We’ve all heard it before. Your network is your net worth. “Who you know” can open up opportunities that your skill or knowledge alone never could. So how do you meet these mysterious people that will make your life better? How exactly do they improve your net worth? And how the hell is this all supposed to work during COVID?
Under normal circumstances, conferences, festivals, and workshops are an excellent place to meet new people in the industry. These are places where people who are either in or interested in the industry gather to share ideas, see what’s going on in the culture, and potentially build new relationships. Ironically, what makes these events great for networking is the same thing that makes them not so great during COVID – namely that there are lots of people from all over packed in the same place.
Even while many of these events have been canceled, and the music industry itself is taking a hit, there are still moves to be made. Even while business models are being strained and relationships are being tested, music is still being released and things are still happening. There are still things to be done, they are just being done without having people gathered in the same place. The Music Business Association has compiled a list of all of the known music industry events that are being held virtually this year. Billboard also has a running list of educational resources as well as virtual workshops, webinars, and summits called the “Guide to Remote Music Education Resources During the Coronavirus.”
Rather than review all the basics of human-to-human interaction (eye contact, firm handshake, business cards, etc.) that 1) You should be working on anyways and 2) are not super helpful right now during COVID – we thought we would review the basics of networking, but highlighting how they can and should be adjusted for networking during a nationwide quarantine.
The question we all want to know the answer to…
How do we expand our social network while keeping our social distance?
Networking While Social Distancing
Even during these very strange times, basically all of the normal rules still apply.
Have a clear goal in mind. Be friendly. Bring value. Follow up.
The added piece during COVID is that interactions have gone digital. Because of that, it’s important to be where the action is. In order to even know which way the wind is blowing and who is even worth interacting with, you’ve got to spend some time hanging out in the places that those types of people hang out. There are lots of places where people spend time online – but there are two platforms that have risen above the rest in terms of network building in the music industry.
The king of visual content and quickly becoming the online home of the music industry is the primary social media platform for most people in the music industry. Here you can find creators building their personal brand, industry execs scouring for talent, and all kinds of creatives in search of collaborators and customers.
Whether you are out in front of the camera building up your personal brand and face recognition, or behind the scenes managing profiles and keeping up to date with culture, lots of people in the industry are spending a lot of time these days figuring out how to use the platform in new ways. What once was a home for your vacation pics, is now one of the most powerful networking, advertising, and now broadasting tools available to you. Scout the landscape, identify the movers-and-shakers, and master the art of the DM approach – and watch how you can pull value right out of your inbox.
The other may be less obvious, especially to the more creative types. LinkedIn is proving to be a valuable tool for making new professional connections in almost every field, including the music industry. For managers and industry professionals especially, Linkedin is a purpose-built avenue for crafting a professional profile and forging new connections. While your first thought might be corporate suits and tech startups, an increasing number of artist managers, A&Rs, label execs, studio managers, music bloggers, journalists, promoters, booking agents, and more can be found on LinkedIn – and are generally much more accessible than on other channels.
A LinkedIn profile functions essentially like a resume, which allows you to look into potential connections’ backgrounds to see exactly what they have done. This allows you to 1) research an industry or company to shop around for the most interesting prospects and 2) personalize your approach based on a particular connection’s experiences. The LinkedIn Message feature works just like a DM on Instagram. With the right approach, deals can and are being done right there in the DMs. Spend time thinking about what might resonate with this particular connection, why they might be interested in talking to you, and most importantly… what you can do for them.
Additionally, there have also been several lackluster attempts to create an online home for music industry networking. By far the most promising is a new app called Treble. Purpose-built for the music industry, Treble allows artists to discover, seek out, and connect with other creatives, collaborators, managers, industry professionals, and more. With all the utility of LinkedIn packaged in a user-friendly, Spotify-like interface – combined with an already strong and growing community of creators – Treble is perfectly positioned to become the online home of music industry networking during these unprecedented, socially-distanced times.
Networking With a Goal
The very first step of “expanding your network” is figuring out what that means. When we are networking, we aren’t just looking to add names to our address book, we’re looking to make meaningful, mutually beneficial connections with other artists, creatives, managers, industry folks, etc. Especially during these uncertain COVID times, you may need to adjust your strategy to be more thoughtful about who you’re approaching, and how you approach them.
Start by asking yourself basic questions to determine what you are even looking for in the first place: What are my needs? How could someone help me address those needs? What type of person is able / in a position to address those needs?
If you’re an artist, this might be a manager, a producer or engineer, new artists to collab with, a label executive or A&R, or any kind of creative that can help create better art or elevate the brand.
If you’re a manager, this might be an artist (to manage), other artists/producers/creatives (to pair with your artists), other managers, a mentor, designers, photographers, videographers, business managers, lawyers, promoters, venue managers, or literally any person that does something that you need or may need down the line.
The next questions to ask: How do I connect with these people? Where do they spend time… or these days, where do they spend time online? What are their needs, and how can I help them address their needs?
The best way to get someone’s attention is to fulfill or satisfy a need they already have. The best way to do that… listen. People will often tell you exactly what their needs are if you listen hard enough and ask the right questions.
When you’re in person, people often refer to this as active listening. How does this translate online? Be an active follower. Once you’ve identified someone you are interested in connecting with, pay attention to what’s important to them. Pay close attention to the things they are focused on, and perhaps more important, the things they aren’t focused on. Engage with their content (in a non-annoying way). If you find something genuinely valuable, maybe even give it a Repost or a Share on your Story.
Leave comments that show that you appreciate their content while making it clear that you are “in-the-know” and not just some regular pedestrian. Don’t leave comments that don’t have a purpose, don’t ask for things, and generally don’t be thirsty in the comments.
Bringing Value to Your Network
One of the best things you can do to improve the outcome of your networking efforts is something you can do before reaching out to anyone. Make yourself valuable.
First, do an honest assessment of your value. How could someone benefit from working with you? What do you have to add? Are there any introductions you can make? Resources you can share? Work you are especially suited for? Opportunities you can send their way?
If you’re early in your career and have little or no experience – tell people what you do and why you’re good at that. Provide examples (and data if possible). The more unique or specialized here the better, but even simple things like taking notes, keeping a schedule, moving boxes, and even “doing what you say you are going to do” can be valued skills. You really can’t know what’s needed until you ask – and you can only offer what you’ve got.
If you’re able, offer to work or “help out” for free. Lots of people need an “extra set of hands.” If you’re in a position to hang out and help out, do it. You might be moving boxes, organizing spreadsheets, or getting the coffee… but at least you’re in the room. Countless successful music industry careers have gotten their start by employing the hang-out-and-help-out strategy.
If you’re brave (and more importantly: correct) make a suggestion about how they can do their thing better. Better still, rather than tell them, show them. If they believe you and see that there’s a way you can bring them value… they’ll let you know! This strategy can pay off big if you present a genuinely interesting idea they haven’t thought of. There is also a risk of coming off clunky and presumptuous… so proceed at your own risk.
If you find that you’re having trouble determining what you can bring to the table, or you’re reaching out to people with a thoughtful approach, providing tons of value, and still getting no interest whatsoever… consider the possibility that you may need to make yourself more valuable. It may make sense to take some time to gain some more experience, work on your personal brand, and learn new skills that will make you more valuable to potential connections.
How to Write a Follow Up
Make all your interactions thoughtful. This is always a good rule, but especially during corona times. Human interactions are less frequent these days, and generally are much more intentional. We’re not having nearly as many chance encounters, random introductions, or “let’s go and feel it out” type scenarios.
Even if you do find yourself at a (socially-distanced) studio session or listening event, right now people are generally less likely to go out of their way to talk to people they don’t know. As always, if you do make a connection in person, it is hugely important that you walk away with some kind of contact info – whether that’s a business card, a phone number, an email address, or an IG handle depending on the circumstance. Let the person know that you’re going to follow up (and then most importantly… actually follow up).
Two words that have never been more important: FOLLOW UP. Everyone has a lot on their mind. You, a random person, are not anyone’s top priority. When you have a positive interaction, (really of any kind) follow up with a simple, thoughtful message that reminds the person of who you are and that you are interested in continuing some kind of relationship.
Lots of times, radio silence can feel personal. Most of the time it’s not. Sometimes it can take weeks, months, or even years of nurturing a connection until finally, the stars align. It’s not that they don’t like you, it may be as simple as you are just not top-of-mind. It may also be true that they see potential, but not quite enough to take the leap and are waiting for a later date when you are “more valuable.” It’s your job to be valuable and remain top-of-mind!
Whether it’s a follow up right after meeting someone, or an attempt to rekindle a conversation, the rules are really the same:
Whether in an email or through DM – Be brief, friendly, and open-ended. Don’t assume or expect anything from them. Don’t be too wordy. Don’t make any big asks – or any ask really. The goal is not to get something out of them in a single message (that doesn’t happen). The goal is to start a conversation.
“Hey” + “Remember Me” + “I like you” is really all you need in an initial message:
“Hey ___, was great talking with you earlier about _______. The thing you said about _____ was really interesting. I’ve actually been working on something similar doing _____. Was hoping we could stay in touch!”
Make a joke. Be confident. Don’t put yourself beneath anyone. But definitely don’t put yourself above anyone either. Don’t talk too much. Make sense.
If you’re in a Zoom workshop with someone you think is interesting – a young photographer looking to build their portfolio, an artist with a complimentary sound, etc – make sure to get their info and send a follow-up email and DM asap.
If you come across an interesting person on social media – a music marketing person you think might be interesting to work with, an artist you want to collaborate with, etc. – craft a thoughtful outreach message. Tell them what you like about them, how their content has helped you, and explain why you’re reaching out and what you hope to come of it. You might be surprised by what people say when you just ask.
Other Tips to Keep in Mind
The problem with reaching out to new people…they don’t know you. The answer: let them know you! Craft your profile to make it clear what you’re about and what you do. If you appear like you know what you’re doing, the chances of them thinking so go up.
An initial message should really be nothing more than a polite, unspoken invitation to check out your profile so they can see for themself. Whether it’s on Instagram, LinkedIn, or somewhere else – your profile should be clean, easy-to-read, and make it crystal-clear what you do and why you’re good at what you do.
If you’re “punching up” i.e. reaching out to someone “higher up” or “farther along” than you are, you probably will need to spend a little more time thinking about what you can do for them. Not because you are not worthy or they are better than you, but because they will have a higher threshold for what they deem valuable.
One of the most overlooked networking opportunities is the network you already have. In other words, tapping into your existing network of contacts, associates, friends, and family. Obviously you know who your friends and family are, but do you know everybody they know? You might be surprised at some of the connections or introductions that can be made by simply mining your existing contacts.
What does this look like online? Take a closer look at your social media. Many of your connections on Linkedin or Instagram may be people you don’t know if real life, or maybe don’t know very well. Comb through your connections using different filters to find hidden gems. An old coworker may not be in the marketing department at a label. A buddy from high school may be trying to break in the music industry and looking to get his feet wet however possible. Your cousin might have just got an internship at a blog. You really never know what you might find. Of course, we must always be careful about mixing business with personal – but when you’re just starting out you’ve got to use what you’ve got!
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when networking, in the words of the late-great Nipsey Hussle, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” You are going to hear no’s. You are going to be met with disinterest. You are going to spend hours crafting a DM only to get left on seen. You are going to find someone on LinkedIn who is the “perfect” connection, that you believe has the power to take your career to the next level. And they might completely shut down your approach.
No one person is make-or-break. Stay in the game. Continue to bring value, hone your approach, and be confident that you have something to bring to the table. If you continue to reach out in a way that brings genuine value, eventually you will find yourself at the right table. The more no’s you get, the more yeses you get. It’s that simple.
Networking is hard. Networking in the music industry is even harder. Networking in the music industry during COVID is even harder.
Treat everyone with respect. You can’t always tell someone’s value just by looking. And you never know who someone is going to be down the line.
Think outside the box. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. But don’t be afraid to be yourself.
If you’re not seeing results right away, keep going. If you are seeing results, keep going. No matter what, keep your eyes open, stay current on the trends, and keep taking shots.
And always remember, you and your skills are your best networking asset. When all else fails, improve yourself, improve your craft, learn new skills, and your network will improve!