It was my sophomore year of college and I was sitting in my 8:20am music class, waiting with my peers for the professor to walk in and start teaching. It was silent. Partially because it was early, but partially because not everyone knew each other. I sat in the corner by myself, not in a “aww…nobody likes me” kind of way, but in a “it’s early, I don’t know you, please don’t talk to me” kind of way.
The Professor opened the door and walked in, breaking the silence with his loud voice, “Why isn’t anyone talking?!”
Again there was silence. “You guys should be talking! Why aren’t you talking?!” he repeated.
While it initially seemed like sarcasm, after a moment it became clear that he actually wanted us to be talking. This felt strange, especially since in literally every other classroom I’d been in, the teacher wants you to stop talking when they walk in the room.
After another minute of silence, the professor said, “Look, you guys should be talking. You should know each other. As soon as you get out of school, who do you think is going to call you for work? The people in this room, the people you’re in school with.”
The class was still silent, but over the next few weeks everyone began to open up and talk to each other more, even at 8:20 am.
The Number One Thing
If you’ve been a professional musician for any amount of time, you know that the old phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is absolutely true. The most important thing you can do to get more work is get to know more people and become friends with them. This is also known as networking.
Douchebaggery in Networking
I hate that word. Maybe it’s because it’s so heavily associated with the business world, but the word “networking” has an air of douchiness about it for me. I picture a sleezy guy in a cheap suit schmoozing the biggest name in the room, solely because he wants more work. He puts on a mask of pseudo-friendliness so that he can get what he wants.
“Hey what’s up man, you sound great, my name’s Tevin, you play a lot of straight ahead stuff? Nice, nice. I’d love to sit in some time, when I’m not on the road, you know? Cool, cool.”
Tevin is a textbook douche. Nobody likes Tevin.
What Networking Isn’t
Networking is not self promotion. It’s not letting people know that you play guitar too, and probably better than the guy that they currently have and they just have to hear you play.
Networking is not about getting to the top of somebody’s call list as soon as possible. It’s not about beating other musicians to the punch.
It’s not about you. Don’t promote yourself. That will come up eventually anyway. Ask the other person about themselves, and if there’s something about yourself that’s actually relevant, then bring it up.
What Networking Is
Networking is getting to know people, plain and simple. It’s all about the other person. This isn’t to say you should just inflate their ego and make them feel good about themselves, but focus on the person you’re trying to get to know. Ask them questions, let them talk and really get to know them.
In the business world there’s a general rule, you shouldn’t be friends with your employees. Well, in the world of the professional musician, it’s exactly the opposite. Musicians want to be employees with their friends.
Who calls musicians for work? Other musicians. Why did they call them? Because they know them, not because they found their number in the phonebook under “drummer.”
What Networking Actually Looks Like
Let’s flip this around. Instead of talking about what you should and shouldn’t do, let’s think about what you would and wouldn’t like done to you.
Scenario 1: You just finished playing a gig, you’re worn out and it’s late. A young kid with lots of energy comes up to you and says, “Hey man I play drums. My name’s Tevin.”
Your immediate thought is going to be, “Ok cool, thanks for that, Tevin.”
Your second thought is going to be, “What kind of name is Tevin?”
He then continues to tell you how he took a lesson with Vinnie once and then forces a business card on you. You don’t give him a business card in return because then he’s going to actually call you and continue this conversation. You say, “Nice to meet you” and he finishes with, “I play jazz, classical, pop, latin, and robo-core.” You say goodbye and promptly throw his business card in the trash.
Dammit Tevin, you’re the worst. Don’t be like Tevin.
What Tevin Should Have Done Differently
Scenario 2: You just finished playing a gig, you’re worn out and it’s late. A young kid comes up to you and says, “Great job, you guys sounded fantastic. What was the name of that last song?”
You reply, “Thanks, it was Tubthumping.”
The kid responds, “Ahh, I thought I recognized it, I love Chumbawumba, I’m so glad I got to come see you guys tonight.”
The conversation continues and it turns out this kid really knows his Chumbawumba. You finally wrap it up and ask, “Great talking to you, what was your name?”
Now you guys have had a conversation. Now you’re going to remember his name. The next time you run into him, you’ll actually want to talk to him.
Nicely done, Tevin.
What Tevin Did Right
Notice that in scenario 2 Tevin didn’t force his business card on you. But you actually wouldn’t mind talking to him next time. Tevin may not give you his card at your first meeting, your second, or even your third, but as you guys get to know each other, it’ll come up. Let it happen.
Also notice that Tevin didn’t talk about himself.
Networking, at it’s core, is just hanging out with people and getting to know them. Not in an artificial way to gain gigs, but to actually get to know the person.
Different Types of Networking
Obviously, there’s a lot of different scenarios that could play out here. Rather than script out every single one, let’s talk about two different types and what you can do to expand your network.
Someone Else is Playing, You Aren’t
Like Tevin’s example above, this is when you’ve just seen someone play, but you haven’t played yourself.
This is a tricky scenario because they’ve established themselves as a good musician, and you’re just some guy. Don’t be overly pushy or they’ll ignore you. Don’t force your card on them or talk about yourself unless it’s something relevant. “Oh Tevin? Yeah I love that guy, it’s always great playing with him.”
This will take multiple interactions to get to know the other person and be comfortable enough to exchange information. Be patient, grasshopper.
You’re Both Playing
These are good situations since you get a feel for how they play, and they get a feel for how you play. On the breaks between playing, get to know them, and at the end of the gig, if it feels right ask, “Hey can I get your info?”
This is the ideal scenario since they got to hear how well you play, and they got a feeling for how you are as a person. So during the break don’t get on your phone. Instead, talk to the people you’re playing with. This is the ideal time to get to know them.
It’s not just about your playing, it’s about who you are as a person. Musicians want to surround themselves with people that they like. Nobody likes playing with the guy who sounds great but thinks he’s better than everyone.
Overall, musicians want to play with other musicians who are great, but are also good to be around. So be nice, be kind, and be good to people. Help people out when they’re in need. Be fun to be around. Be genuine.
If you’re a great musician and you’re genuinely good to people, you’ll have more work than you know what to do with. You may even have to sub some of it out. My name’s Tevin by the way, I play drums, and I’ll totally sub for you.