The tides are turning in the music industry – many artists aim to be seen as valuable partners, not fireable employees to reputable music companies, and they are taking active steps to go out there and learn that there is much more beyond playing an amazing live show. Here are five insider ways to rock a music conference, too.
Bring a ton of business cards and pens!
In some cultures, business cards are precious pieces of art that signify status. In North America, we are more casual, and hand them out to almost everyone we strike a conversation with. A trick credited to politicians, but highly recommended to copy, is that after the conversation ends and you have the person’s business card, write down the most fascinating and personal things you talked about. Say the illustrious individual mentioned he has a golden retriever puppy – write that down so you remember! Then, ask him how much said puppy has grown next time you meet, and in your follow-up email.
Treat the big shots like your equals!
Nothing says inexperienced little fish in the industry pond than “Oh my GAWD! Look everyone, it’s Rick Barker, former manager of Taylor Swift! Mr. Barker, I’m your biggest fan, will you please manage me? I’ve been told I’m the next Taylor!”
Okay, that was a little extreme. A tip Rick Barker himself teaches artists is to go “Hello Rick, how are you?” instead. His case is that, at conferences, we are all trying to meet people, including big shots. No one is going to refuse to talk to someone who is casual and cool. It also levels the playing field until you get deep into the conversation. By that time, you’ll have demonstrated your grace and poise, and made a new connection.
Be on time and take notes (in a notebook)!
As a musician, you already know the importance of arriving early to gigs. Same holds true at conferences. In fact, some conferences won’t even let you in if you are late. If they do let you in, stand quietly at the back (don’t shove your way to the front row, obviously). The polite thing to do is to be as unobtrusive as possible, to not distract the rest of the audience, or the speakers. Standing or sitting, if the room is dark with spotlights on the panelists, the only lights in the audience should be their eyes glowing with wonder and new-found knowledge, not someone’s chin from the light of a smartphone. Take notes on paper, and be in the moment 100%.
Forget the physical CDs!
Some bands who arrive at the hotel are straining themselves a suitcase of physical disks. While some genres will still take unsolicited material, giving a homemade disk of not-yet-copyrighted demos to every music publisher isn’t a good idea. At best, it’ll end up in the rubbish bin. At worst, someone might will steal your work. It doesn’t help that hardly anyone has a way of playing CDs anymore. A business card with a link to your EPK (that has streamable music) is going to go a lot further.
On your ride home, pull out all the business cards you gathered over the last couple of days, and start composing follow-up emails; this is where writing on the business cards comes in handy! Don’t expect any of the big shots to email you first, so go out and write to them. Their time is valuable, and you had the privilege of talking to them one-on-one. Start your follow-up with a thank you, and mention your favourite insight from either their presentation, or your personal conversation with them. Add a personal touch, for instance, ask them about the golden retriever puppy they mentioned.
On another note, it is highly recommended to write to everyone you had a pleasant interaction with, even if they aren’t in your area of interest – if you only play the fiddle, keeping a relationship open with guitar making artisan is still a good idea. Someone once said that “your network is your net worth” – let that sink in.
The first step is seeking knowledge about the business side of the music industry; you’re already doing that. These are the tools that will set you up for success at any conference you go to.
Oh, and wear comfortable shoes.
This article was originally published in the April 2017 issue of Ottawa Beat.