artwork by Norma Langrish

Networking and the Songwriting Business

by Disc Makers on December 11, 2009 ·

By Doak Turner

You are at songwriting round, open mic, showcase, music conference, music publishing workshop, record release, or other networking event. You attend the event to meet songwriters and other industry professionals, and want to be prepared and leave a great impression on the people you meet.

Attitude is altitude
Leave everything outside the door. If you’ve had a rough day, been told no by a publisher, agent, or anyone that day – forget about it. Come to the event with a positive attitude and smile on your face. It’s so important!

Before you attend the event, research the host or anyone that you know will be in attendance. Google their name and go to websites to learn about the person. After the event, Google anyone you met to learn more about them, too.

I like to arrive early at an event and get a plate of munchies or the food they are serving. This prevents me from trying to talk to everyone, shake hands, and do the business card exchange while holding a plate in one hand and a drink in the other hand.

Start with an introduction and ask about the other person. Tell them you enjoy their songs if you recognize them as a songwriter or artist, or ask how long they have been in town. Try to make some enjoyable small talk, and take an interest in the other person.

Do not tell them you’re a great songwriter, artist, publisher, or whatever it is you do in the music business, or hand them your CD and ask them to listen to your songs. This is a relationship business, and you need to develop relationships with other people. Take the time to get to know someone, and there will come a time when it will be right to play your songs for that person.

Be prepared
The key to networking is being prepared before you get to the event and having a positive attitude while you’re there. Ask positive questions rather than dwelling on how tough this business is, how it’s not fair, or that you don’t understand why your songs are not on the radio. I may ask a question like, “What is happening good for your songwriting (or your life) these days?” This will get the other person off on a good note and they may want to spend a couple extra minutes talking to you.

If you are shy or uncomfortable, take it one event at a time and set a goal to meet one, then two, then three or four people at each new function. Find a way to ask people about themselves, which will lead to you feeling comfortable at the event.

Business cards
When it is time to exchange business cards, you want to be prepared and don’t want to fumble through a pocket full of everyone else’s cards you’ve collected that day, or trying to find one of your cards that does not have scribbled notes on it. One networking tip is to have your business cards in your left pocket, and everyone else’s cards in your right pocket. Always have a pen available and take notes from your conversations. When you’ve said, “I will call you next week and set an appointment,” make a note of what you’ve said you’d do and follow through.

Speaking of business cards, yours should include your name, phone number, PO Box or address, website and/or MySpace address, and your e-mail address. And make sure it’s all easy to read. Avoid fancy icons such as music notes, unless it’s your company logo, and always have your business cards with you at all times. You never know when you will meet someone in the business.

Here’s a unique networking use for your business card: when you see someone looking for a piece of paper or fumbling for something to write on, offer your card and a pen and tell the person to use the back of your card to write notes. I got a call one day from a songwriter who had flown back to Los Angeles telling me that he had six of my cards in his wallet from the previous evening. I asked him if he thought it was a coincidence – “I don’t think so!”

Find creative places to network
I live in Nashville, and I tell everyone to go to the Acklen Post office in Hillsboro Village and obtain a personal PO Box. About 99% of Music Row receives their mail at this location, and this can prove to be a great spontaneous networking location. I have made several contacts, met co-writers, and made one or two appointments just from standing in line at this post office location.

If you are in another music city, find out where many of the music people pick up their mail and have your mail sent to that post office. This is just one idea. The point is, you need to find creative ways to meet people and build relationships with people in the music business.

Be a resource in your community
Why not start your own weekly newsletter in your songwriting community? Start with your friends – ask them to e-mail their gig schedule to you and compile a weekly gig calendar. Grow your list and build a data base and you will be the person everyone in the community wants to get to know because you are a resource to them. They will tell the other people in your music community that you are the person to know, and voila, you’re on the road to serious networking.

(I know this from experience. Check out www.nashvillemuse.com for a list of songwriting and industry events. You can also get our weekly e-zine publication called The Nashville Muse, which is sent to thousands of songwriters and industry pros around the country.)

Go out and find your local music community. Attend songwriting workshops (e.g., www.nashvillesongwriters.com) or start your own workshop just by having monthly meetings with the people that play and write songs where you live.

Create an event
On the third Sunday of every month, I host the “3rd Sunday at 3” in my Nashville home. It’s an open invitation to songwriters and artists to bring food and beverages to share, network, and play their original songs in four rooms in and outside the house. I found a local restaurant, Bojangles Chicken, to provide food, but I encourage everyone to bring food to share. This builds a community by introducing songwriters and upcoming artists – and sometimes hit songwriters and a well-known artist or two have stopped by for the day.

Hosting an event like this helps get your name out in the community, not to mention the service you are providing. The 3rd Sunday started as a dinner party when I wanted to share a Sunday dinner with my “songwriting family” and invited a bunch of friends – and that immediately ignited the monthly event. I promote the event through The Nashville Muse and also on MySpace sites.

What not to do at networking events
Do not start a conversation by telling someone everything about you in the first 20 seconds! I was at an event a couple weeks ago and introduced an artist/songwriter to a music industry pro and the artist started off by saying how she knows so and so and she had won this contest and that contest, and started telling them about a song that she wrote and everyone just loves the song, she got a record deal with a new label and it went south and started handing her CD to everyone at the table – without being asked a single question – all in about 20 seconds! She did not ask the person one question about them or their company, it was all about her! Then she handed me the CD – with no label on it. Very unprofessional.

I have attended seminars and songwriter rounds and witnessed songwriters almost running up to hit songwriters or artists and handing their CDs and business cards to the pro and asking the pro to write with them. That is not the thing to do, and the pros will do everything they can to avoid that person in the future.

The best thing to do in such a situation is approach the pro and tell them you loved their songs, maybe mention one of your favorites, shake their hand and wish them success. If they have the time, they may ask about you. Tell them what you do in 10 seconds or less and gauge their response.

Whatever happens, tell the pro artist or songwriter it was great to meet them and you hope to see them again. The next time you see them, re-introduce yourself and remind them they met you at a previous event (do not expect them to remember you or your name). Keep the dialog short and again, gauge their response. Remember, wait till they ask about you to start telling them anything about you.

If you want to taken seriously, avoid the photo ops and autographs. You want to be seen as a peer by others in the industry – not as a fan! I see this way too much in Nashville by new songwriters who get to attend events. They ask for autographs and photos with artists and hit songwriters, so they are considered fans and are not asked to attend future events.

I attended a #1 party (an event recognizing the songwriter of a #1 song and attended by the artist) with someone that I thought would enjoy seeing someone from our home state receive a #1 award. I told my guest, who is a songwriter, not to ask the artist for an autograph or photo. My friend insisted when he thought I wasn’t watching (though other professionals were watching), and said it was for his niece. That didn’t matter. He was acting as a fan and not a peer in the music business. Well… that person will not be invited to attend future industry events with me.

Your peers
There is a saying by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “In order to get what you want out of life, help others to get what they want in life.” This is also true in the music business. If you can help someone – then do it! Build your community, get out and attend events, support your fellow songwriters and artists. You will meet the people to help you on your journey through helping others on their journey. I promise you!

Build your friendships with your peers. Don’t expect hit songwriters, artists, or music pros to all of sudden be your best friend just because you showed up. Build relationships, co-write, hang out, and do other things in addition to music. Learn on the journey and make new friends.

Best wishes for your networking and I will see you networking in Nashville!

Doak Turner is a songwriter who has lived in Nashville, TN since 2002. You can learn more about Doak at www.nashvillemuse.com and www.doakmusic.com. Contact Doak at doak@nashvillemuse.com.