talking to people is about helping each other out MUTUALLY, not about begging people to come out to your shows or writing about your record.
David Roberts is the founder of the Sunshine Promotion company. Based out of Nashville, TN, his blog “Sunshine Promotion” at sunshinepromotion.info helps artists achieve real goals with hard facts, case studies, and templates of music business plans to follow.