Do You Have the Networking Blues?

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CIII, No. 10October, 2003

Leslie Cardell, C.S.W.

Networking sounds simple enough, and yet there are days when the thought of making a few phone calls is enough to send you back to bed. Perhaps you don’t feel quite that strongly about it, but the prospect of having to promote yourself can sometimes seem quite daunting. Nonetheless, networking is an important part of developing a career as a musician.

In the most general sense, networking is communicating some aspect of what you do to someone who might be able to help you do it. And of course you never know for certain who that’s going to be. So, it’s important to talk to and be friendly to everyone. Meet as many people as you can, and make sure to let them know what you do. It’s kind of like fishing. You never know when you’re going to get a bite, so you better keep your line in the water.

But you don’t need me to tell you that. Or do you? When a task is distasteful, we can find a lot of reasons to avoid doing it. Knowing how important contacts are doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to put yourself out there. What gets in your way?

Maybe you think good musicians shouldn’t need to network. “Talent will out” – like cream rising to the top. Perhaps you believe that all you need to do is keep practicing, keep honing your gifts, and ultimately you will be discovered. Maybe. And then again, maybe not.

Five minutes spent listening to the radio confirms what we all know – it isn’t necessarily the best music that ends up getting recorded. It can be a difficult concept to accept, but success does not always equal talent. It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s true. A lot of energy gets wasted ranting and raving at the inequities of the entertainment industry, and those talentless know-nothings who become big stars. Who succeeds and who fails in the music business, as in all of the entertainment industry, has as much to do with connections as anything else.

And why shouldn’t it? If you needed a lawyer, would you pick a name at random from the phone book? Of course not. You’d ask around for recommendations of attorneys knowledgeable in the particular area you needed help with. The music industry is no different. People are more likely to want to work with someone they already know or who has been referred to them by someone they know. So, the more people you know, the better!

Wishing the music business were different won’t make it so. Of course there should be more support for the arts in this country. Write to your representatives in Congress and tell them so. In the meantime, what can you do to help yourself? The importance of promoting oneself is a fact of life in the entertainment industry. And yes, it can be difficult and discouraging, but what’s the alternative? Quit? Go back to bed? If making music is what you want to do, then promoting yourself is a part of it.

Perhaps you worry that if you’re too aggressive you’ll turn people off. You probably will if all you do is talk about how wonderful you are, and show no interest in others. Networking is about developing relationships, not trying to sell yourself. It’s a lifelong process that evolves over time.

Another way of stopping oneself is to decide, before you’ve even made the call or begun the conversation, that nothing will come of it anyway. The other person isn’t going to be able to help you, so why bother. They won’t be interested in what you have to offer. You’re not good enough. You’re too good. It somehow hurts less to reject ourselves before anyone else has the chance to. But ask yourself: is your fear of rejection greater than your desire to succeed?

Networking is one piece of the commitment you make to your talent and your goals. It takes practice – the more you do it the easier it gets.

If you’d like to get a better grip on what gets in your way, and begin to hone your skills, the Musicians’ Assistance Program will be offering a six-week support group beginning in mid-October. The group will address some of the issues raised by the activity of networking, and offer an opportunity to explore the skills involved in a creative and playful way. The exact day and time are yet to be determined. If you’re interested in joining this group, please call the MAP office at (212) 397-4802 for more information.