We’ve all heard that networking is a critical tool for those wanting to get ahead in the music business. But what exactly does it mean—and how do you do it effectively? I posed this question to networking expert Dan Kimpel who authored Networking in the Music Business and Networking Strategies for the New Music Business. Author, educator, music journalist, and the on-air host of the new music biz podcast Storyophonic, Kimpel stated that networking is an essential reality in any business environment. He defined it as, “Creating mutually advantageous relationships that will further careers.”
I first met Dan many years ago at a music business conference. I did not want to go to the event. I was nervous about having to interact with strangers and would have much rather stayed home watching TV. But by attending that event, and many more throughout the years, I took the most important step in networking—I placed myself in a location where I would have opportunities to interact with music industry professionals, as well as aspiring songwriters and recording artists. When I forced a smile, and introduced myself to Dan, I could not have imagined that years later, he would be instrumental in fulfilling my dream of teaching a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney).
When asked to contribute tips for this article, Kimpel stated, “While networking might have some immediate benefits, more realistically you are networking for the future. To that end, the most valuable contacts you make are not with those who are above you in their careers, but those who are around you. If you create substantial, real relationships, careers can rise at complementary levels.”
I can attest to this. During the years when earning a living as a songwriter was still a distant dream for me, I attended workshops with other dreamers who went on to write #1 songs, win GRAMMY, Oscar, and Emmy awards, and sign record deals. Some of these people became friends, or at least acquaintances, and in some cases, collaborators. Looking back, I can see that more than twenty of my TV or film song placements and at least one major artist recording came about as a direct result of connections I made by networking.
Below are some of Dan Kimpel’s top networking tips.
- Authenticity is key. It is not necessary to create an alternate persona; to be effective, you have to be yourself. That said, note what parts of your personality people respond most favorably to and emphasize these qualities when in social mode.
- Effective networking is not about you; it is about the other person and how they react. Ask questions and show genuine interest in what others have to say. The best way to get someone interested in what you want to present is to first show interest in them. To be effective, networking must benefit both parties.
- When attending music industry events, if you arrive on the early side you can more favorably align your energy with the energy of the event. It’s fine to move around a room, but it is often a more effective use of your energy to find a spot where everyone has to walk past you. (In proximity to the bar, perhaps…)
- In networking, the person who initiates conversation is in the power seat. In conversations, start by asking general questions about whatever reality you are both experiencing. Open ended questions encourage conversations; closed ended questions that can be answered “yes” or “no” do not. “So, what brings you here tonight,” is always preferable to “…so what do you do?”
- However, if someone asks what you do, be prepared to offer a 20- to 30-second sound bite encapsulating your endeavors and playing these forward. “I’m a singer-songwriter originally from Lima, Ohio who moved to Nashville three months ago. I am primarily a wordsmith who writes narrative story songs and modern country lyrics. And you?” Be sure to hit the ball back across the net, so to speak.
- When attending music business events, wear something to allow others to begin a conversation – an interesting tie, t-shirt, pin, hat or article of clothing. Since most folks are inherently shy, having a conversation piece can be a way to draw others into your orbit. Whatever you choose however, don’t make others question your sanity with apparel choices.
- In music capitals, it is no secret that people have moved to these locales to get something. Ask yourself: What are you here to give? Creating supportive communities of like-minded creative partners should be your long-range strategy.
- In a social environment, if you have first made eye contact with one person in a group, it is acceptable to join that group in conversation. Avoid interrupting two people who might be discussing something private.
- If you encounter someone you’ve previously met, reintroduce yourself using your name. “Hi Jason, I’m Dan – we met last fall during a mentor session at the Taxi Road Rally.” You diminish yourself with phrases like, “You probably don’t remember me but…” and you challenge others with “Do you remember me?” If you reintroduce yourself by name, the person you are reencountering now has a context and a better chance for recall.
- Practice presentation and engagement techniques. Initiate conversations with those you encounter in real life—cashiers, parking lot attendants and security guards—and gauge how they respond to you. You might be surprised about what you learn.
Networking might not come naturally or easily for you, but it is an important part of doing business. Indiscriminately handing out business cards is not enough. Your cards are likely to wind up in a trash bin unless you have broken the ice and made a real connection. Just as there are steps we can take to hone our creative and business skills, with practice, we can learn to master—and even enjoy—the networking process.