If you’ve been ever to a music conference like SXSW, CMW, NXNE, or similar, you’ll know exactly how overwhelming it can be. There are often hundreds of artists in attendance, and they are all doing exactly what you’re doing.
Then again, you’ve probably heard stories of bands getting noticed or signed at these conferences while you’re stuck wondering how you can get a single person to come to your showcase.
The onslaught of industry and seemingly endless bands can intimidate, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t get something out of a conference! You’re there anyway, so you might as well make some connections.
When you’re an independent artist, the hard part is filtering through the list of industry people and companies and deciding who you should actually be talking to. If you have a manager, a label or even and agent, they can help you with this – giving you introductions and taking you to the right parties.
But if you’re like the rest of us, you’re going at it alone, so you have be smart, organized, and ready to work! Here’s how I approach a conference.
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Make A Game Plan Before Attending A Music Conference
First of all, should you even be going to this conference? If you don’t have a showcase, where industry people can come and actually see you play live, I would save my money. There’s nothing better than showing the industry exactly what you can do, and without a live show, as an independent artist, it’s a waste of time.
If you have a showcase, make sure it’s at a good venue and during a good time slot. In my experience 9 – 11 is the best time to play, because you get the night crowds coming out to see the bands, and it’s early enough for industry people to be there. If you can line up the right conditions, go for it!
Depending on where you are in your career, a conference can do different things for you. You need to ask yourself what your goals and needs are as a band; are you releasing an album? Touring? Looking to perform in a new market?
Whatever your goals are, there are people that can help you reach your objectives. So you need to figure out who those people are – agents, labels, managers, publicists, etc. – and find out what industry people will be attending the event.
At the last conference I attended (Canadian Music Week 2016), I was looking to firm up some relationships I had been developing, meet some agents and labels from Europe, and hang out with people I already have a good relationship with.
So, I planned my week around when certain people were available in one-on-one mentoring sessions or when certain people were giving a presentation. This way I was guaranteed to meet them and make a connection.
Do Your Research On The Conference
Once I decide who I need to target, I start researching their company, what the company does, and what specific people do in that company. If they’re a company that specializes in heavy metal, I don’t waste my time, I’m a pop rock artist, so I move along.
A little bit of research goes a long way towards making the right connections. There’s no point in trying desperately to connect with someone who can’t help you in the first place.
Call On Connections In The Music Industry
Once you’ve further narrowed down the list of people you’re trying to meet, you need to figure out if you have any connections to these people whatsoever.
The absolute best way to get someone to pay attention to what you’re doing is to have someone that’s not the artist tell them to pay attention.
It’s a frustrating reality, but that’s why making those connections with people that know important people is so important.
When I narrow down my list, I send it to a couple of friends in the industry (managers and agents), and ask them if they have personal emails for these industry people and influencers, and if they would send email introductions. It’s way better than cold calling, so don’t hesitate to ask people for it.
Track Down Email Addresses
If you can’t find a personal connection, you’re going to have to go email hunting.
Email hunting, much like phone number hunting, is a bit of an art. Many industry professionals like to keep their personal work email close to their chest, and with good reason. No one likes being bombarded with emails 24/7.
With that in mind, I still want them to listen to my music! So I start with their company website.
If all you can find is an firstname.lastname@example.org email, you might as well email it, but you probably won’t get an answer.
My next move is to check out their management or booking roster, and try to contact them through one of their bands. If I know someone in one of the bands, great, but if not, they’ll usually have their work email on the band's website.
Beyond that, you have to get creative. I’ve found people’s emails through LinkedIn, Facebook, a random article I found on Google, etc. Generally, if it takes more than five minutes to find, I just move on, but hey, it’s worth a shot!
After you’ve put in all of this work and you finally get to meet the people you've been trying to meet, make sure you make the most of it. Absolutely do not undersell yourself, and let them know what you’re doing with your music. When you’re talking to industry, don’t ever lie, but don’t be afraid to sell yourself.
If you’ve talked personally with a label, let them know that you’ve contacted them before, even if they aren't interested in working with you. Industry people want to hear that other industry people are interested.
If at all possible, meet up and hang out with whoever you’re trying to connect with. The best way to network is in an organic, non-business setting.
A couple of days after the conference, be sure to follow up with whomever you’ve made contact with. I find relationships to be like second languages: if you don’t use it, you lose it!
Even if it’s just a quick message, that’s fine, it’s just making sure they remember you, and firming up a relationship. Then, do it all over again. Networking and attending conferences gets easier the more you do it!