How often do you hear or say something like, “That band only gets to play on weekends because the singer is the owner’s girlfriend.”
Well… yeah. Get used to that.
Other than your skills and talents, your network may be the most important tool for growth that you can develop. It can affect everything from show attendance to booking opportunities to better recordings to guidance.
We’ve all heard that It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Simply being good isn’t enough. You have to already be good to even be considered. That’s a private victory. Plus, “good” is relative and simply being good doesn’t mean you can create a career. You have to make enough other people care about how good you are.
Steve Vai is unbelievable and yet you never hear about him unless you dig into that world of guitar wizardry and the music nerds who pay attention to him. Casual listeners don’t have a context for that stuff until someone creates it.
In the late 80s, only the “bad kids” and skaters listened to Metallica. Parents and teachers in the bible belt town where I went to school called the music satanic. But by 1991, I was hearing “Enter Sandman” out of the cars of all the jocks, ropers and cheerleaders in at my high school. Many factors came together to create a context for what Metallica did. They were already huge in the world of metal. They already had a lot of fans worldwide, a major label deal and business team. In 1991, there was a major turn in what radio and MTV were playing as tastes moved from dance-pop (Janet Jackson) and glam-metal (Poison) to bands like Faith No More and Nirvana. Metallica also released their most mainstream album ever right at that moment and kind of met casual listeners in the middle of all that.
That kind of context can only be created by a massive network of fans, talent buyers, booking agents, managers, promoters, etc. etc. By 1991, Metallica’s network was enormous.
Each of us, no matter how introverted, has a network on which we rely — even if it’s just our family and friends. The more that you cultivate it, the more you can turn to it when in need — something that many of us seem reluctant to do because we want to do “it” ourselves. We can’t all be good at everything. In fact, none of us can. Even the highest ranked A-Listers have a network and people who help them.
Here’s a list of roles/people in your network:
- Fans – if someone likes your music, you automatically have something in common with them because you like it, too. Amanda Palmer is the queen of developing a network of fans. Take interest in stuff they care about – even/especially if it’s not your band!
- Family – Check out the video below about David Lee Roth’s multi-millionaire father. How could that connection NOT have helped David Lee and Van Halen’s careers? Don’t ignore these connections or take them for granted. Include your family members but don’t exploit them.
- Friends – every musician has to have early adopters. These are usually your friends! Even if they don’t love your music, they’ll support you just because you’re you. This is also helpful in non-music contexts. The only way to have friends is to be a friend. Go to their happenings. Care!
- Media – you’re bound to meet someone in the media who likes you – even if it’s just some guy who runs a badly edited monthly fanzine. Keep them updated. Be friendly. Don’t just spam them with “band plays show” emails. You never know what they’ll pick up for a story. I’m often surprised by what interests journalists and reporters and what doesn’t.
- Talent Buyers/Booking Agents/Venues – re-read the first sentence of this entry. Everyone hates contacting strangers and trying to sell them on your band. These are the first gatekeepers you will encounter in the music business. The longer you know them and the more they like you, the easier your communications with them will be.
- Other Like-Minded Businesses and Organizations – are you into animal rights, comic books, sewing, tattoos, politics, sports, vintage clothing, etc? There’s probably some organization or business for that and a whole network of like-minded folks who might like what you do. Don’t brow beat them – genuinely be a part of what they do and let opportunities arise. Maybe they need a band for an event – or maybe you’ll make friends with someone who loves what you do and spreads the word for you. In a town like Austin, we’re often connected by more than one interest. Your new dungeon master could be high up at C3.
- Other musicians – this is huge and part of the reason Austin’s such a cool place. We’re all sharing information and ideas all the time. Success for your friends’ bands tends to trickle down. How could Mike Patton joining Faith No More NOT have helped Mr. Bungle?
So how to you build the network? Simply be a helpful part of it.