Having been to a few music conferences recently and with The Great Escape, Liverpool Sound City, New Music Seminar and MIDEM fast approaching, I thought it would be helpful to share some networking tips that bands and young professionals might find helpful.
1) Listen more than you talk
It’s really easy when you are nervous to just talk, and fill every pause or gap in the conversation. This can often mean that you do the vast majority of the talking and your conversational partner (or victim) can barely get a word in. The result is that they don’t get to ask you the questions they have about you and you don’t get to know them at all.
As a rule, you have 2 ears and 1 mouth, use them in that proportion and you’ll be fine.
2) Be interested and interesting
It’s much more interesting to talk to someone who is interested in you. When you meet someone for the first time, take an interest in what they do. It might not be the most interesting thing to you, but it’s important to them that you take an interest. They will in turn take an interest in you. When they do, be interesting! Think about what the person you are talking to is interested in and make your situation relevant to them.
I recommend having 5 key things you can say about yourself, but not using them all every time. Ideally you choose what to say based on the person you are speaking to. For example, my company does a range of things. When talking to an artist we talk about helping with social data. When talking to a label or publisher we talk about our Big Data expertise. With a promoter we talk about our work in that area. It seems so simple when you put it on paper, but having a menu of 5 things you can talk about and picking the right 1 or 2 for the person you are speaking with goes a really long way.
3) Be in the right places
At most conferences there are key places where people congregate. At The Great Escape it’s the Queens bar (usually between midnight at 4am!), at MIDEM it is The Carlton bar (until you have spent all your Euros on €22 gin and tonics!) Being in these places means that you are much more likely to bump into people you already know, bump into people who can introduce you to others and bump in to speakers, other industry folk who are just having a drink.
Many conferences have drinks events sponsored by different industry bodies. The music industry is unable to resist a free beer, so it’s a great place to bump in to people and network. If you don’t know anyone, just chat to someone as you queue for a beer. Hopefully they invite you to join their group and you meet a few more people.
The other way to be in the right places is to hang out in the main thoroughfares. If you are going to have a coffee, do it in the lobby that connects each of the panel sessions. If you need to send an e-mail don’t go to your room, perch somewhere where you might see people you know and where they might see you. It’s not a sure fire strategy, but why not give people the chance to stumble across you naturally.
4) Be early, it makes a big difference
This sounds ridiculous, but being early is one of the most effective ways to network. You are 15 minutes early for a panel, you are waiting outside the room with people who clearly have a shared interest – say hi! You get in 5 minutes before it’s due to start, as you sit down, say hello to someone nearby. Find out about them, what they do. If you have something in common, then you’ll chat away after the session. If not, it’s one more friendly face to look out for when you walk into the crowded industry bars (see 3 above).
If you are going to a specified networking drinks be early then too. The reality is no one really likes networking, especially at those events that are a bit artificial, but you can meet some great people. My reason for being early; if I’m the first person in the room, that’s awkward, but I get to meet the organisers. When the second person comes in, they are going to talk to me. When the third person arrives, they’ll join us. Once their friends start arriving, they may also join the group, so you get to meet a load of new people.
5) Be proactive (and know what you are going to say)
No one likes making the first move, but someone has to do it. The more you do it, the more people you are going to meet and the more effective your time will be. There are a few simple questions you can ask to help ease the pain; “hey, what do you do?”, “is it your first time at the event?” (to which you can either say – Great, I’m new , or Any tips for a newbie?), “have you been to any good panels” etc, etc. By having 3 or 4 simple questions to ask, you can avoid the awkward silence. If someone can’t keep a conversation going with these, maybe it’s ok to talk to someone else!
6) Have an exit strategy!
This was meant to be 5 things, but this one is important. Sometimes you end in a conversation that just isn’t going anywhere. It’s really helpful to extract yourselves from these situations, but often it can be awkward to do so subtly. At music conferences there is almost always an obscure band playing somewhere across town. If you can’t excuse yourself in any other way, a quick look at the watch that shows you are late to see that band makes for a reasonable excuse. If you are worried the person may invite themselves along, pick a venue a long way out of town!!!
I hope that’s been helpful. In the coming months, Felix and I are at The Great Escape, Liverpool Sound City, New Music Seminar (NY) and Midem (FR). Hope to meet you at one of these.