If you’ve spent any time not living under a rock, you’ve probably heard this expression: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While that does oversimplify it a bit, there is a lot of truth to it.
You can (and have to) spend days and months, and years honing your skills on your instrument, your songwriting, your production, etc. But it doesn’t stop there. Without a network of peers within the music industry, there’s only so far you can expect your talents to take you. Now more than ever, musicians are asked to be more than just artists. Especially in the beginning, you have to be your own manager, booking agent, accountant, marketing, and PR person. Using Green Room is a start (hint hint!), but you’ll need help as you navigate the path. This is where your network comes in.
When you’re building your music career from the bottom up, it’s an invaluable resource to have people you can turn to that have been around the block awhile. The people you meet along the way are going to have more experience, savvy, and know-how for the challenges that naturally arise when you’re trying to grow something from scratch. When you’re intentional about positively connecting with everyone you come in contact with, they will see your passion and be willing to help when you run into roadblocks.
And it’s worth noting here—there’s so much more to building your community in music than just finding business opportunities and advice. The more time you spend playing, touring, and navigating the music industry, you’ll find that—in spite of the fun memories and growth you’ll see—there are times when it’s not going to be easy. Late nights, long drives, low guarantees of sufficient compensation… they all come with the territory when you’re first starting out. And even when you’ve been at it for years, it’s still a grind.
Ask anyone who’s been doing it for any amount of time, and they will tell you that it’s a lifestyle that can take a toll on your body, your mind, and your emotions. One of the most important gifts you can give yourself in the music business is good friends—your peers, the kind of friends who understand what it’s like, who relate to what you’re going through, and who can be there to support you when you’re discouraged, exhausted, or just plain burned out. Sometimes these relationships will be a primary factor in keeping you going and continuing to pursue your goals and dreams for your career.
So where do you begin? How do you start building a rich community of people to share your musical journey with? The first step is putting yourself out there. If you’re new in town or just trying to find your footing in your local music scene, find the places where other musicians are spending their time. That could be bars, local venues, house shows, coffee shops, etc. The main thing is, getting around an already established community is going to be the easiest place to start building your own network of allies and collaborators. And suppose you still don’t have a booking agent, manager, etc.. In that case, these other musicians in the local scene are going to be great resources for getting connected to venues and opportunities to play (often self-booked musicians will have a shareable list of booking contacts at venues and house show opportunities all over the country!). The point is, find the folks who share your same interests, your same tastes, your same goals. The best relationships of your career will be borne out of these moments of connection when you’re all exploring, discovering, and enjoying your local music community organically together.
And maybe you’ve been at this awhile. You’ve already made records, been on tours, and established a network of friends in the market you live in. Still, the opportunities for growth in your friendships and your business circle don’t really ever stop. Music conferences, festivals, and other industry events are great options for expanding the reach of your music. Often these will require an investment of time and money for registration, travel, hotels, etc., but the benefits can be endless. Anywhere there is a high density of industry professionals who are also looking to build their network is a great place to be. At this stage of your career, your peers will be just as motivated as you to continue growing their own careers and to find other people (like you) that they can work with in the future.
And when you do show up, be prepared. It doesn’t have to be a traditional business card, but it’ll help to have something you can leave with people—how they can find your music, how they can get in contact with you, and a little something about yourself. And that last part is really important: for anyone who isn’t already familiar with your music, it’s on you to be able to talk about it. Having a concise, understandable way to describe what you do is so important. With the tens of thousands of artists out there making music, you’ve gotta give new people a reason why they should go and listen to yours.
Finally, there’s a chance that you feel you’ve made it: you’ve reached a long list of goals you made for yourself, and you’ve spent years or decades making the dream happen for yourself (of course, not without the support of others). Now is your chance to pay it forward. Once you’ve developed the skills, the network, and the know-how, you have an incredible opportunity to give a hand to the younger folks who are coming up behind you… you already know how hard it is to get what you’re going for.
The bottom line of all this may sound cliché, but it’s really simple: it all comes down to kindness. No amount of networking, handshaking, and working the room will ever get you anywhere if it’s not about relationships at the end of the day. In an industry where the personal and the professional are so closely intertwined, you must value these connections at the most basic human level first and foremost. Even if everything goes exactly as you envision it now, every music career has ups and downs. What’s ultimately most valuable is having people you trust to share those peaks and valleys with. Get out there and have fun with it, see where the road takes you.
Building a community is important for musicians because having a network of peers within the music industry can provide more opportunities for growth, collaboration, and support. It can also help them navigate the challenges of building a music career from scratch.
Musicians can start building a community by putting themselves out there and finding the places where other musicians are spending their time, such as bars, local venues, house shows, coffee shops, etc. They can also attend music conferences, festivals, and other industry events to expand their network.
It is important for musicians to be able to describe their music in a concise, understandable way because it can give new people a reason why they should go and listen to it. With the tens of thousands of artists out there making music, being able to effectively communicate what sets them apart is crucial.
Attending music conferences and festivals can provide opportunities to expand a musician's network, learn about new developments in the industry, and potentially find new gigs and collaborations. They can also be a great way to get inspired and motivated.
Established musicians can continue to expand their network by attending industry events and conferences, collaborating with other artists, and staying active in their local music scene. They can also take advantage of social media and other online platforms to connect with other musicians and industry professionals.
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