Rules of Engagement – Building Strong Music Industry Relationships

The smartest thing any indie artist or songwriter can do is learn how to earn the support of  influential people.

© 2012 Vinny Ribas

With the growth of social networks has come the ability to connect with just about anyone. If you are adept at networking, either in person or online, you can contact people quite easily. Because of this, many industry professionals, from publishers and mangers to booking agents and venue owners,  get more than just a few emails and phones calls every day. I would venture to say that most of them welcome such correspondence, but only if they are done in a completely professional and unobtrusive manner. This is true with person-to-person meetings, whether they are spontaneous or scheduled. If you want to build strong music industry relationships, here are some common rules of networking: 

  • Don’t feel intimidated. Everyone is human and has pretty much the same needs, wants and desires. Don’t be star struck – be professional. Most people love to meet and even help others. If you’re a hugger, don’t assume that they are! Give a firm handshake.
  • Know what they do. Do your homework and then make each communication personal. Nothing marks you as unprofessional more than sending the wrong kind of letter or package to someone, or calling the wrong person for your needs. My organization, Indie Connect, educates artists and helps them network in the industry. It is all over our website. Yet every day we receive letters, promo packages and EPKs asking if I would be interested in playing their songs on our radio station (we don’t have one), signing them to a deal (we’re not a label), booking them (we’re not a booking agency) or managing them (we are not managers).
  • Know a little about them personally if possible. What are their hobbies? Are they performers or songwriters? If so listen to their music first. The more you know about the person you are going to contact, the more things you will have in common to talk about.
  • Court them. Don’t cannonball into your sales pitch with your first breath. If you’re calling on the phone, ask if it is a good time to talk. Build a relationship first. Establish your credibility. Start with a brief non-business comment (or compliment). Briefly introduce yourself and state your reason for calling or contacting them.
  • Be mindful of their time. No one needs to know your entire life history in the first call or during the first meeting unless they ask. If you ask for 5 minutes, keep it to 5 minutes. If you set an appointment, be early. Forgive them if they don’t listen to your music right away. Chances are they have a lot of plates to juggle.
  • Don’t tell them what to do. Getting an email that simply says ‘Check out my music at….’ is very annoying. Whether you are communicating with a cold call, an email or just a post on a social network, ask politely instead of stating a command. Add a short personal introduction. Give them a valid reason for checking out your music other than ‘You’re gonna love it!”
  • Give them an out. Never put anyone on the spot by asking questions such as “Wasn’t that a great song?” or  “Don’t you think everyone will love our music?”  Instead, ask if your song or act fits their needs. If you’re looking for constructive criticism, ask for it.
  • Get referred to them. A personal recommendation from someone they know and trust will go a long way towards getting their attention and their ear. Cold calling is fine and can be effective. But if you ask around if someone can make a warm introduction, you will walk in with instant credibility.
  • Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they need you, or that they will put everything aside to listen to your music. Don’t assume that they are mean, egotistical, stuck-up, prejudiced or obnoxious because they don’t respond to you right away or don’t like your act or music.
  • Show respect. Don’t start your email with  ‘hey!’ Not everyone is comfortable with that.  Use Mr. Ms. or Miss as appropriate until you are on a 1st name basis.
  • Ask permission. Before you send anything, be sure to ask permission and confirm that what you are sending is in line with what they need at the present time. There are several reasons for this including common courtesy and respect for their position, not wasting your time or money, and not wasting their time.
  • Use public courtesy. There are times when it is appropriate to introduce yourself to others, and times when it is best to let them have their privacy. If you see someone in public, use discretion. You only get one chance to make a good impression.
  • Make it easy for them. If you are sending or handing someone your CD, be sure to take the wrapper off first. Some execs will automatically throw a CD away rather than fight with the wrapper. Be sure your current contact information is on everything.  Have typed lyrics, not hand written. Don’t give them any excuse to say no!
  • No gherming. Never approach a celebrity or industry executive and immediately throw your CD in their face. Build a relationship first. Talk about them. In time the conversation will come around to you and you will be able to make your pitch.
  • Give first. If possible, find a way to offer to help the other person before you ask for anything. That could be something as simple as assisting to carry something. The purpose of the offer is to show that you are a giver, not just a taker.
  • Be prepared. Anticipate and plan ahead for what they are going to ask from you and be prepared to deliver it immediately. If they will ask for an EPK or physical press kit, be sure you have them ready beforehand. If they want a copy of your CD, or your song demos, be sure you can take care of that immediately. Will they ask for your website address? The last thing you want is to have to scramble at the last minute to put things together.
  • Contact info on everything. This is worth repeating! Be sure your contact information is on every CD, lyric sheet, picture, flyer or anything else you give out. Also make sure that it is very prominent on your website. What good is getting someone’s attention if they can’t find you to follow up on it? Be sure your name is on the spine of your CD case as well.
  • Know what you are going to say. Rehearse what you are going to say before you make the call or introduce yourself. You can’t make a good impression if you’re stumbling over your words.
  • Don’t put anyone down. Putting anyone down puts you in a bad light. You may be inclined to try to get on their good side by putting down their ‘competition.’ Avoid the temptation, even if the other person takes the lead. These things often have a tendency to come back and bite you.
  • Compliment.  Don’t be phony! Without looking like a ‘brownnoser’, find something that you can compliment them about. It may be a song they produced, wrote or recorded. It could be something they are wearing. If you know one of their kids did something good, mention that. Everyone loves a sincere compliment.
  • Be professional. Look and act professionally. Offer a firm handshake. Be well groomed.  Of course you still want to be yourself, but avoid anything that might show disrespect like ‘colorful’ language.
  • Accept their advice.  If you are given serious, constructive advice, thank them for it. Give it due consideration.
  • Respect their opinion or decision. Acknowledge their right to these. This is not to say that you can’t disagree. Nor does it mean that you shouldn’t be persistent in trying to change their mind if it is important to you. Just go about it in a professional manner.
  • Ask for a follow-up meeting.  If it is appropriate, try to set up a follow up meeting while you are with them. Setting meetings via email requires multiple communications, and are often a nuisance to a busy person.
  • Be memorable. Without being obnoxious, find a way to insure that the other person will remember you. If you’re meeting in person, it could be something you wear, a gift you give, the look of your CD and/or promo kit etc. Make the spine of your CD yellow or some other color that will stand out on their CD wall so it is easy to find.  If nothing else, you want to have an easy way to jog their memory in a follow up conversation. For example, “I’m the one who had the purse shaped like a guitar (yes, they make them).”
  • Be politely persistent.  If you are given a ‘no’ for an answer, and you sincerely think they made a mistake, ask them what you need to do to get a ‘yes.’ Make any necessary changes and then contact them again. Be sure to follow up with a polite email, phone message or thank you card after every meeting to show your professionalism and to stay in the forefront of their minds. Again, ask for a follow up meeting if it is appropriate. Don’t be a pest – just show that you are serious and want to do business with them.
  • Remember that it’s not about you. During your first exchange with most business people, one of their primary thoughts is ‘how can I make money with this person or this person’s music? This doesn’t mean ‘how can I ‘take this person’s money?’  It means that their response will be a business decision, not a personal one. You may be the most talented person on the planet, but if the person you are talking to doesn’t have the means to market you properly, it is not to your benefit or his to pursue a business relationship.

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, a global business club for serious independent artists, songwriters, musicians and music professionals. Indie Connect helps its members increase their chances of success by providing practical career direction and education, combined with live and online industry networking opportunities. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, an artist manager, a booking agent, songwriter and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He is a published author and his artticles on success in the music industry have been read worldwide. He is also a  popular speaker at music industry conferences.

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.