[Editors Note: This article was written by Angela Mastrogiacomo.
When you first entered the music industry, you may have expected that your talents would be enough to carry you. While talent is an important part of creating a lasting career, there’s another piece that’s just as, if not more, important: who you know. While some might find that unfair or daunting, I see it as an incredible opportunity to build connection and opportunities based off friendships and human connection.
The key to relationship building, is to treat it as you would any other relationship or friendship. This means giving more than you get, learning to listen, and respecting boundaries. It also means being completely genuine in your approach. If you go into it with a clear agenda of “here’s what Person A can do for me”, and view them only as a means to an end, they’ll see right through it, and you’ll almost certainly alienate them and hinder your chances at a fruitful interaction.
So, where do you start when it comes to relationship building, and how do you build these connections in an honest, productive way?
Make your own opportunities
The first thing I want to mention is that if something isn’t going your way, if you can’t find the solution you’re looking for, it’s ok (encouraged even) to create your own. This means if there’s not a show for you to jump on because you’re a brand new artist that no one is willing to take a chance on, organize your own and use it as an opportunity to get to know other emerging bands. If you want to tour but you’re waiting for a major label to scoop you up and pay for it, stop waiting, start saving money, and begin routing your tour to make it happen yourself.
The music industry is a beautiful place, but it is also complicated, messy, and at times chaotic, so if you want something that doesn’t already exist, sometimes you just have to figure out a way to make it happen yourself.
Oftentimes, it’s these acts of self-reliance that end up leading to the most memorable, significant moments and connections.
Conferences are a wonderful place to network. If you know there’s a certain person you want to meet while there, the best way to get in front of them is to plan ahead. Have an idea of who you want to meet, what you want to accomplish, and how you’ll go about it well before you actually get to the conference. If you can, try to set up the meeting via email before you arrive.
Either way, it’s best to have your approach solidified beforehand. Then, get to know the person via past interviews, social media, etc, and see what makes them tick. By approaching them and introducing yourself, then bringing up something that interests them vs just talking about what they can do for you, you’ll capture (and keep!) their attention much longer.
Bonus tip: I also recommend attending as many smaller conferences as possible, rather than just sticking to the larger ones. While there’s a lot of value in giant festivals like SXSW, attending some of the smaller ones (Launch Music Conference, for instance) allows you to be in the same room as the same few hundred people for several days in a row, making it much easier to connect with both other attendees and panelists. The more you see someone, the more natural small talk becomes. As a bonus, small conferences are also a lot cheaper to attend!
Utilize social media
Is there anything more convenient for the introverted musician than social media? It’s the perfect way to get in front of new people and build relationships, without ever having to leave the house.
While some of the simpler tactics apply here—follow people you want to get to know on social media, interact with their posts with comments, etc, are valid, I want to introduce you to one of my absolute favorite ways to network online, and that is through Facebook Groups.
There are no doubt tons of options depending on your genre/city and a quick search can bring them up, but a few of my favorites for supportive, helpful discussion and support across all genres and cities, incorporating advice from musicians and industry professionals alike are the Music Launch Hub, Rock/Star Collective, and for ladies only Music Biz Besties and GBTRS.
Join these groups, introduce yourself, and then take a few minutes each day to peruse the groups that resonate most with you and see where you can chime in. Is someone asking a question that you know the answer to? Are they asking for advice that you could be helpful on? This is a great opportunity to employ that “give more than you take” strategy I mentioned earlier. The more people see your name pop up in a group, offering helpful, informative advice, the more they’ll begin to think of you as someone trustworthy, knowledgeable and yes, worth checking out/following.
By being a constant presence in these groups, you’ll begin to find a new group of followers and supporters to help you navigate and grow your career. Not to mention, you’ll come across some truly profound advice for advancing your career!
Get involved with your local scene
One of the best ways to really get in front of people is to take advantage of your local scene. Go to shows, talk to the other bands, get to know the people in the audience, and you’ll start to develop a sense of community.
Many times, the same people will attend the same shows (i.e. the same crowd goes to the Tuesday open mic) so the more you show up, the more familiar faces you’ll see, and just like I mentioned with Facebook groups above, the more people begin to trust and recognize you, and the more embedded in the community you become. This means you get invited to more shows, events, and opportunities.
Likewise, if your city has a meet up, get out there and attend it! Face to face interaction is still one of the absolute best ways to make a strong impression and build relationships. There’s a variety of meet ups all over the place, but one that I’ve been deeply involved in and has chapters across North America is called Balanced Breakfast. With active chapters currently in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Nashville, Austin, and more, there’s probably one in your city—you can check event listings here.
But if there’s not? Start your own meetup! It doesn’t have to be huge, even just a few interested people meeting regularly to talk shop about the music industry and support one another is enough to begin building a strong foundation. Trust me, before long you’ll see that meet up grow, and with it, your network.
Ask for an introduction
Is there someone you’d love to talk to, but just can’t seem to get a response from? The music industry is relatively small, so if you don’t have a personal connection to the person you want to get in front of, and you’ve done your due diligence thus far with relationship building, odds are you know someone who can do that intro for you.
Don’t abuse this by constantly asking for intros, but trust that an email intro from a mutual acquaintance is far more likely to get a response than a cold email from someone they don’t know.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placement on Alternative Press, Substream, New Noise, and more. She’s also the owner of music blog Infectious Magazine.