By Kenny Kerner
The best way to learn and to make connections is to hang out—I mean network. Back in the '70s, when I wanted to learn about producing records, I hung out at recording studios and asked questions of other producers and engineers. And even though I was just hanging out, to others in the Biz, I was in fact, networking.
Enough already. I'm going to assume you now know what the word means and move on to more important things—like how to network and why it's so incredibly important to your careers.
Let's begin by telling you what networking is NOT. It is NOT ass-kissing. It has nothing to do with cuddling up to one particular executive or top-level industry guy and yessing him to death. It's more akin to infiltration—to putting yourself into that "inner circle" of party-goers, movers and shakers and seminar speakers. It's getting to meet as many important people as you can—and leaving them with a positive impression. These are two completely different things. Watch this: (1) Getting to meet as many important people as you can and (2) leaving them with a positive impression.
The people in the music industry who can help you are really fairly accessible—if you know where to look. Remember, they all have egos and all want to be seen and heard. They all need to be asked for their opinions to validate their existence (and in some cases, their exorbitant salaries) in this business. Here are some tips on great networking opportunities:
- Many local and national magazines and newspapers list upcoming events in their calendar sections. This will give you advance notice about seminars, conventions, meetings, classes, and mentoring sessions scheduled in the near future. Check out the topics, the list of guest speakers and the cost of attending. If the cost is out of your financial range, you might want to split it with a friend (or all of your band mates) and tape the seminar so you all benefit. At least that gets one of you in the door with the opportunity to meet and greet.
- When large music conventions are held in giant hotels (EAT'M, for example), entrance is never restricted. It's almost too easy to walk into the hotel and right up to the convention area. My first suggestion would be to try talking your way in. Failing that, you need to realize that these all-day conventions are usually divided into many different sections, each lasting an hour or two. Remember that whatever walks in, must walk out.
- On a smaller scale, many music education schools and colleges host weekend seminars that are attended by some pretty important guest speakers—people you want to meet; People who can help you. Since attendance is usually limited, you should have no trouble approaching your target. Keep in mind that many people in the audience might be industry employees, as well.
- If you stop to think for a moment, you'll realize that there are probably two or three people who you deal with on a regular basis who have some industry ties—a local club booker, a journalist, or writer, a local recording artist, a promoter. This is the best and most direct way to begin the networking process. Start hanging out. See if you can get invited to an industry party. If there's a special show at a local club featuring a hot new band, try to get in. There is certain to be a bevy of A&R activity there.
- The best of all possible ways to both network and learn about the Biz is to try and get an internship at a record company, publishing company, or management company. This not only gives you hands-on experience on a day-to-day basis, but it allows you to meet and mingle as an "insider." Failing that, getting a day job at a giant record store (Tower, Virgin Megastore, etc.) will do wonders for increasing the size of your Rolodex. Many aspiring stars got their first big break by talking it up with customers at the check-out counters and handing them a tape with their receipts.
And let's not forget networking via e-mail. Today, almost everyone at the major record companies has an e-mail address. Take a shot. While you're sitting home in your underwear playing computer games, send a short message to a manager or label exec. It couldn't hurt. In fact, many industry veterans give online seminars and lectures. Check 'em out.
Always remember that you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Boy, I wish I had said that. Nevertheless, it's quite true. Meeting someone is only half the battle—leaving them with the impression that you're intelligent, hungry and talented, is another, entirely. Since I'm big on lists, here's one that'll help you make a lasting impression:
- Take a lesson from the pages of the Boy Scouts—be prepared! If you're going out for the night, always carry a CD or tape on your person at all times. Keep additional ones ready (along with full press packages) in your car. Strike while the iron is hot. (Have you noticed that I'm trying to use every cliche possible to make my points?)
- Look cool. Be yourself. These industry Big-Wigs are only people, after all. They also dress in jeans and go out drinking. So just be yourself and don't do anything that is unnatural for you. You want them to see what they'll be getting if they're interested.
- Knowing what to say once you meet your connection is perhaps the most important part of the networking process. Be clear, concise and gracious. Try this on for size: "Hi, my name is Bobby. I'm in a band called Cracked. I'd appreciate it if you could take my CD and listen to it when you get a chance. Cool. Thanks a lot." Congratulations, you've reached first base.
- Never try to force someone to make a commitment to listen to your music or to come down and see your band. It's your job to make the connection and then do the follow-up work. These guys are not always at a club or a show to do business.
- Never go out networking with your friends. This is something you need to do alone. You don't want an A&R rep showing more interest in your guitar-playing buddy than in you. Your friend is your competition. Where's that killer instinct? And besides, networking is not a game, it's a career move.
Dan Kimpel, author of the best-selling book, Networking in the Music Business, adds this sage advice: "Don't look up—look around. It's too easy to imagine that networking with some powerful entity will instantly elevate you to his level. This is simply not the case. The truth is that Clive Davis (president of J Records) probably doesn't need you, Babyface probably doesn't want to write songs with you, and Celine Dion doesn't need your material. You need to network for the future: cultivate relationships with minor executives who may well be the Clive Davises of tomorrow; find collaborators whose vision and drive may lead them to Babyface-levels of success and write songs for artists whose drive and talents will lead to mega-sales in the next millennium.
"People prefer to do business with people they know, so don't treat people like steppingstones, treat them as friends. Spend as much time developing your relationships as you do working on your music. Networking is something you can do every single day of your life."
After 35 years in this business I still book myself as a guest lecturer at several industry functions every year. Not for the enormous amounts of money they throw at my feet (yeah, right), but to keep my name prominent in the "circle" of happening people and to check out all the new guys in the industry that might be able to help me one day. That's right—in the music business, networking is a career-long process. So you might as well begin now.
Don't forget to buy a few copies of "Going Pro" by Kenny Kerner. It'll make you smart!
Kenny Kerner is the author of the best-selling book "Going Pro: Developing A Successful Career in the Music Industry" published by Hal Leonard and available at Amazon.com and at bookstores everywhere. So buy a few!
You can buy Heiarii's new CD Dance! at www.heiariidance.com, www.cdbaby.com/heiarii or www.towerrecords.com
About Kenny Kerner:
Discovered and produced KISS. Also produced albums for Gladys Knight, Jose Feliciano and Badfinger. As a publicist, he represented Michael J. Fox and Jay Leno. Was
the former Senior Editor at Music Connection Magazine and wrote a best-selling music education book called "Going Pro" Kerner is currently the Director of the Music Business Program at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Specialties include Personal Management, Artist Development and Music Business.
Director / Music Business Program