Music Industry Connections: How to Win Friends & Influence People
“Don't be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you.”
— Dale Carnegie
If the entire world read Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win & Influence People’ the world would undoubtedly be a much better place. It would teach you to stop complaining so damn much, show genuine interest in others, get you to become a better listener to smile a lot more often. But how does this apply to the music industry, and more specifically, to the EDM industry? Do these tactics actually work? Let's talk about the fundamentals of music marketing & grassroots networking.
We’ve all heard stories of insanely talented artists getting accidentally “discovered” - but, that only happens to an incredibly small number of people, and it’s nothing you can count on when it comes to your career in music. More likely than not, the next Adele is singing in a cover band in Des Moines, Iowa, and her music will never get heard by the right people that could help launch her career. There are probably hundreds of her all over the world.
Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to build your network and create the channels to ultimately get your music to the right people. You will need two things to grow to a high level as a producer: great music, and a great network.
MEET AND STAY IN TOUCH WITH YOUR PEERS
Build an army of producer & artist friends. These are the people that will offer feedback, be collaborators, share your music, introduce you to their contacts, and be a sounding board when you need to talk to someone who “gets it”. Here are some strategies of how to do that:
1. Go to Shows (Show Up!)
Go to events and be active in your local scene. I’m not talking about the 8,000 person Alesso warehouse show. I’m talking about the local events, the small artists that are visiting your city and are playing in the small clubs, the shows with 100-300 people. Make an effort to go out at least once a week. You will begin to notice there are a lot of familiar faces - go introduce yourself to those people. Be friendly, seek to learn more about them than tell them about yourself.
Recognize someone who is a local DJ? Go say hi. A lot of these people probably make music - and, if they don’t, they LOVE the music and will come to your shows when you are DJing in your city. Also, don’t go to these shows to party! Sure, have a beer or two, but you want to be on your A-game when you accidentally meet the main booker at the main club in your city.
At the end of the day, this industry is inundated with producers writing emails and FB messages, retweeting on Twitter and direct messaging on Instagram. And while there are some strategies using the internet to make some friends that we detail below, the most important possible thing you can do is show up. Talk to someone face to face. Nervous? Doesn't matter. The scared version of you will make a better impact than the one that didn't show at all.
2. Be a Supportive Fan
When you find & meet smaller producers in popularity or success (whatever that means), either in-person or online, BE A SUPPORTIVE FAN. Engage with their socials, comment on their stuff, repost their track on Soundcloud, add it to your Spotify playlists - that will absolutely not go unnoticed and generally speaking, upcoming artists are very appreciative of consistent support.
Without getting too deep into this, be genuine. Don't fake this. Don't over do it. Just support their music as best as you can.
3. Share Your Music With Producers
However, don’t just ask for their support, ask for constructive feedback. And, don’t send them a link asking “hey bro what do you think?”. Here are some ideas of what you can ask them:
- “Do you have a minute today or tomorrow (or this week) to listen to something I’m working on?” ONLY after they say yes, do you reply with a follow up email.
- Send them the link with 1-2 sentences including your thoughts on the track and what specifically you want feedback on. Do not ask for 'generic feedback' - this is a sure-fire way to NOT get a response. You want to make this as easy as possible for the person you're contacting. Hone in on a specific problem, and better yet, mention something about their music that one day you'd like to achieve in yours.
4. Give More Than You Receive
Offer feedback and support to others before you ask them to do so for you. And, when you give feedback, put some thought into it. Take 10-15 minutes, write a paragraph or two, send a couple songs for them to listen to that might even help spark some ideas, and make your feedback valuable. Make a habit of this, and producers at a much higher level will send you songs for feedback, even as their careers begin to blossom.
5. Connect With Vocalists! (They are Real People Too...)
Anyone who has spent enough time in music production has learned how difficult it is to get high quality, well-written and performed vocals on their tracks. Perhaps the problem (and I'm totally guilty of this) is that we are in fact, trying to get vocalists featured on our music instead of considering them an integral part of the writing and composition process. Vocalists aren't some additional 'bonus' that helps our music, they are artists with their own set of ideas and goals. Yes, this means splitting ownership of music. Yes, this means talking to them and hanging out in real life (not just messaging the latest hit Youtube cover artist). Attend open mic nights. Go to meet ups. Talk to artists at shows. Attend their shows. Do whatever it takes to create a human connection, and then maybe, just maybe, a talented vocalist will want to work with you.
BUILD CONTACTS WITH BIGGER PRODUCERS
It’s important to remember that bigger producers are real people, too. They have lives, and friends, and interests outside of music. These are the people who will give you official remix opportunities and bring you on as support for their shows, etc. Many artists on remix packs get those opportunities because they are friends with people higher up the ladder. Here is how you can build some of those contacts.
6. Shoot for B to C level size artists
You probably aren’t going to become best friends with Tiesto (although a friend of ours did exactly that and eventually toured with Avicii, DJed all over the world, and helped run Tiesto's label), but it is certainly possible to become friends with smaller artists on the big labels. Focus on people who are newer (and younger in age, no one who has been DJing since 1994), who have smaller social media followings (maybe less than 10-20K likes on Facebook), and whose music you genuinely like.
7. Interact on Socials and Show Support
Go to their Facebook page and select to see them first in your newsfeed. Every single time you see a post from them, like it and maybe throw it a comment as well. After just a few weeks to a month, they will know you by name - after a couple months, send a nice message to their EMAIL (much more professional than a Facebook DM) saying that you enjoy their music, love what they are doing, and that you also produce (do not spam them with Soundcloud links!!)
8. Go to their Shows & Bring Some Friends
If a DJ/producer is going to be in your city, let them know a couple days in advance that you’ll be at their show and that you are bringing friends. Buy tickets, don’t ask for guest-list. Literally everyone appreciates this, especially when you are a smaller artist and the number of people at your shows makes a huge difference. Then, at the show, go introduce yourself - most smaller clubs don’t have super tight security, so you should be able to say hello. Don’t bug them while they are DJing or right before they go on - talk to them before their set or stick around until after they are done. And, while they are DJing, don’t camp out in the booth and try to look cool & snag free drinks - get in the middle of the dance-floor and help get the crowd into it.
9. Being on the Road can be VERY Lonely - So be a Friend & Get Beyond the Music
This is important, so listen up. Smaller DJs are often touring by themselves. They can't afford to tour with a big team, or even their managers or girlfriends quite yet. It gets super lonely, and sometimes, it can kind of suck - so, when you meet them, don’t be a fan, be a friend! I know it sounds corny but be present - talk to them like any other human being. Find connections. Find common interests. Talk about sports, books, traveling, etc. don't just automatically assume they want to talk about music because that is their career choice. Invite them to grab a drink at a local bar with your friends before the gig, show them around the city the day afterwards, talk to them about anything other than music.
10. Learn to Let Go (The Strength of Weak Ties)
The biggest connections I ever made were through friends of friends. In other words, the most impactful help I ever received inside of music came from loose acquaintances I barely knew. Think about that. People I barely knew! This isn't a coincidence, in fact, I've grown to learn that this is just how life works - it's based on a theory called 'The Strength of Weak Ties' which states that it is not your best friends and family that will most impact or pave your path professionally, but in fact, it is people just outside your direct network that will have the greatest impact on you. People you barely know. So get out there, make some friends! The introduction to an amazing manager or a super talented vocalist or to an A&R at your dream label awaits you (and it will happen). You just don't get to decide how or when or why. So let go and trust the process.
STAY IN TOUCH
Once you get somebody into your network, keep them in your network. This doesn’t take a huge amount of work, but staying organized and not letting several months or even years go by without talking to someone is very beneficial. Again, this doesn't take much, but staying on top of mind will make it a lot easier to actually ask for a favor in the long run. But don't let that be your motivator. Instead, show genuine interest and treat them like exactly what they are: another fellow human & friend.
11. Keep your Contacts Organized
Create a Google Sheet with all of your music contacts to keep them organized and so you have an easy-to-reference list. Or better yet, just organize them directly in your Gmail contacts, labeled with as much info as you can muster (see a screenshot of my contacts below). As an epic and thorough bonus, take notes on your interactions and what you talked about. You won't remember otherwise and it's absolutely critical to recall even just a little personal information (this is 'How to Win Friends & Influence People 101'.
12. Maintain Constant Contact (Hint: This is the most Important Piece of the Puzzle)
Create a touchpoint with each of your contacts at least once every 2-3 months. Maybe it’s a nice email sharing a new song of yours, a casual Facebook message, or seeing them in-person at an event - don’t let them forget about you! Also, nobody likes getting an email asking for a favor from someone they haven’t talked to in two years. Stay in touch, so when you do have an ask of them, it isn’t impersonal or weird.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
So...keep your network strong, and start building it today. Down the road, when you have music that truly is the best of the best, your network will allow you to push it through the right channels for the world to hear.
If I could add only one more thing, it would be this: There is always more networking that can be done. In the world of EDM marketing, it's easy to think that paying for promotion, or running FB ads, or getting more Instagram followers or Spotify plays is all you need. Don’t fall into that trap - it is your contacts that will open the door, not the number of Twitter followers you have, but there's a lot to learn. This style of grassroots marketing is where it all starts, for every artist. Eventually, you can achieve way more bang for your buck in the hands of agencies and talent buyers, but until then, your music and your relationships will define you in this industry.
Did I leave anything out? Have any tips to add to these? Which ones resonated most with you? Let me know in the comments!