5 Dangerous Networking Mistakes… and How to Avoid ThemBy
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Written by: Cliff Goldmacher
How do you—a new songwriter or musician, with talent and drive oozing out your pores but no open doors in sight—meet the decision makers, the movers and shakers, the powers that be? How do you get your work and your talent in front of the people who can make you successful?
That is, arguably, the greatest mystery of the music business.
What’s the second-greatest mystery? Why so many songwriters, once in contact with those elusive industry influencers, throw common sense out the window and behave in ways that can only hurt their reputation and their chances of succeeding in the industry.
In my years as a professional songwriter and producer, I’ve been on both sides of that equation. I’d like to use that experience to help you avoid some of those common mistakes.
Mistake #1: Losing Your Patience/Cool
If you plan to be in the music business for longer than this week, here’s my advice: take a deep breath, and learn to be patient. Patience, more than anything else, is essential for a long and healthy career as a songwriter.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that you might wait years before the networking seeds you plant bear any fruit. Instead of obsessing over each delayed or rejected submission and melodramatically anguishing over the state of your career, funnel that energy into honing your craft, and trust that your talent will prove itself and find a home in time. You’ll save yourself some heartache and better prepare yourself for success.
It’s also vital that you not be impatient. Becoming impatient with someone—whether a publisher who isn’t returning your call or a record label exec who misplaced your submission, again—can only end badly for you. No matter how many justifications you have for losing your cool, doing so brands you as unprofessional… not just to the particular person you had contact with, but with everyone in their network. Yes, that’s right: music industry people compare notes. The last thing you want is for your name—and your explosion of impatience—to be the topic of conversation at lunch or happy hour.
Again, my recommendation is to take a deep breath, and learn to be patient. Odds are, no one is purposely avoiding you and your songs. Instead, they’re likely flooded by submissions for a number of projects and will get to yours in time.
(Bonus tip: the best way I know to not become impatient is to have as many irons in the fire as you can at any given moment. This means you’re never waiting for “that one thing” to come through.)
Mistake #2: Submitting Too Many Songs
You’ve just had a really nice interaction with a publisher, and he expressed interest in hearing some of your songs. You drive home in a daze, with your head up in the clouds; when you get home, you open up your laptop to send him a couple songs. Wait a minute, you think. Why send him just one or two songs? I should send him everything! That way, I have better odds of him finding something he likes, and hitting a home run, and… YES! Send them ALL!
While I understand the temptation to send this individual every song you’ve ever written, including a few that aren’t finished yet, restraint should be your default setting. Let me say it another way: it is NOT a good idea to send more than requested, even if you’re confident that all of your songs are great songs.
Why is that, you ask? Let me tell you.
Imagine the desk in that publisher’s office… maybe a nice, big, wooden one, with a picture of his family in one corner and his computer monitor in another. Wait, you said wooden… you’re picturing a clean desk, one where you can see the top? Wrong. Try again. Add stacks of CDs, covering every last inch of the desk, spilling over onto the bookcase behind and the floor next to it. That’s a little better. Now, that computer you imagined? It has his email accounts on it, each of which has an inbox filled with submissions. Dozens or hundreds of emails with song files attached or links to websites, emails waiting to be read and music waiting to be listened to.
The publisher arrives at work in the morning, and looks at his stacks of CDs and his overflowing, ever-replenishing inboxes. He picks up two CDs; one has two songs on it, and one CD has nineteen songs. Which one do you think he plays first? If you guessed the CD with two songs, you guessed correctly. He can listen to the submission quickly (because there is less to listen to), decide whether or not he likes the music, and move on to the next submission. Pick, listen, decide, repeat. Believe me: if a publisher likes what he hears, he’ll ask you for more. But, if you overwhelm him from the start, you might never get listened to at all.
It’s always better to start small and build up rather than the other way around.
Your best bet is two or three songs on a CD (or in separate emails, if you’re certain he accepts submissions by email). Unless they are requested, there’s no need to include lyric sheets, your biography, or photos. If he likes what he hears, he’ll ask you for more.
Mistake #3: Telling Someone You Have a Hit/You Are A Great Songwriter
The hallmark of a novice is informing the industry person you’re talking to that you’re a great songwriter and you’ve written a hit song… or, it would be a hit if only it got a chance. You’ll do more harm than good by coming on so strong, even or maybe especially if what you’re saying is true.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe in your work or be confident about what you’re doing. Instead, it means that you should approach someone, who you want to listen to your music, with humility and an understanding that your music isn’t the only music in their world. I’m a big believer in the “talk softly and carry a big stick” approach when meeting with anyone in the industry. Let your work do the talking.
So, what do you say? Two great options are, “I think I’ve got a song that’s appropriate for your artist,” or, “If you’re looking for songs, I’d like permission to send you a song or two.” These statements suggest that you’re a songwriter, that you have done your research (you know who their clients are), and that you respect their work and their boundaries (by asking for permission and not flooding them with submissions). Similar statements will go a long way towards establishing your professional bona fides.
Mistake #4: Forgetting to Use Common Courtesy
What am I talking about here? Don’t just talk about yourself. Don’t interrupt. Put others’ needs first. Basic common courtesies that we were (or should have been) taught as children… but that often fly out the window, even at music conferences.
The temptation to launch into a ten-minute bio seems to be too great to resist in many cases… but it’s seldom the right time for unsolicited personal information. Given that networking relationships—the healthy ones, that is—take time to develop, your best bet would be to get to know a little bit about the person you’re talking to. In time, they will want to know a little about you as well.
If you find yourself with a private moment to chat with a publisher, A&R rep, or music supervisor, start by asking them a few questions about themselves. You might learn something important, and you’ll probably stand out as one of the few people they met who didn’t shamelessly plug themselves.
Mistake #5: Not Following Up, or Following Up Too Much
You’ve got the beginnings of a nice relationship with a publisher, and he asked you to send him some music. You happily complied and sent a couple of songs—either by mail or email, whichever he preferred. And then you waited, patiently… so patiently that you didn’t follow up. You might as well have not sent anything at all.
Without a brief, to-the-point follow-up email or even-briefer voicemail, your music is likely to get lost at the bottom of a pile of submissions in that publisher’s office. (Remember those piles on the desk? Your music is buried in one of them.)
It’s perfectly acceptable, if not the norm, to follow up on your submission a couple of times. Doing so lets you confirm that it has been received and listened to, and it can act as a gentle reminder to the publisher that requested it in the first place (since he genuinely does have a lot on his plate).
With that said, you need to be judicious in the timing of your follow-up inquiries. There’s a fine line between professionally following up on your submission and becoming a nuisance. Following up too often, such as every day for two weeks, will be more damaging to your reputation and career than not following up at all.
The key is a quick, polite inquiry every couple of weeks and not getting discouraged if it takes several attempts. (Remember Mistake #1!)
It’s also worth noting that, sometimes, you don’t get a response, ever. If you’ve done your job by submitting properly and following up after reasonable time frames, it’s okay to write off a submission. There are plenty of other opportunities out there, and there’s no point in getting discouraged by one that doesn’t come through.
Hopefully, by listing common issues and recommending viable alternatives, this article helps you successfully network in the music industry. By understanding some of the elements of the business side, you can greatly increase your chances of getting your music out there.
And, if you’ve made these mistakes before, don’t despair. Having personally made almost every one of these mistakes early in my career, I can safely say that there is hope and a chance at recovery, even if you’ve slipped up a time or two (or three).
About Cliff Goldmacher
Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA.
Cliff’s site is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.
Cliff’s company, Nashville Studio Live, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos.