In the music industry, connections are key. This is especially true of indie musicians who cannot rely on industry “people” to make connections for them. To be well-connected as a DIY musician, you need to focus your efforts on building three important networks—three groups of people with whom you need to form relationships. There can be overlapping between these three groups, but you will approach each one a bit differently, so it helps to break them down into these three categories:
- Your peers—other musicians with similar goals
- Music industry professionals—people in the “biz” who can help you accomplish your goals
- Your fans—the people you’re trying to reach with your music
Networking with Your Peer Community
Other artists may be your competition, but if you’re a good person, they should also be your friends. Your surrounding community of musical artists are your comrades—the people who understand what you are going through more than anyone else, because they are in the same boat as you. It simply makes sense to develop a circle of friends and allies in this community, and to be willing to help one another out in the mutual quest of “making it.” Your musical peers are the ones most likely to have a good lead on what recording studio to use, which venues treat artists right and offer the best pay, who does the best cover art, where to submit your demo, what producer to use—all the things you want to know. Within this community you are also likely to find potential songwriting partners, bandmates and other collaborators for various projects. Not to mention that there are few things more fulfilling in life than when musicians get together to play the music they love. (That’s why you’re in this business in the first place—right??)
When building a network among musical peers, your best bet is personal contact. If you’re new to the community, go to places where musicians hang out—open stages, popular venues, or even workshops or conferences—and start introducing yourself. Go to other people’s shows to show support, and offer to help out where you can. Invite other musicians out for coffee or a beer, ask questions, and show a genuine interest in what they are doing. Then when you’ve built a rapport, share a little about what you’re doing, as well. In other words, take the time and build real relationships; don’t just gather phone numbers and email addresses. These are the people with whom you need to invest yourself, because this group can become a major part of your support system. It takes time and energy, but the best way to become part of the community is to be “around”.
Networking with Music Industry Professionals
Hopefully, if all goes well within your peer community, many of your musician friends will also classify as music industry professionals (including you!). But for our purposes, this is the group of people that leans more toward the business side of music—your collective of business contacts. Depending on your goals, your network of industry contacts can include producers, engineers, label executives and A&R representatives, music supervisors, agents, managers, music journalists and/or bloggers, promoters, venue owners—the list goes on. Basically, any business relationship that can help facilitate your goals as an artist falls into this group.
When networking with music industry professionals, the personal touch is helpful, especially at the beginning (meeting someone in person at an event is a great starting point), but it is not quite as necessary to carry the relationship along. In fact, too much “personal touch” can be off-putting for some of them. (These are people most likely to respond better to a well-designed press kit than having you show up uninvited at their office twice a week.) These professional relationships can be built by a tasteful combination of emails, phone calls, and occasional personal contact—and in each point of contact, you should have a legitimate reason for the conversation (for example, if you are promoting a demo or setting up a tour). For face-to-face, you can also find opportunities to meet and talk with industry pros at various industry events like MUSEXPO, NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers), ASCAP Expo, New Music Seminar or the Durango Songwriters Expo. Just know there are sometimes significant costs involved with these kinds of events.
Building Your Fan Base
From a purely music business standpoint, all your other connections are for nothing unless you are developing a fan base—a group of people who like/love you and your music. These are the people who will buy your records, come out to your shows, pick up your merchandise, and hopefully become your cheerleaders to help you win even more fans. As an indie musician, it is assumed that you won’t have a promotion and marketing team to help you win fans through mass media outlets like radio and television (although some indie musicians have gotten that far). So for you, building a fan base is going to be much more of a grassroots affair. In the “old days”, this basically consisted of word-of-mouth, but with the advent of social networking, your “grassroots” fan-building can extend even to a global reach, if you want it to.
Obviously, it’s impossible for anyone to form a personal connection with thousands and thousands of people (as you hope your fan base will be). But thanks to social networking, you can create a perceived intimacy with your fans that couldn’t be achieved through other outlets. Conversational posts, sharing interesting items, letting fans know about show dates—all in your own voice—it’s a great way to help build fan loyalty.
Now, you might be tempted to join every social network out there, but bear in mind that the more you join, the more time you must invest in maintaining your presence at each one. You probably didn’t sign up for this gig to be a full-time social networker, so your best bet is to focus your energy on the few networks where your fans are most likely to hang out. The obvious choices are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but fans can also find you in places like ReverbNation or Last.fm, or any of a number of others. Pick the networks that you think will do the best job helping you connect with your audience, and work from there.