How many times in discussions about the music business have you heard someone say “It’s all who you know?” Guess what? It’s true. Well, it may not be ALL who you know. Even if you play golf with Tony Brown or live next door to Vince Gill you’ll have a tough time getting a cut if your songs aren’t good. But then, if you have great songs and excellent demos sitting on your shelf at home, they are not likely to get cut either. Connections are essential.
So, what if you don’t know anyone in the music business? Is it hopeless? Of course not. It just means that you need to get to know some people. You need to develop a network of relationships so that, whatever you need, you can find someone to help. To do this you need to develop the skill known (in the modern vernacular of turning nouns into verbs) as networking.
One aspect of networking involves getting to know people who are already in positions of power. It is very difficult to get an appointment or even get your call returned if they don’t know you. They are just too busy to give their time to everyone who wants it. A referral from someone they know and trust can sometimes get you through the door. If you get such an opportunity, be prepared and professional. State your business clearly, don’t take up too much of their time, and don’t be defensive or pushy no matter what answer you get. If you do this, you increase your chances of getting through the door the next time.
Sometimes you will be around successful music professionals at seminars, showcases or other such functions, and sometimes you even meet them by chance at the hardware store or in line at the bank. If you do, don’t jump in and start talking about yourself or asking for help. These people are hit on so often they tend to resent the intrusion. If you try to initiate a conversation and the other person obviously wants to be left alone, don’t push. Also, don’t be overly familiar and try to act as if there is more of a relationship than there really is between you. These behaviors fall under the category of being a gherm (pronounced with a hard ‘g’, rhymes with germ and has the same popularity.)
If the other person seems open to talking with you be pleasant, show interest in what is going on at the event you are attending, talk about projects that person is involved in or just chat about a neutral topic. You will make a much better impression if you don’t come across as self-absorbed. If they like you, they will ask you about yourself. Speak positively about what you do and never put yourself down even if you are feeling insecure. But don’t brag or hype yourself too much either. Balancing confidence with humility is the most effective strategy in forming positive alliances with people who can help you.
Now I want to talk about another extremely important and often overlooked aspect of networking, and that is forming a network of your peers. It is essential to surround yourself with people whose creativity and diligence excite and inspire you regardless of their level of success. You need friends and allies who are readily available to you who can give you feedback, encouragement, advice and information. You will help each other learn and grow. By associating with the best and the brightest you become better in the same way that you become a better tennis player if you play with good players.
A strong peer network is also helpful because talented, hard-working writers get noticed by the industry, and as you and your friends make contacts in the business you can introduce each other to them. Recently I was talking about this to Chris Oglesby, who has been a plugger for major Nashville publishers for many years. He commented, “Somehow the talented ones find each other and hang together.” He said that when he signs one new writer he often ends up working with their friends and co-writers as well.
It is also said that the process of becoming successful in the business is like “moving up with your class.” If you are only concerned with trying to meet those who are already successful you’ll miss the chance to get in on the ground floor, so to speak, with the future movers and shakers. Woody Bomar, head of Sony Tree Publishing, once told me that by the time he was running a publishing company many of the producers and A&R representatives he needed to pitch to were friends he had hit the writers nights with when he was new in town.
It will help you tremendously if you can remember that careers don’t happen over-night and that relationships take time to build. One of my favorite quotes about the music business came from an interview in The Tennessean years ago with Susan Longacre who wrote “Is There Life Out There” as well as many other hits. She talked to the interviewer at length about her career and ended by saying, “It all takes so much longer than you ever think it will.” Don’t ever miss an opportunity to network, but don’t try to force your own agenda. If you let people get to know you gradually over time without always asking for something, they will be more likely to want to help you and won’t run when they see you coming.