The famous and beautiful phrase ‘No man is an island’ comes from a sermon by 17th century English poet John Donne in his day job as Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. The metaphor emphasizes how critical human connection is for the well-being of every single one of us.
In my view, it’s the first principle of networking (ignoring the archaic sexist language!). There’s no denying it - we’re social animals. While individual pursuits, ‘own space’ and privacy are intensely valuable concepts, making meaningful connections with each other is crucial for our mental health, our personal and social development, and our prosperity.
I realize the term ‘networking’ gets a bad rap, conjuring up awkward business meet-and-greets, name tags, old boys clubs and backroom deals. So all eyerolls are forgiven! But if you want to make a living from music, nurturing a strong network will be important to your business success.
That’s because networking can provide you with opportunities, expertise, access to skills, knowledge and a ton of other resources through the people that you know. Being well networked means you may be offered support gigs, invited on to a double bill or told of a great new venue to book. It can find you a decent lawyer, a great audio engineer or your next drummer.
Where folks come unstuck is if a connection is not reciprocal or appropriately appreciated, it winds up feeling inauthentic, like you’ve been ‘used’, literally for access to your network. That sucks.
Most people seem reasonably comfortable with the idea of personal networking - friendships and social ties that develop without effort from school, work, clubs or interests you share with people. Music and musicians may be a big part of your personal network already.
But there’s merit in instrumental networking where people create and maintain connections that they think may be a source of professional opportunities and benefits. You just have to do this like a normal person, by actually building relationships. Those professional relationships may certainly become part of your personal network over time.
Growing them naturally means having something to offer, something you can contribute whether it’s your musical prowess, your van, your bookwork or being a good customer. Any transactions done in a positive space - bookings made, bills paid, great shows played - enhance your professional reputation and build trust. The more valuable you make yourself, whether it’s your social skills, your likeability, your commitment or being a multi-skilled muso with a practice schedule, the more people will want to connect with you.
This is quite a different attitude from constantly hustling and ask people to listen to your links, to print your posters for free or hassling a venue owner for a spot in the line up when you haven’t demonstrated you can pull a crowd. If you’re always soliciting or gearing every conversation to find out what you can get from an interaction, you’re not offering reciprocity inherent in a meaningful connection. Let go of a ‘what’s in for me’ attitude to networking and develop your value in the broadest sense. Be the person we all want to go to!
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This doesn’t mean everything is always equally advantageous to both parties in any personal or professional connection, but on balance, the relationship will be more sustainable if it works both ways overtime. There are some behaviours that support sustainable connections and other that decimate it.
Here are three examples that soured connections from my end - and a take home lesson or two!
1. When I was attending my stepdaughter’s play in her final year of high school, where she had a prominent role, a colleague sat himself next to me and pitched his son’s band getting signed to a label I’m involved with - literally during the kid’s major speech.
Pick your timing and consider the purpose of the event you’re attending. How appropriate is it to hustle right now?
2. An aspiring songwriter has repeatedly asked my advice (off the record and off the clock) on his material and his career. At first, I gave it freely and specifically. However, he wore the welcome mat out since he refuses to put any of it into practice. Then remerges with further requests. Meh!
This shows me he neither values my time or experience but also takes no responsibility for his own success. If you ask advice from people further up the food chain than you and you get a significant response, respect that. What have you got to lose from trying at least some of their suggestions out?
3. I produced several multi-artist concerts with compilation companion albums. Only one artist has returned the favour and offered me several reciprocal opportunities. It is part of her way of working and her personality but I very much appreciated it. It enhanced my view of her as a person, and as an artist in my ‘ecosystem’.
Part of successful networking means initiating projects and reach outs to contribute to the industry you’re in, and to the people around you. Music is an intensely social art from audiences to infrastructure staff, media outlets and music distributors, even if you’re a one-woman band/bedroom producer.
Remember to start something every now and then or show your appreciation for the folks that do! Say thank you or better yet, offer a return opportunity to someone who has supported you.
In short, be the type of person you’d like to work with. Keep your appointments, do what you say you’re going to do, and if you screw up - fix it, show your support and give credit where it’s due. Small talk is a useful skill - it shows acknowledgement and interest in another’s personal state. At industry events, have your pitch ready for sure, but don’t talk at me - talk to me like a normal person. Then I might want to get to know you. And for god’s sake, don’t whine about how hard the music industry is - we already know. Do it because you love it and create music that matters to you - that will shine through and be your best business card!
Charlotte Yates is an independent New Zealand singer-songwriter with a growing catalogue of seven solo releases and fourteen collaborative projects. She also provides a songwriting coaching service, Songdoctor.
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