A good friend of mine has been looking for work lately. For the last few years, he had a really good gig doing post production audio on a television series, so he had gotten used to a fairly normal lifestyle, with regular hours, a great paycheck, and benefits. Now, he’s been out beating the bushes, hitting his contact list, and lately, he’s been attending a lot of the networking events sponsored by different industry organizations. We live on different coasts now, so we tend to catch up as time permits. Lately, that has meant a lot of phone calls from his car, seeing as how in L.A., everyone spends about half their life in their car. One thing he’s been talking about is how tough it has been to get any real “return” on his “investment” of time in these events.
I’m going to assume that you’ve been to one or two of these networking events. Sometimes they have a panel component, where a panel of industry experts speak and answer questions about one or more aspects of the business. Occasionally, they can be more intimate, held at a bar or restaurant, and designed so that like-minded people can gather and meet each other. A few times a year, the organizations like ASCAP or BMI will have producer or songwriter sessions where folks can get together and critique each other’s work and meet each other.
All of these kinds of things are good ways to get out there and meet people. If you are starting out, they are a fantastic way of meeting others who are also starting out. One of the things I discuss in the book is the necessity of building a support system, and meeting fellow music and audio folk who are on a similar journey is a great thing to do. However, it’s important to understand that building a network is a process, and that attending these events is something that works best if you can do so without a lot of expectations. Showing up at events, demo in hand, with the expectation that your phone is going to start ringing as an immediate result is not the best mindset to have. Networking requires patience. Not only that, but these kinds of events are artificial, and everyone there is very conscious of their place on the food chain. If you are a panelist or “industry expert,” then people are going to be maneuvering themselves over to you so they can do their five minutes, ending with the obligatory handing over of the business card, CD, or other package. If you are the unknown aspiring industry person, then you are the one looking to do your five minutes. The ratio of unknown to known quantities is always very high, so there is generally a slight whiff of desperation in the air as aspirants jockey for position. I’m not saying that these events don’t have value. I’m just saying that they are not the sole definition of networking, and their artificial nature doesn’t make for the best circumstances to be fondly remembered.
Ultimately, what you are looking for in any networking situation is the chance to hang out with working professionals in your chosen area of the industry in their natural habitat. Sometimes these staged events can lead to opportunities which can lead to further opportunities to be where the real action is. If you get a chance to be in the studio or edit suite and just hang out in a more relaxed atmosphere, the chances are much greater that you will have a real chance to form a genuine relationship with someone based on common interests or personalities that mesh. People like to work with people they like, and genuine relationships are rarely formed at staged industry events. What you are more likely to get at an industry event is a conversation that leads to an exchange of contact information, and the chance to follow that up. If you’re patient, that might turn into lunch a few months later, and maybe an afternoon of hanging at the studio a few months after that. It’s about staying relaxed, keeping your expectations modest, and enjoying the human interaction wherever it takes you. Kind of like actual dating, come to think of it.