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How to Build A Network In The Music Industry

by Doc Coyle
music & audio

Music Industry Networking

“Networking.” This is a term that gives me an icky feeling when I associate it with my career in music. Just the idea of going to some type of industry social mixer with a stack of business cards, a perma-smile, and a mind filled with motives seems lame and insincere. I’m sure this notion turns off many artists because they are just that: creatives whose passion lies in the creation itself, not elbow rubbing and charm swindling.

I can identify with this mindset, which is why I refer to it as “Building A Network”, and not “Networking”. Having a network of friends and allies within the industry is a thing you have, not a thing you do. You don’t think powerful managers, agents, and label heads know when someone is trying to schmooze them to gain influence? Those aren’t real relationships. True relationships in the business take time to build and nurture, and hinge on credibility.

Here are a few rules of the road to build a lasting network within the music industry. I am going to refer to my old band, God Forbid, quite a bit because we were doing many of these things without realizing it:

Your network starts with your peers

Ambition is a great attribute to have, but trying to get Rick Rubin or P. Diddy on the phone first thing out of the gate may not be your wisest move. Your best bet is to engage with your local scene of like-minded bands and artists. This sounds really obvious, but you would be amazed how many local bands live on an island; they don’t go to anyone else’s shows, watch the other bands on the shows they play, or try to be friends with similar bands. God Forbid was relentless in our early years. We went to every show. The great thing about hardcore shows was you could meet all the bands that played, so we said, ”Hi”, and handed them our demo, and chit chatted about band stuff. We used to be pen pals with Mike D from Killswitch Engage when he was in Overcast. I’m talking about actual handwritten letters. It wasn’t about ass kissing or calculated power moves; we were just connected and engaged. In Questlove’s (drummer of the Roots) memoir, Mo Meta Blues, he talks about the idea of artists rising in movements, as The Roots’ success was a credit to the neo-soul movement as whole with ascending artists like D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Common. Very few bands come up on their own without peers that share a similar sound and aesthetic. We came up with Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, Unearth, Darkest Hour, Lamb of God, and Chimaira; it was a movement built on relationships, common creative ground, and shared regional proximity.

Activity leads you to the real music industry

“Working hard” has almost become a platitude at this point because it’s said so often that it’s lost it’s meaning. Some people think working hard means that there has to be some arduous physical or mental sacrifice. If you love doing it, it doesn’t feel like work. Being in the studio or a practice room all day might be taxing, but you literally have to kick me out because it never has felt like work for me. If you want to meet the promoters, labels, agents, and managers, you have to be active. Activity you love shouldn’t feel like work because it’s taking you one more step to your goal. If it’s painstaking, maybe music isn’t your passion. The more you do, people of import will pay attention. If you attend a DIY show as a fan, try and meet the promoter, and ask about doing a show with them. Make friends with the local college radio station DJ’s by going to a radio sponsored event. Looking someone in the eye and handing them a CD is more powerful than a cold-call style email. Maybe the age of social media has made things a bit more hands off, but impressions go a long way when people can put a face to the name, and they can see you are out in the world, making things happen.

Don’t take everything personally

Most decisions made about what band gets a support slot on a tour, or who gets to play a particular club, or who gets a feature in a magazine are usually dispassionate and guided by raw metrics. That’s not to say politics and favors do not play a part. They play a huge part, but you still can’t choke on sour grapes because the ball doesn’t bounce your way. You really only learn this when you are in a position of power, when you are in the position to put band “X” or “Y” on your headline tour, and then you are the one being lobbied. Band “X” are your buddies who kick ass, but band “Y” is selling tickets. At the end of the day, you have to make business decisions that don’t kill the golden goose. You won’t be in a position to do anyone favors if you ruin your career through mismanagement. This is really a part of developing the type of thick skin that comes with dealing with rejection in all fields of entertainment.

Burning bridges helps no one

This is really the 2nd part to not take things personally. I don’t have any enemies in the music industry. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a handful (or more) of people in the industry that don’t like me and wish me failure; it means that I don’t spend time hating people just because they don’t like me. I could care less about vendettas. It’s wasted energy. Holding grudges are counterproductive. What this attitude has gotten me is long-term relationships with almost everyone God Forbid has ever worked with. Our contract with Century Media ended in 2010, but I know I can reach out to anyone at the label and be treated with respect. The same goes for any ex-managers or most of our ex-agents. I want to accrue as many allies as possible, and that isn’t about brown nosing. It’s about being an amiable person who cares about our heavy music scene. I left God Forbid, but I never stopped being involved. I go to shows, I manage bands, I am building new band projects, and now I am part of the metal media. Just like Fight Club,” you decide your own level of involvement.”

A bad reputation gets around quick

The music industry is small. Although there is segmentation between different genres (the movers and shakers in hip hop probably don’t fraternize with country or metal people), whichever world you want to break into probably only has a dozen or so different big labels, managers, PR and marketing companies, and agencies, and they all talk to each other. Even if you are talented, when the word gets around that you are a pain-in-the-ass, whiny, problem child, people will not want to work with you. Of course they’ll take on high maintenance giants like Axl Rose or Marilyn Manson, but artists like that are worth millions for the headache. Are you? Probably not. At the end of the day, people want to work with people they like. The most successful bands I’ve seen usually have the same inner circle (label, manager, agent) for a decade plus, and there is a mutual respect and longstanding efforts to maintain harmony throughout the organization.

The best music industry relationships are win-win

I have maintained many personal relationships in the music industry long after our business together had ended. From time to time, I have called on someone for a favor, but something that has crystalized in my mind over time is that it has to be a 2 way street. You shouldn’t expect a friend who is in a position of power to constantly do you favors without anything coming their way. These people are busy, and their time is valuable. You may have built some credibility with them over time, but every time you ask for a favor, it’s like withdrawing from a bank account: eventually the account will be empty because you will be viewed as a taker. If you really need a favor for someone to use their time and energy, wait until it’s something really important. Also, be sure to bring them valuable business opportunities as well. If you really are friends, you want to support them to prosper.

No matter what field you are in, people want to help other people they like. Charisma and charm helps, but taking the initiative to engage people within your immediate music scene just takes effort to build good social habits. This article may have been a long way of saying,” don’t be a dick”. But, yeah…don’t be a dick.

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Doc Coyle

Ex God Forbid guitar player. Songwriter. Blogger. Know-It-All. Non-conformist. NY Knicks fan. Coffee enthusiast. Agnostic.