Networking is a subject that has come up more than a few times in this column. While many of the prior episodes have focused on the all-important mainstay of your listener base, they are not the only factor to consider. The communities adjacent to your music are every bit as important as your fellow peers can have a profound impact on how your music circulates. Since you never know who possesses that kind of clout, being a cyber-hermit is simply not an option.
On the surface, networking looks like talking to people…and it is! The major difference that sets it apart from casual conversation, though, is that you’re still ‘on the clock,’ as it were. The trick is to reconcile the voice that’s telling you to ‘have fun’ and the other that’s saying ‘get back to work.’ Since this probably sounds a bit nebulous, let’s hit the ground running with a batch of essentials. By the end, you should be a networking samurai (or at least a samurai in training).
One (hopefully) obvious use of your time is to attend shows. It doesn’t have to stay confined to shows you’re playing, either. In fact, it’s a lot easier to wear the enthusiasm hat when you’re there exclusively as a fan of music. What this means is that you’ve got a lot in common with your fellow concert goers. Talk to anyone that will listen! If you need an icebreaker, it turns out that everyone is listening to the same music. Talking to others about the band on-stage is a pretty safe bet. Talking directly to the band is also a pretty safe bet—provided it’s not in the middle of their set or they’re not in a panicked frenzy. If you see them mingling in the crowd or at the bar, you’re in luck—that means they’re in relaxation mode (or at least they’re trying to get there). Just remember: you’re there to make connections and not sell them something. Talk to these folks as a fellow enthusiast. Find commonality, listen to their responses, and ask thought-provoking questions that demonstrate your sincerity.
Where other artists are concerned, engaging them in conversation is every bit as vital as engaging with their music. If someone shares their work, let them know that you’re listening. Moreover, let them know what you think! You don’t necessarily have to sugar coat your words nor do you need to berate them (definitely don’t do this). People really like feeling validated, though. If you can comment on a few well-executed components of their music, their opinion of you will only get better and better. These kinds of brownie points are extremely valuable and can often lead to a cyclic sort of interaction. Feedback begets feedback and sharing encourages sharing. A positive first could be the difference between an influential artist plugging your new album just because they like you as a person.
Similar to attending live music events, another great use of your time is to seek out groups or collectives whose shared interests overlap with your project. Whether this means attending a modular synth meet-up, staying active in a Discord server, or going to Friday Night Magic at your local comic shop, meet new people! If you find it difficult to insert yourself into social situations, start by getting involved with what those groups are doing. Take part in their events. If there’s a collaboration, compilation, or jam session going on, toss your name into the hat. If they need an extra pair of hands on deck, offer to help out. Just by showing up, you’re already setting yourself apart from a huge percentage of the population.
Since there’s always someone who knows someone, a good habit to be in is to put your best foot forward. Ignoring the fact that you’ll invariably burn out pretending to be someone you’re not, people can smell dishonesty. By and large, humans tend to prefer to interact with agreeable humans. A little humility and joviality goes an awfully long way. Ten years later, a simple conversation about your favorite sushi bar could be the thing you look back on that kickstarted a wonderful relationship—whether personal or professional. Here’s an example:
Imagine you’re in your freshman year of college. Overwhelmed and without any connections, you stumble through your first few weeks until you meet a really nice classmate (we’ll call her Jane). Jane immediately strikes you as the kind of person who is invested in others—specifically in nurturing their potential. The two of you banter between school assignments and she finds out that you make music. ‘I dabble with keyboards and sequencers,’ she tells you. ‘Do you want to come over and jam later this week?’ You accept the offer and meet up outside of class. Despite all the cool tunes you crank out, the two of you eventually drift apart. Both of you end up graduating and take on careers that have very little to do with your degree. You move to different countries with your new families and continue about your respective business.
Over a decade passes before you get a surprise message from Jane. The two of you spend some time catching up and sharing bite-sized anecdotes. Eventually, you tell Jane that you’re heading up a music project. Excited to hear that you’re still pursuing music, she asks for a link to your band website. You don’t expect much else to transpire (at least not where your music is concerned), but Jane continues to engage you—she even buys a t-shirt! As it turns out, Jane has become involved in an international coalition that focuses on underground music scenes in multiple countries. She tells you that they’re always looking to get new talent in front of new audiences. Before you know it, the two of you are talking about booking your band for an international tour.
The moral of the story is that, especially in the world of chiptune, it’s a smaller world than you think. You never know when your actions will echo back to you. Just by saying ‘Sure, Jane. Let’s jam after school,’ you can set yourself up for an encounter later in life that works to your mutual benefit.
That’s all for this episode of Leveling Up Your Artistic Identity. Check out the series finale next month! As always, if you have any questions about this article and want to discuss things in greater detail, leave a comment below or join the conversation on Discord!