Relationship building is the cornerstone of the music industry, and yet, it’s one of the areas that artists most struggle with. As an introvert myself, I get it. But as a business owner, I push past it. Whether you own a business or you’re an artist in charge of your career, you are a business, and you must operate as one. So I won’t sugar coat this — relationship building is a key component to career success, and if you’re not willing to push outside your comfort zone to begin establishing relationships, your career is going to stall.
So let’s get into it, shall we?
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First rule of relationship building: be genuine
Through everything you read here today, there’s one thing you must keep in mind, and that is to be genuine in your interactions and in the relationships that you’re building. If you go into this solely thinking about yourself and what you stand to gain, you’re going to fail, because people will sense that you’re being deceitful. Don’t sweet talk, don’t feign interest, and don’t lie. Building a relationship in the music industry should be approached the same way you’d build a friendship. Be genuine and real, draw from real world common interests to connect, and put just as much if not more time into the other person and their interests as you do yourself. Relationship building only really works if you’re genuine about it and if you treat them as people, not as a means to an end. You just might be surprised how many friends you make along the way.
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Identify the people you want to connect with
The first thing you need to figure out is who you want to build a relationship with. Is it other bands in your area, so you can begin to play out more and secure more gigs? Is it managers so that once your career begins to flourish you know who to approach? Is it bloggers so that you can DIY the PR on your next release?
Start small on this one. Although your ultimate target might be the head of a major label or editor at Pitchfork, you can’t leap right to the top. You’ll have a lot more success connecting with people at the ground level, building and fostering those relationships, and leveraging them later on, perhaps even as an introduction to the higher-ups. Focus on people who are at similar or slightly advanced levels of their career as you. The more you can connect with others who can grow with you, the better.
The golden rule here is to not be a snob about it. Have an idea of who you want to target, and go after them, but be open to introductions with people you never even thought of connecting with. Often those will be the most rewarding.
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Make your move
As for how to target, there’s a few different ways. Social media is a wonderful place to find and foster relationships. You can find and interact with anyone on sites like Twitter and Instagram, and connect over common interests. (Note: you should focus on connecting over a mutual interest and building a bond before you ever mention anything like “hey, wanna help me with my music career?”. Because the answer will always be “no” if you ambush them like that.)
Once again, think of this as a friendship. If someone came up to you and said “hey I don’t know you but do you want to help me do this thing or buy this from me?” you’d be totally turned off. There’s a reason this is called relationship building—it takes work and it doesn’t happen overnight. So target your connections and slowly begin warming up to each other over shared interests. Replying to their tweets or commenting interesting and insightful things on their Instagram is a great place to start.
Facebook groups are another great way to do this and to connect with people you didn’t even know existed. By offering your expertise and help in various groups, you’ll quickly gain a reputation for being the go-to for a certain subject, or city, or niche, and your name will become synonymous with that. The more you show up, digitally speaking, the more you’ll find people reaching out to and connecting with you. A great place to start building relationships on Facebook is the Music Launch Hub.
Once you’ve begun to form a bond, you’ll want to make sure you hold onto it, and for some this can be the trickiest part. But try not to overwhelm yourself—once again, social media has really come to the rescue here and made it easier than ever for us to stay connected and involved. Something as simple as regularly finding something to reply at on Twitter, comment with on Instagram or Facebook (but not just “like”, because those get lost in the mix) can be a great and simple way to stay in their lives. Depending on the depth of your relationship, don’t be afraid to send a message or email every once in a while to say hey and ask them what they’re up to, what it is that’s exciting them and getting them out of bed these days, and then when you see an opportunity—offer your help.
No matter what you do, keep these three things in mind: be genuine, offer substance in your conversations—not fluff, and most of all—have fun! You’re just a human being connecting with another human being, and as long as you keep that in mind and stay real, you’ll be surprised at just how easy relationship building can be.
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