The Power Of Negative Example
Years ago, I had helped some friends of mine organize a music festival at CalArts. I was originally brought in because they “thought I’d be good with money”, but pretty quickly I ended up taking on a co-leadership role and helping to organize an event that had 40+ acts in three performance spaces for a full day. It was exhilarating and exhausting and in many ways worth all of the work that went into it.
After the festival, one of the co-organizers way kind enough to say the following to me.
“You know I learned an incredible lesson from you. I kept thinking about how we were going to do something and your approach was, ‘It’s fine that we want to do that but this is what I don’t want to have happen…’ and just making sure a few things didn’t go wrong made it much easier to get the things we wanted to go right done.”
Success can be due to a myriad number of factors but when things fail, they typically only do so for one or two reasons.
Therefore, if you set up the basic conditions for your desired outcome to occur and then actively work against things that could go wrong, it’s much easier to troubleshoot than trying to create all of the conditions for success.
In other words, the “don’t do this” list is usually much shorter and more actionable than the “do this” list.
With that in mind, I’m going to detail some serious pitfalls that I’ve seen and experienced in networking. Networking is a vital component to artistic survival in the 21st century. If you don’t build communities with people you’re going to be relegated to creating things in isolation and for most people that’s unsustainable.
Look for the deeper lesson
My recommendation with this approach is in looking at what goes wrong with networking look for the deeper lesson and see what you can do right.
How NOT to network
1. View networking as an end goal.
I could have also said, use networking as an intransitive verb. “We are going to network with that person…” is something that I heard come out of more than one music business major’s mouth while I was at Berklee.
Networking is a process of building a mutually advantageous relationship with other people, not a way to manipulate people into getting what you want from them.
Go to a music business conference and you will see the people who are there solely to network a thousand miles away. Everyone else will as well. There’s a stench of desperation that will clear a room out faster than a pungent fart.
2. Be insincere.
Some of the more Machiavelli-insprired readers may take a page from The Prince and try to “network” and hide their self-serving intentions. I would advise you to just be honest and transparent when dealing with people, but even if you were approaching this from the most Machiavellian perspective, I would say that there is no advantage to being insincere. Most people are not good enough actors to pull this off, and there’s no reason to. Even if you were to fool people at the offset, they’re going to figure it out eventually.
3. Try to capitalize on a non-existant relationship at the get-go.
I had someone contact me out of the blue from CalArts who wanted me to help him promote his release. He wrote the e-mail like we hung out all the time or had a personal connection and in truth, I only vaguely knew who he was from his dealings with another person. If this was a really good friend of mine, or someone that I knew it would be fine but it just came across as shallow manipulation.
I never think of networking as such. I think of it as making friends and acquaintances. I ask people I know for favors, and give favors to friends who ask me for them. THAT’S networking. If you approach networking with the same approach as you’d have in making new friends it will take you much further in getting you to the end result.
4. Make it all about you.
No one likes a parasite. If you don’t have a symbiotic relationship with people they won’t help sustain you in the long run. Also, being really needy and constantly asking people for things is another way to get people off your radar.
5. Don’t pay it back.
Ask for a favor and then be too busy to help people with something when they need it. See how long that sustains you in the industry.
6. Do poor work.
This one isn’t so obvious but you have to have something to offer to a relationship. If you don’t play particularly well and you’re billing yourself as a performer that’s going to be a problem. If you’re a singer songwriter and you neither sing or play well there’s not going to be a whole lot of reason to recommend you. Building relationships is easier when you are that person people go to for things.
7. Be irresponsible and/or don’t follow up.
This one boggles my mind. The number of times that people don’t show for things or don’t do what they say they’re going to do is astounding to me. Those people tend to move to the periphery of the scene or become absent entirely.
Related to #6, if you’re the best at what you do people may cut you a little slack, but if you flake out on things, people just won’t deal with you.
An Illustrative Story
There’s a lot more about networking that I’ll cover in part 2, but in the meantime here’s an illustrative story that will cover much of what I’ve talked about.
I got an email from a student at Berklee who read my bio and wanted to talk with me about being a guitarist in New York City and wanted to know if we could meet up. Even though I never got any assistance from anyone (much less alumni) when I went to school, I thought I’d help this guy anyways by paying it forward even though I knew that this meeting would fall into a professional guitarist/life-coaching area that I am generally compensated for.
We met at a Pret A Manger. He asked a lot of random questions about what I did and about the scene and wrote down all of my answers. I was shocked at how little research he had done. He had been in the city for 3 days and hadn’t even picked up a copy of the Voice to see what was going on. I gave him the best answers I could and helped him identify a specific niche that he could serve for his teaching and gave him a number of contacts. I gave him a card (which he left on the table) and wished him well. I never heard from him again.
The sad thing is that I’m sure someone in a music business class told him to try to network with people already in the scene and while it really couldn’t have gone much worse for him from a networking angle, I’m also sure he thought the meeting went really really well.
There’s so much to learn from the mistakes above! But let me put the scenario in a different light that may affect how you approach networking in the future.
Other than a story, what do I get out of this interaction?
You have to give people something if you’re going to continue a relationship with them. Even if it’s nothing more than a thank you or offering to get them a cup of coffee.
If he had bought a book, or directed people to my website, or even sent a follow up e-mail that simply said, “thank you for your time” it might have given me something.
Do I regret helping him? Absolutely not, but that door is closed for him in the future.
I’ll never hear from that guy again and it’s too bad for him because if he had handled that interchange better, I could have really helped him get the pieces in place that he needed to relocate and do what he wanted to do.
The golden question of networking then isn’t, “What’s in it for me?” but instead is, “What’s in it for us?”
In part 2 of this post, I’ll talk about how not to network with regards to getting reviewed.
Hope to see you there. As always thanks for reading, I hope it helps!