Power Networking At A Music Conference
The music industry is an ever-evolving ecosystem of new modes of production and distribution, new sales channels, new marketing tactics, new technologies, new people and decision-makers, new legislation and new implications of legislation. There are many trade magazines and blogs that help to keep musicians and music industry professionals informed. However, merely reading about something new or someone important is not a sufficient way to promote yourself and make great connections.
For managers and indie artists, networking should be a significant part of the task of promoting yourself and your music. Networking can help open the right doors and put you on track to reaching some of your goals. As a speaker, moderator, and guest lecturer in the music industry, I value networking with colleagues and other music industry professionals in my own pursuits. And I have plenty of networking success stories to validate that notion.
There are many ways to network. My personal favorite is attending music conferences. Music conferences are typically multi-day events, often consisting of day-time and evening functions. During the day, patrons attend workshops, seminars, panels, and demos. In the evening patrons attend mixers, parties, artist showcases and dinners.
Conferences can run anywhere from $25 to $500 or more. The cost is substantiated by the caliber of the presenters/speakers, the networking opportunity between attendees (including the presenters/speakers), the ability to ask questions and receive direct responses from seasoned and knowledgeable speakers, and the quantity and quality of information that attendees can take away.
Because attending conferences should be considered an investment in your career, you should maximize your time there by understanding how to take advantage of the conference.
In their September 2012 issue, Music Connection magazine published an article by entertainment attorney, author, and speaker Glen T. Litwak titled “Power Networking at a Music Conference.” I found this piece to be quite insightful and beneficial to my readers who might want to grasp the concept of power networking in the music conference environment.
The following piece has been re-published below with permission by Mr. Litwak himself.
“Power Networking at a Music Conference”
By Glenn T. Litwak ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
Whether you are an aspiring recording artist, music producer, manager, or music industry executive, effective networking can make a huge impact on one’s career. This article will discuss how to best network before, during, and after a music conference in order to maximize your time and results.
FINDING THE BEST CONFERENCES
The first step for effective networking is to find the best conferences to attend. Most music conferences today cover more than one genre of music but may have an emphasis on rock, urban, country, etc. You should try to find a conference that, at the very least, involves the type of music that you are interested in.
The geographic location of the conference is another consideration. Local conferences where you do not have to fly or stay in a hotel are obviously more economical. You can do a Google search, for instance, for “music conferences 2012” to locate potential conferences.
Make sure to carefully research as much as possible about the conference. If it is the first year of a conference by an unknown entity, it may not be well attended. I have also seen some conferences cancelled due to lack of ticket sales. You can learn about a conference from their website and from others who have attended that conference.
When I attend a conference outside of LA, I usually see if I know anyone that lives in that city who can provide me with helpful information. Of course, be careful about spending a lot of money on a faraway conference, such as one in Europe. Consider the amount of money you have to invest in light of the possible benefits. In addition you should decide whether you can buy a one day pass or a pass for the entire length of the conference.
Sometimes a smaller local conference can have it a more relaxed atmosphere and consequently easier to network. It is far better to go to a smaller conference or a poorly attended conference and meet lots of people than go to a major conference with big sponsors and lots of attendees where you end up not meeting anyone. Big conferences such as South by Southwest, The ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo, and the Billboard conferences offer a lot but are more expensive. Be sure to go on the conference website and check to see how many speakers and panels interest you.
WHAT TO DO BEFORE THE CONFERENCE
Many conferences have “early bird” discounts if you sign up before a certain date. Some conferences allow you to sign up for just one day instead of the entire conference. Therefore, make a careful analysis of the type of conference pass you would like and the cost to best meet your needs.
Networking starts well before the conference. In order to maximize your results at the conference you must carefully prepare by determining who you want to meet at the conference and what panels and parties you want to attend. Make sure you prepare a detailed schedule of exactly what panels you will be attending and when. You should do your due diligence and research the people you want to meet. This means research their background, education and experience. Maybe you can find something you have in common. When you meet the person they may be flattered by how much you know about them.
Of course, the conference website is the best place to start. It is good practice to email people ahead of time who you would like to meet and try and set up a meeting. Also let people know that you will be attending the conference and post it on your social networking websites. In addition, find out if there is anyone you know who will be attending the conference as it will be good to have some company at the conference and you may be able to help one another network.
This sounds simplistic, but make sure you bring what you will need for the conference. Plenty of business cards, pens, and your biographical materials or other materials you would like to give out. If you have a laptop or tablet it is wise to bring it so that you can check the conference website and do research while at the conference.
Very often when I am at a conference aspiring artists give me CDs. If it is an out of town conference, it is hard to bring them all home. A good idea is to put your electronic press kit including your music on a thumb drive which is much easier for people to store and take with them. I have seen artists put them on lanyards. Make sure that you bring appropriate clothing for the event. If you are going to a winter conference in Miami you will probably be attending pool parties and you would bring a different wardrobe than a conference you would attend in New York City in the winter.
INFORMAL NETWORKING AT THE CONFERENCE
As soon as you step out of your home to attend the conference you may begin networking. Perhaps you are at the airport at the gate and you notice others who may be going to the same conference as you. I usually think I can figure out who is going to the conference and I may go up to them and introduce myself. If you get there a little early and people are just waiting, it may be a good opportunity to meet someone.
You can take the same approach when you are on the plane. You may be able to met someone sitting next to or near you also attending the conference. Or perhaps you might meet another conference attendee or speaker waiting to board the plane or even waiting in line for the restroom! When you arrive at the hotel and are waiting to check in, there may be others attending the conference waiting to check in, affording you yet another opportunity to network.
It is usually a good idea to stay at the hotel where the conference is located for convenience and the informal networking opportunities. For instance, breakfast at the hotel may be a good place to meet someone. When you stay at the hotel you are up and down the elevators with attendees and speakers staying in the same location. I have also met great contacts in the lobby, at the hotel gym, in the hallways, and at the pool.
I find the gym to be a great place to network because often there are few people there and it is a great atmosphere to connect with someone. Icebreakers can be as simple as, “Are you attending the conference?” “Where are you from?” “What aspect of the music industry are you involved in?” “I love your glasses!” Another great place to meet people is while waiting to get a drink at the bar. Furthermore, I have met people in the lobby at the end of the conference when everyone is checking out, waiting for taxis to the airport and killing time.
AT THE CONFERENCE
Try to make certain that you plan ahead so that you arrive at the conference on time and ready to network. Leave yourself some leeway. If you are flying in on a Friday night and arriving at 8 PM you may not have time to attend a party that ends at 10 PM. When you get to the conference, do not be discouraged if it is poorly attended. Make the best of the situation. I have made excellent contacts at poorly attended conferences. It is not how many people attend the conference, but what YOU accomplish at the conference.
Do not be shy. The vast majority of people that you meet will be cordial. Try to establish something in common with the person you are meeting, such as friends in common or being fans of the same band. This will help establish some rapport with the person you are trying to meet. When you speak to people, smile and be polite. Let them know that you are someone they should meet. Networking is not just about approaching people; it is what you say and do after you meet them.
One thing I have noticed is sometimes people are searching for their business cards to give out, looking thru their pockets or purse. Make sure you have plenty of business cards that you can access easily.
What should you say when you meet someone? Let’s say that you are an aspiring singer/songwriter. To get someone’s attention you might indicate that you recently played the Voodoo Lounge at the House of Blues and that you are working with a famous producer (if that is true!). Let them know that you are a songwriter and write all of your own music, if that is the case. The way you act tells the other person how it might be to work with you, and you want to give off the impression that you are easy to work with.
When I meet someone at a conference that I want to keep in touch with, I tell them to please let me know when they will be in Los Angeles so we can meet again. Make sure you get as much contact information as possible because phone numbers change, as do jobs, so the business card you receive may become obsolete. If you are alone at the conference, it is usually a good idea to make a friend there, whether or not you believe they are a good contact for you. You will enjoy the conference more, you will have someone to eat and hang out with, and chances are you will end up meeting more people if you have a “wingman.”
You are not going to meet anyone sitting by yourself in your hotel room! Thus, you must get out as much as possible and not get stuck in your room on your laptop. There may also be restaurants close to the hotel where attendees will be congregating. Sometimes conferences have sponsored luncheons with speakers which are excellent to attend.
HOW TO BE A SPEAKER, VOLUNTEER, OR EXHIBITOR AT THE CONFERENCE
If you have a product or service to sell you could consider being an exhibitor at the conference, although this may be cost prohibitive.
For attendees of the conference, the registration fee can be $300-$500, or more. If that is not within your budget, you could consider volunteering at the conference. This is a great way to network and meet tons of people.
If you have a particular expertise in the music business or stature, you could consider being a speaker on a panel or a moderator at a conference. This affords you great exposure to everyone attending the conference and instant credibility. Most conferences have a place to apply to speak on their website. When applying to be a speaker, let them know of your previous speaking experience, if you have a prominent job in the business, or have written a book, etc. Also, perhaps someone in the music business can recommend you as a speaker.
What I like to do is send an email to the conference I want to speak at and then follow up with a phone call. However, nowadays, it may be difficult to find a conference phone number.
ATTENDING PANELS AND WORKSHOPS
You have already decided which panels will be best for you to attend before the conference. You may even decide to move from panel to panel depending on your instincts. You should be open to changing your schedule depending on what seems promising. When you get to the panel try to arrive as early as possible. You may be able to find a seat next to someone who you think you may want to talk to. Before the panel begins is a time to work the room and meet people since everyone is waiting for the panel to start. Coffee and snacks may be in the back of the room where people are congregating. Of course, many people will be in the hallways near where the panels are held.
Some conference attendees seem to think that the idea is to attend the panel and rush up at the end to try and meet the speakers. This is usually not the best time to meet the speakers because of the crowd of people that are also going to be there. Some high profile speakers may even leave immediately after the panel ends without speaking to anyone. However, you can still try to connect with the speaker though you may not have much time to speak with them. If this is your plan, sit in the front so you can get to the speaker quickly at the end of the panel discussion. It may be a chance to give them your card.
Remember that most speakers are not necessarily at the conference to search for new talent, but may be there simply to share their knowledge, to learn and possibly network themselves. For instance, if you give your CD to a music manager you meet at the conference, if he/she does not “shop” aspiring artists, he/she may not even listen to your CD. It is probably better to try to establish a rapport with someone or explain who you are before you give them a CD. If you are an aspiring artist with a manager, it would be ideal if you could both attend the conference.
Remember that your networking is not just with the people who are speaking on the panel. The person next to you could be someone you could collaborate with, produce your music, or introduce you to a manager. Or they may simply become a friend. So do not limit your networking to the speakers at the conference. Try and get to the panel early and stay after the panel for networking opportunities in the room. Asking questions at a panel also affords you an opportunity to let people know who you are.
If you are an artist you should consider showcasing at the conferences that include live performances. You should apply early and follow up with emails to see what the status is. Also find out if there is any charge for showcasing and whether they provide any benefits to those who do showcase. For instance, I was a conference recently where they gave the performers who showcased a booth in the exhibition hall. Going to the showcases is also a great opportunity to meet potential contacts before, during, and after the performance.
Most conferences have an area for exhibitors which are people who provide products and services to the music industry. This is another great place for you to network and establish contacts. The exhibition booth area is a great place for free snacks, free pens, and other conference goodies.
AT THE PARTIES
Most conferences have various events including opening and closing night parties. Some conferences have parties at nightclubs which are really not much more than a typical club night. Others have cocktail parties where you have a great opportunity to meet people. Get to the party early because there is no benefit to being fashionably late. Sometimes if you get to a party early when it isn’t too crowded, it is easier to meet people. Most conference websites have pictures and bios of the speakers. Since you have already researched and targeted people you would like to meet, perhaps you will notice one at the party. Also you should be friendly towards the people working at the conference so that they can provide you with valuable information including who someone is.
What do you say when you meet someone at the party? “Hello” is always nice! Whatever your personal style is and whatever you are comfortable with. Of course have your business cards ready and a smile. Do not drink too much alcohol at the party because it usually does not help matters. Hold your drink in your left hand so that your right hand is available to shake hands and is not wet from holding your drink. Again the best networking opportunity at the party may be waiting for the restroom or waiting in line to get into the party. . If you have someone with you at the conference (husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or friend) they may also make good connections that you may want to meet.
Make sure you keep track of all the business cards and other materials you receive. I like to ask for people’s cell phone number if it is not on their business card so that I may call them while still at the conference, if appropriate.
WHAT TO DO AFTER THE CONFERENCE
When the conference ends that does not mean that your networking should end. I have shared a taxi from the hotel to the airport and have made excellent contacts. When you get home, input all the data from the business cards and the information you have so you can preserve it and send follow up emails to those you have met saying, for instance, “Nice to have met you. Let’s keep in touch.” You can do a posting on your social networking sites regarding what you did at the conference and can post great pictures that you took as well. You can add new friends to your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn pages, etc. In your follow up email after the conference, make certain to remind the person of who you are and what you do. Perhaps you will both be attending another conference in the future where you could meet again.
If you follow the above strategies you will more likely maximize networking opportunities which can enhance your career.