Networking: How do you meet people in a crowded room?

By Lis Lewis

Finally, you’ve gotten invited to an ‘industry event’. You know there will be people there who might be able to help move your career forward. You gather up your CD’s, pictures and business cards with your website info, change clothes about six times until you look just right: gorgeous and sexy but without looking like you had to work at it. You’re ready.

You get to the party and there’s loads of people there swirling, talking and laughing. They all seem to know each other already. How do you meet those important people who are surrounded by young hopefuls? Do something outrageous? Slump in a corner?

I’ve heard some pretty wild stories about aggressive moves made toward record label execs or managers by artists. There’s one where a woman actually spilled her drink deliberately on the guy’s lap so he’d notice her. And it was at an awards show so he walked around with a wet suit the rest of the night! Wow. That’s extreme. Another intense story was about the band who waited outside the record company for a particular producer to go to lunch and then grabbed him, threw him in a waiting limo and played their demo for him. Personally I would have called the police, but the producer ended up working with that band. That seems like a risky strategy.

It doesn’t hurt to have tremendous charisma when you walk into a party so you are noticed and people want to meet you. But that can easily evolve into being obnoxious and egocentric. On the other hand, I can imagine India Arie or Bruno Mars entering a crowded room – they’d get a lot of positive attention. And of course, as an artist you are supposed to have a certain amount of flair and energy otherwise why are you getting up on stage in front of all those people who sit in the dark and watch you?

Now that the problem has been stated let me also present some solutions. First of all you are a human being, and an interesting one. Also the room is full of other interesting human beings. Meeting people shouldn’t have an ulterior motive – “I’m only interested in you if you can do something for me”. You should meet the people who are interesting to you. Get to know them. What do they do? What is their life like? What interests do you have in common? In the course of a conversation maybe you will be asked what you do and, of course, you’d say, ‘I’m a singer’. And if the conversation went in that direction you might say that you had a CD if they wanted one. Or ask for their email address so you can send an MP3. Don’t force it; let it take it’s own course. In other words, you may not give that person your CD at all.

That’s easy to say but hard to do when you have a CD burning a hole in your pocket. Especially when you’re thinking “I’m talking to this person and I may never get this chance again.” You are not going to believe me when I say this but the world of music is very small. I’m serious. You will run into the same people over and over again even if you live in a big city. It may take a while but one day you’ll be at another event or at a show or at a friend’s party and there will be someone you met at an industry event and liked, standing across the room. And you’ll walk up to them and say ‘I met you at [fill in the blank] and we had a great conversation. How are you?” And of course you will still have a CD with you (ALWAYS). And maybe this time it will be easy to hand it to that person.

The world works in very strange ways. Things don’t happen as directly as you might wish. You might send an MP3 to a friend who plays it at a party where a producer hears it and… Even that is too direct. Here’s an example: a band I was working with was playing a gig in a downstairs room of a club. At the end of the set an A&R exec walked up to them and said “I was just upstairs listening to another band and heard you playing so I came downstairs. You sound great. Call me in the morning!”

Another example: a band I knew split up after ten years of performing and recording. One of the members decided to just play around for fun and not invite anyone. He got together with his old writing partner and starting playing a club without even notifying his mailing list. They played every month and developed a following with no publicity. Remember they weren’t ‘trying’ anymore; they just wanted to enjoy making music again. Well of course, the word got out about how good they were. They got signed, toured the country and made records. Along the way they had a top ten hit when one of their songs was covered by a major artist.
I don’t mean you shouldn’t try to accomplish your goals. Of course you should. But often things will happen from unexpected directions. Try not to put yourself in the position of begging a music industry exec to listen to your material. It makes you feel desperate and victimized. That’s not what networking should be. Look at it instead as an opportunity to meet some very entertaining and experienced people. They will love to tell you about themselves and their experiences. Even if you don’t get what you want, you will get something else of value – information, and maybe even the beginning of a friendship.

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