If you’re reading this blog, odds are you’re a musician. And if you’re a musician or creative of any kind, odds are the word, “networking” brings to mind corporate stiffs in white button-downs swapping bad office stories. At least for this intrepid blogger/musician it does, and I break out in cold sweats every time I think about “office happy hours,” “trade shows,” and other such “networking events.” But trading business cards and BS is not the only way to think about networking – that’s just how they do it in Midtown Manhattan. Any good artist knows that building up a community of collaborators is key to success, and learning how to do it well is a big part of the game.
If you think about it, most artists are already networking all the time – they just call it by a different name. Whether it’s a SoundCloud comment board or a bar in Bushwick (see: Treble Tuesdays), every interaction is a chance to expand your network, grow your team, and build up the following you need.
Here’s how (Spoiler: it’s not that hard).
Find your people
The first thing you have to do is identify your scene. This seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often you find dolled-up pop-singers at old-timey blues jams, or aspiring rappers spitting bars at an Irish Folk open mic. Getting out and playing is exactly what you should be doing. Always do more of that and never be discouraged, full stop. In the early stages, the best (and only?) way to build your career is to get out and share your art, be it at a mic, a jam, or online. But sharing that art with the right people – i.e. like-minded artists trying to do what you’re doing – is crucial.
We’ve all heard about “music scenes,” and guess what, they’re a real thing and they’re great! You wouldn’t have TV On The Radio or The National if they weren’t first drawn to the Mercury Lounge by The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs – just like you wouldn’t have Joni Mitchell without Crosby Stills and Nash hanging at The Troubadour, or A$AP Mob chilling up in Harlem. When artists who like the same stuff get together, they push each other, evolve, and make great things happen. So do your research: find musicians on social media making music you like, then find out where they’re hanging out. Google open mics in your town, and then check out what acts typically play those venues. Everyone has a Facebook and a SoundCloud, so take a minute to scope out the sounds and styles represented, and make an honest appraisal of where you fit in – and when you find it, say whatup! Of course there’s no harm in giving every scene a try, but working with people who specifically share your goals and tastes will help you immensely as both an artist and entrepreneur.
Show up to things
While we now live in a world of bedroom producers and basement YouTubers, music is and always will be a social experience. You can make as many videos as you like, post as many beats as you can, but at some point you’re going to have to leave your house. Whether it’s playing around town, trying your hand at an open jam, or just catching a friend’s gig, there’s no substitute for showing up in person and pressing the flesh. And the more things you show up to, the better – cuz when you show up to your friend’s gig, they’re a lot more likely to show up to yours!
Treble’s own Michael Persall made his name in the New York scene by playing over 300 shows in one year. That meant getting out there 5-6 nights a week, and often playing two gigs a night – it’s grueling, but I know a whole lot of people who now know Michael Persall. Showing your stuff on stage is the best business card you can ever hand out, and watching someone play is the best resume you’ll ever read. You never know who you’re going to meet at that open mic or new band’s concert – it might be your next drummer or new go-to producer. And I can tell you this: you’re a lot more likely to meet ‘em when you leave your bedroom.
Be a Professional
This rule might be the most obvious, but sometimes it feels like the toughest for musicians to follow – and not because we’re bad people, but, ya know, because. When you tell someone you’re going to show up to something, show up. When you have to cancel something, give notice. Respond to questions in a timely fashion, treat people with respect, and act like a professional because you are one!
Whether it’s the guys in your band, the booker at that venue, or the singer you met on Treble who you said you’d have coffee with, all of those relationships have the potential to propel your career forward…or to bring you down. Music is all about collaboration, and people don’t want to collaborate with people who suck. James Murphy is one of the most talented musicians of his generation, but it took him til his mid-thirties to finally gain some traction…because everyone thought he was an asshole. Once he finally found his crew at DFA and in LCD Soundsystem, that’s when his career took off.
Bring people together
So you’ve read all of this and you’re sitting there thinking, “but there is no scene for my Indie New Jack Folktronica!” What should you do? Make one! If there’s no one else out there that’s into your style…well that’s a bigger problem that you’ve got. But if you’re making good stuff, there are going to people that are into it – and if you’re looking for a scene, then they probably are too. Whether you’re a denim-wearing singer-songwriter in Nashville or starting something completely fresh, we’re all in this together and always looking for more ways to play, collaborate, and build our networks.
Book a song circle with 4 of your friends. Start a collaborative blog where you share bands you like. Invite a group to see your favorite DJ when they roll through town. We live in a world that’s more connected than ever, and it’s a lot easier to bring people together than you think. That’s the whole damn reason that Treble exists!
At the end of the day, seeing shows, playing music, and hanging with friends doesn’t feel like work…but when you’re a professional musician, that is your job! So go out and enjoy the fact that you’ve got the best job in the world, and build up that artist community around you. Networking isn’t just for suits – they’re version is just way less cool than ours.
Feature by David Rothschild
Treble is a platform that helps artists find new collaborators and expand their creative networks. Our app is out in the App Store. Download today.