Next to your instrument, your network will be one of the most important things in your career as a musician. Whether you're signed, or an indie artist, it's not just who you know that's important, but who knows you. Having a working network can make the difference between playing an empty club and opening for a platinum-selling band.
In reality, people like to deal with people they know. Usually, it's their friends. Next choice is people they're familiar with. If that fails, it's people that they've heard of from somewhere. In this article, I'm going to show you who you need on your list, and how to build a relationship with them.
To put this plan into action, you need to have a database system in place. There are many contact management applications on the market, such as File Maker Pro or Contact Now. Ask your friends or other bands (your network in action!) what works for them. If you're low on funds, large index cards will work in a pinch, but make sure that you keep them organized.
Part One: Create Your Hit List
In every genre, there are people that you need to know. Obviously, they need to know you as well. I am including categories for those of you who are ready with a CD. If you're not that far along, it's still good to know who these people are. Later, I'll tell you how to approach them, but for now we'll identify who they are:
Club Bookers: Any place you have played, or plan to play. If you're a singer/songwriter in the Northeast, you'll need a list of every acoustic venue from Boston to New York.
A&R People: Take a look at the liner notes from artists in your genre. Get the address and phone numbers from directories like Musician's Atlas and Yellow Pages of Rock. It helps to call and confirm the names since A&R people tend to change labels often.
Local Music Stores: Stores that could host an in-store performance or consign your merchandise.
Local Music Writers: They need to know what's going on locally, and you need someone to tell the world.
Other bands and musicians: Think of it as three tiers. Choose musicians from your level, but also include the levels above and below you. We all have info to share with one another. Besides, you never know when you'll need a band or singer to sub for you.
Local Music Industry Managers and Attorneys: Good for giving advice. Easy to approach at music business panels.
Local Music Organizations: I advise joining because you'll meet lots of new people, but groups also offer things like member showcases and lectures.
Fans and Friends: Anyone you know or anyone that signs your mailing list is a contact. Sometimes, the least likely contact is the person who will be a greatest help.
In your database, keep a record of when you saw them last, and what you talked about. Remembering their interests and birthdays is also helpful.
Part Two: Sharpen Your Knives
Most of these do not need explanation, but these are the tools of a working band's arsenal. These items can spread the buzz about your band without you having to be there. Whenever possible, carry a few of these tools with you at all times, but especially when you attend music business functions. Never arrive empty handed:
* CDs, T-shirts, and other merchandise
Part Three: Put It All Together
No one is completely unapproachable. Even if you haven't met one of your targets, you can still send them flyers and newsletters in the mail. Over time, you'll build familiarity with them. When you eventually approach them, you won't be a total stranger. Most people hate spam in their email inbox, but a well-written newsletter or letter sent via snail mail can go a long way in building a relationship.
Divide your contacts into A, B and C lists, based on your familiarity with them. The A people are the ones you can talk to anytime. The B's are the ones you know in passing, and the C's are long shots. The long-term goal of this plan is to upgrade your C list to your A list using the following strategies:
Telephone calls: Just saying hello from time to time is a great way to catch up with people. Call your A List people at least once a month. You'll find out about new and closing clubs, who's looking for a new bassist, as well as music awards. Of course, it's important to share information as well. Go ahead, reach out and touch someone.
Letters: Personally, this is a favorite tactic of mine. If you don't know someone personally, who says you can't just mail a letter and introduce yourself? This letter is only introductory, and is less involved than an entire press kit. You can mention that you're in a band, but do not send a tape or ask the recipient for anything. Sometimes you get a response, sometimes you don't, but many artists have had positive responses.
Newsletters: These are fun when sent via snail mail, since people on your C List may not like to get them as email spam. A band can show its personality through photos and tour anecdotes. It's also a great way to keep in touch with a large number of people at one time. For your A List, email newsletters let people know when they can see you play next.
Articles: When you see something cool in a magazine or newspaper, send copies to anyone or your lists who would be interested. When you're online, many news sites have an email forwarding feature which allow you to enter the recipient's email address and send a note. It's a quick way to let someone know that you're thinking of them, and that's usually appreciated.
Birthday cards: These are always fun. You can send these online too, but a real card sent via the US Postal Service still can't be beat.
Personal Emails: In addition to email newsletters, it's important that you reach out to people regularly on a personal level. From time to time, it's good to let people know that you're thinking of them. When you do this without ulterior motives, it always comes back to you in a positive way. This does not include forwarded jokes, chain letters, and the like. Personally I feel those do more harm than good.
As you can see, this plan is not meant for overnight success. With patience, you'll meet a lot of people who'll know you by name. And that's the whole point. What you do with that skill is up to you.