How Do You Network?

The Beat on the Street

Volume CIV, No. 7/8July, 2004

Musicians often tell us that they’ve found their gigs either through networking or through a contractor. In your opinion: 1) What’s the best way to network? 2) And, what are some “do’s” and “don’ts” about dealing with contractors?

Whenever I pass another musician carrying an instrument case I say, “Where’s the gig?” Sometimes they just look at me and laugh. In other countries I often get just a puzzled look and then I explain to them what a gig is. It’s kind of a joke.

I even say it to young students carrying an instrument case. Often it leads to a discussion because, after all, all musicians are asking the same question: “Where’s the gig?” So that’s a little hobby of mine.

Rule #1: Never walk out of your house or apartment without at least one or two of your own CD’s stuffed in your pocket, and some business cards. Even when just going out to get a newspaper, you never know who you might meet or run into. I go through 1,000 business cards every six months.

Rule #2: Show your face at the place! It’s not enough to e-mail, call or write the venues. You have to actually show up and be known to the people. If you keep on the move, eventually you’ll be in the right place at the right time.

As far as how to deal with contractors — where’s the contractor? There aren’t too many of those left to my knowledge. Last year I played 43 gigs in the U.S., Europe and China and I booked every one of them myself. Next week I’ll be in Germany playing a two-week self-booked tour.

–Jon Hammond

Do not overreact to disappointment; remind people (even those that have been rude or who you think do not like you) that you are interested and available.

–John Serry

I don’t use a contractor. Rather, I network.

In brief, networking for gigs involves:

  1. Keeping my eyes and ears open so I know which venues are hiring live musicians.
  2. Doing a bit of detective work to learn who the gatekeepers are for each venue.
  3. Making a high-quality presentation usually on the phone first, in person next, and often supplemented with e-mail. My presentation is largely personal. I am looking for a good fit with the gatekeeper. I do not tolerate abusive treatment. If that happens, I walk.
  4. I then offer first-class CD’s, photos, bios, and press releases or reviews of live performances.
  5. I follow-up by phone or in person asking, “When would you like to book my jazz group?”

I repeat the process for each venue and sustain the relationship as long as it proves mutually respectful and beneficial.

While it truly requires a lot of work, this process yields opportunities to learn, grow, and give as a performing musician.

–Larry Newcomb, Ph.D.

The best way to network is to play as many gigs as you can.

The best way to be hired: play great. Be professional. Be positive and personable.

Any manipulation beyond those things — with contractors, leaders or side musicians — can be counterproductive.

–Clint de Ganon

To me, there are many “best” ways to network.

From the jazz and commercial perspective, I would consider these:

  1. Go to as many jam sessions and rehearsal bands as you can find, and meet as many cats who play the same axe as you do. Hand out a card, but don’t be smug or overbearing about it. This is a delicate situation and you don’t want to assume people want to know who you are. Most cats are friendly, but that doesn’t mean they want you to harass them either.
  2. Take a lesson — or even better, study regularly — with a cat who you respect! Don’t just take lessons because that cat can let you sub on his show or will call you for a gig. If you can play, and you are around, then people will start to know who you are.
  3. Try not to piss people off intentionally. That is, be humble, but not phony.

Understand that if you’re new on the scene, you’re going to have to pay some dues as far as free gigs (or rehearsals) and you may even not get paid sometimes when you were expecting to. This has happened to all of us. Try not to take it personally. Chalk it up to a learning experience, one where you can figure out what you did get from that gig or experience — even if it wasn’t a good paycheck. Chances are you met some cats you didn’t know before and maybe one of them will call you for a good paying gig in the future.

Eventually, you will move onto the scenes where that will not be an issue.

–Wayne Goodman

Through my humble experience, the best way to network is through social gatherings at a favorite hangout of both musicians and contractors, like a popular restaurant or bar.

Also, work hard to keep your playing sharp, which will create a desire for your performance in most genres.

In dealing with contractors, be professional. Be prepared by presenting your craft, capability and business knowledge. Depending on the contractor, politics could play an important part gaining favor with contractors. Unfortunately, as we all well know, in the music business it’s who you know, not what you know.

–Richie Pratt

I don’t know what “networking” is. These are my ways to find work:

  1. Be a good enough player to do the job.
  2. Be on time.
  3. Dress neatly.
  4. If the leader, conductor, or any side musicians are schmucks or bad players, continue to play your best, and smile.

Word will get around to your benefit. It still works for me after 54 years in 802. Good luck!

–Howard Rittner

My answer to both questions is: Play your ass off and always be sincere.

–Mike Boschen

People skills are as important as technique and musicianship. You have to shed these skills passionately. A session veteran told me once that musicians will ultimately hire who they have fun with on the job. “Get your ‘people chops’ together,” he said.

If Broadway work is your interest, ask if you can casually watch a player’s book as a way to get acquainted and learn. However, don’t take this as an invitation to sub. Down the road that connection might pay off.

Showcase your talents by inviting people to your gigs in an unobtrusive way. Always expect no-shows and try again next gig.

Hire players you admire if you have the opportunity. Invite players to jam with you. When appropriate, recommend others for work. It will all come back to you.

New York City is a small island: good and bad reputations travel fast. Be patient, dream big, accept rejection as part of an artist’s life, and continue unrelenting.

And, what are some “do’s” and “don’ts” about dealing with contractors? Try to introduce yourself over the phone after you mail your resume. Don’t push. Sometimes contractors will ask their first-call players for recommendations. So just get out there and try to play with anyone in your area of musical interest.

Be mindful of people’s schedules and time. Don’t call too late, too early or too often.

Be prepared to talk about your career in brief. Simply let people know what you have been doing. No need to brag or color the truth.

If you have what it takes to break through, contractors will hear about you. Don’t call them over and over. It will just make them angry. We all hang up on telemarketers. Don’t send demos unless they ask you.

Don’t ever sub a show unprepared. Practice, practice, practice.

–Jon Berger

When it’s feasible, I try to accept benefit performances. These shows always seem to bring together big-hearted musicians from a lot of different genres — and these are the one I enjoy working with the most!

–Matt Gallagher