Category Archives: Comedy

Networking for People Who Cringe at the Word “Networking”

File this one under “Things that should have been obvious.”

One of my favorite routines from comedian Bill Hicks is his scathing assault on marketing and advertising.  I can do it no justice, so I present it with the caveat that it’s quite NSFW as well as vitriolic and offensive.  But hey, that’s how I roll sometimes (ok, a lot of times).

As the concept of networking entails marketing yourself and advertising your skills and availability, at some point I lumped them all in together.  It should come as no surprise that I then began to loathe the idea of networking to increase my presence in the music scene.  It seemed so fake; I was the Skymall catalog trying cheerily and with a straight face to justify my relevance in the face of common sense and decency.Skymall Tuba Advertisement: This person is able to practice comfortable in any seat.  Can you say the same?  Probably not unless you have Tubadan! I catch on pretty quickly when someone is trying to sell me something, and I didn’t want to instill the same sense of sinking disappointment in another person.  The false smile, aggressive handshake, and pandering made me feel more like a car salesman than an artist.

Instead, when I found myself in a situation with other musicians, potential fans, or people in the arts, I made connections based on other criteria.  I connected with people who shared common interests with me, people who I found interesting, and people who found me interesting.   Even though I wasn’t really networking, this felt much more organic and comfortable for me.

Is anyone’s obviousdar going off yet?

Recently I read a terrific book about making a career in music called Beyond Talent, by Angela Myles Beeching.  There’s a ton of great information about how to succeed as a gigging musician, how to approach problems as a self-employed individual, and what to expect in the day-to-day grind of the music world.  Naturally, there was a chapter on networking in which she talks about how to make connections.  And naturally, she didn’t define networking as schmoozing and working the room as slimily as possible.

It was instead about making connections with people with common interests, people with interesting projects, and people who find your projects interesting.  It was in essence, much of what I was already doing.  The simple act of expressing genuine interest in what someone is doing puts me on their radar.  From there my role could be anything from a fan to a friend to a collaborator in the future.  I’m not trying to oversimplify here.  I know that there are many ways to improve my networking skills and reach out to more people.  However, I was surprised at how far along I already was, given that I had self-identified as an “anti-networker.”

Speaking of ways to improve, I started to make a connection between my new and improved definition of networking and something I’ve often discussed with Mike Ketner from Departure Consulting.  One of Mike’s big points about developing a musician’s career is the concept of “added value.”  If I am playing music solely for my own benefit, there’s really a singular “unit” of value to it; myself.  When I connect with my audience through the music, there is added value: the value I offer to those who enjoy my music.  When I offer my music to the community as a part of a series including local musicians, I add even more value to what I’m offering by connecting it with others and with the community as a whole.  Even further along, when I team up with those local musicians to host a festival of the finest accordion and tuba players in the nation, there’s huge value to be generated from such a venture.

Networking also runs on the give and play of value.  When I’m talking to a producer named, oh, let’s say Evelina McChurtles (I chose this name solely so I could choose a gender and avoid a string of his/hers coming down the paragraph; you’ll thank me for this later) and I like her projects, naturally I want to work with her.  I can try to convince her to hire me by talking about my projects and angling for ways that she could produce them, but ultimately the added value of her doing so is probably not enough, even if I’m totally sweet.  If I can find a way that I can be of benefit to her and her projects, I add value to my contribution and there is greater incentive for me included in her projects.

Once again, I’ve entered the realm of obviousness, but I see the principles of the previous paragraph violated constantly.  I have proofread cover letters that enumerate the many benefits the applicant will RECEIVE from being hired at an organization.  I’ve encountered Twitter feeds that are nothing more than impersonal pleas for followers.  I’ve seen bands try to get to play venues when they have absolutely no following, and I’ve seen bookers schedule bands where the only people who will possibly come to see them are the 5 friends they invited.  When we request something from someone, we need to ask what the incentive is for the person to fulfill that request.  If the only answer is because I’m totally sweet, then odds are good there isn’t enough added value to make it viable.

Oh, and I’ve definitely also been guilty of not being able to see that I’m not offering enough to make a proposition worthwhile.

That’s a funny previous sentence for those of you with dirty minds.

Where this gets tied back into networking (for those of us who cringe at the word) is that the process of adding value is a template for making networking more successful and less stressful.  I’ve already talked about how it can work better.  The less stress comes from approaching communication less as having to sell yourself and more about being able to offer ways to benefit others.  You can think of it as the hard sell versus the fun brainstorming session.  You’re discussing a common interest and the creative challenges you encounter along the way.  No selling of snake oil is required, and everyone can feel good about it.

Snake valve Oil

Patton Oswalt’s Keynote Address and Why It Matters to Everyone

You, oh avid reader of this blog (ok maybe occasional reader), might have recognized that I have a consistent format here.  I describe an interesting situation or conversation in a very specific context and extrapolate it to other disciplines.  I really enjoy finding the connections among different disciplines.

So I was moved and excited after reading a speech made by Patton Oswalt, a professional comedian and overall inspirational person.  You might know him from as the lead rat from the Pixar film Ratatouille, or from King of Queens.  I myself will always think of this particular NSFW gem:

In any case, he was the keynote speaker at the Just for Laughs Comedy Convention in Montreal.  In his speech he talked about the state of the comedy industry, both from the perspective of the comedians, as well as the “gatekeepers of the comedy industry;” the producers, labels, and institutions that deal with comics and their work.  He did this in the form of two open letters, one to the comedians, and one to the gatekeepers.  They’re a bit long, but they’re definitely worth the read.  Please, take a few minutes to read them, as it’s important to the rest of the stuff I’ll be talking about; I’ll be right here waiting!

You can read the transcript at The Comic’s Comic.

When I got finished reading the transcript, it started to dawn on me how many missing pieces this brought together for me in my thoughts and my music career.  Most of the pieces fell into place on the subject of hard work.  A few weeks ago I wrote a piece called the Refried Beans Epiphany, which opined about how we artists get held back by the powers-that-be citing the mantra “that’s just the way the industry is.”  I wrote it after two different professional musicians told me that the bands that survive in this industry are the ones who spent years focusing exclusively on their art, often to the detriment of their health, wealth, and snealth (ok, just checking if you were paying attention there).

When I apply the contents of this speech to my music career, it both invalidates and confirms portions of what these incredibly talented musicians were saying to me.  The invalidation comes from the old-school mentality of “this is how the industry works.”  No, you don’t have to sleep in your car for the first five years.  That kind of “devotion” was from a time when it was much more important to be physically mobile to promote your work (drive to a new city, play a show, sleep in car, drive to the next city, repeat).  These days, the vast improvements in media that I have access to mean that I have more flexible options in how I get my music to your ears.  That iPhone that gives comics the ability to tweet, record video, and engage with their fans also does the same for me as a musician.  I mean, I did record a whole album at home in 2011.  Ten years ago, that would have been almost unthinkable.

With that added flexibility comes more of a need for dedication, integrity, and hard work, which brings us to how the above speech confirmed some of what I was told.  In a conversation with a professional friend, he told me “in general [to have a sustainable career in the music industry,] it takes a do or die type of focus…unless you have that, not a lot will happen.”  I read it at the time as yet another reiteration of “pay your dues,” “this is the way this machine works,” etc.  I now believe what he was saying is that that same type of hunger that up-and-coming comics need is also needed to be successful in music.  Patton Oswalt cited the innovative podcasts, tweets, and communities that comedians are creating.  Doing a podcast takes a relatively small amount of effort; doing an amazing podcast takes a huge amount of focus and effort.  Similarly for musicians, writing a song is easy.  Writing a great song is really hard.  Writing a great song and promoting it is even harder.  Writing a great song and promoting it while juggling 3 other groups you play in and finding time to rehearse and record… well, welcome to the path to success in today’s music industry.  Because this is something we can actually do now, as opposed to previous times when only record labels had such power at their fingertips.

Just as we comedians can’t legitimately blame someone when their YouTube video falls flat on its face, we as musicians can no longer blame the institution when we don’t get our free 15 minutes.  We have the tools and we have the wide open space of the age of technology and media.  What we do with it is up to our own limits.  I share Patton Oswalt’s excitement for the possible shapes of that future and the wonderful possibilities that it opens up.  I also share his understanding that complacency just doesn’t work any more.  No one is going to hand it to us.  We need to be constantly thinking of new ways to approach our audiences, new ways to combine different, and new communities with which to collaborate and innovate.  It’s all there, ready for us to get to work and do the best that we or anyone else can.  That’s an eye-opening revelation I can certainly get behind.

Tiny aside: Thanks Bryce for the heads up on the etiquette of posting large quotes on a blog.

Larger aside: My CD Release Party is coming up August 25th.  It’s going to be lots of fun.  I think there might be a piñata, and I know there is going to be amazing music.

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