Imagine you’re hungry—starving—so you look in the fridge, you look in the cupboard and there’s no food. I mean that’s inconvenient, but you wouldn’t say, ”oh well, I’m just gonna starve to death.” No (shakes head). You go to the grocery store.
It’s similar to being an aspiring songwriter (especially one with very high expectations). You start going to a few music events and when nothing happens, you decide, ”It’s just not working out.” You then ignore the networking piece from there on out. Sure, this might be an extreme comparison, but if you don’t network, it’s like depriving your music career of nourishment and letting it starve.
You might say, ”But Mike, I network a lot right around music releases, my gigs, and events….” That’s great. But you just can’t save it for the last minute or just when you need something from others.
It’s totally possible no one has mentioned this to you, but you need to consistently connect with others in your field. Luckily, I believe in it so much, I’m telling you now.
Networking is the lifeblood of what you want to do.
Making an Effort
If you don’t know how, there are actionable steps you can take, starting today.
Let me ask you a few questions.
Have you considered supporting your own local scene? If not, you can start by going to open mics, writer’s rounds, or local shows (no, age doesn’t matter).
You can join the NSAI or your local music professionals organization, and you can meet with them regularly (no, age doesn’t matter).
You can look for bands who are similar in the style that you want to write with, start connecting with them and offer them your unique perspective or advice (Do I have to say it again?).
I’m sure you’ve done a great deal for your career so far, but if you’re not doing any of that yet, you haven’t scratched the surface of your potential.
“But Mike, my town doesn’t have any great musicians or people I really like.“
Keep on searching until you find it. Believe me, I don’t live in a music city, and there wasn’t a big pool of people I could connect with, so I knew I was going to have to make a bigger effort to go to some stuff and talk with some people.
For you, that could mean planning some trips to a music-related city. On the first trip, there might be no writing whatsoever.
What could be happening on this trip is you’re connecting with people you want to talk to.
Try to find some people who are doing the thing you love, and who are doing it well. Treat them to lunch or coffee and pick their brain, or ask them for a mentoring session. Simply reach out and talk to them.
I guarantee they’ll mention at some point along their journey that they started networking and talking with people and got mentorship—yes they worked at their craft—but they started to hustle.
If that word “hustle” makes you uneasy, turn it into focus. If you’re focusing in this industry, it means you’re talking and connecting with people who are doing the same thing that you’re doing (or want to do).
That’s what’s great about networking—you’re building up support. Let’s face it, doing this is f***ing hard. It’s tough! There can be moments of feeling unsuccessful, thinking it’s not working out, thinking you’re doing the wrong thing… You might feel that it’s not going to work—you feel like it’s frivolous… I can go on and on because we’ve all been there.
When you have people who are in your support network, you’ll do awesome. You have this third party who’s looking in on what you’re doing and vice versa.
Without networking, you’re only smelling your own s**t and thinking it’s great. Having someone who can lovingly say, “well this isn’t bad, but I notice you do this thing a lot…” is invaluable.
When you connect with others and start writing with them, you see what they’re doing and it’s guaranteed that you’ll think, “oh that’s amazing! I probably need to start doing that,” and you’re going to take useful information away. You’re there to support and create with them, so you’ll also be paying enough attention that you end up picking up on the small nuances that will push you in the right direction.
You can belong to a small network and still be successful. There are so many places you can start to connect. I always recommend Judy Stakee’s songwriting retreats, It All Starts with a Song. You can also begin networking online—you already know American Songwriter has an incredible network. Check out the 5 and 5 Challenge with Sarah Spencer, Thinking Outside the Blocks with Alli Moss and Bess Rogers, and online communities like the Songwriting Academy. The list goes on and on (including my own, Riff to Radio community)
I’m sure that’s what 2020 showed the music community, is that we can be connecting with organizations that can align us with songwriters all over the world, right from our chair.
Confidence or Fear
“Mike, I wish I had the confidence to do what you’re talking about”.
I’m going to guess that your fear is holding you back. The fear that you’re not going to be good enough and that’s where you hold up your guard.
It’s possibly the fear of rejection of your “baby” and so you hold onto your song thinking it’s just for you, and you don’t want people to see it.
What you’re going to be surprised about, is that these are other people’s fear too. You realize if you wait a minute before running away, you’ll start genuinely connecting and networking with others—more importantly, it’s where you start growing and finding confidence in each other and yourself.
If music is the thing you’re going to do, you have to be open to sharing, open to hearing what others have to say again and again. You’ll find the best networking and connection is when people give thoughtful help; you know what thoughtful help feels like versus a brush-off, cut-down or sarcastic remark.
You start to understand it’s where you need to be, and you’ll realize you’re feeling completely different and realize, “oh it’s because I’ve been networking with people!”
Networking equals growth. But it’s about getting a little out of your comfort zone first.
Still worried that you’re not good enough?
To quote Stuart Smalley from SNL, repeat after me: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggonit, people like me.”
Mike Meiers is an Emmy Award-Winning songwriter, producer, and guitar coach. Mike currently writes for indie artists, has had placements for MTV, VH1 NPR, FOX Sports, History Channel, Showtime, and Target. He’s also the founder of Songwriting For Guitar, helping songwriters enhance their guitar skills so they can write better songs and get them out into the world!