Picture the scene: backstage at BB Kings, a legendary club on Times Square. I’m standing there with members of Def Leppard, Stone Temple Pilots and many more legendary bands. I’m also there with my friend Dan. He’s not a music industry guy. I mean – he helps me with some tech and social media stuff now and then, but he was just there as my friend. We got into a nice chat with my buddy Forrest Robinson who’s played on a bunch of records you’ve heard. The night was fun, we had some drinks and chatted a bit. As anyone who has been to these types of events can tell you, trade secret were being dropped left and right, it was kind of funny actually. Then the time came to leave and Dan as shocked by how many people stopped to shake his hand. People he had only briefly met and many of whom were high profile movers and shakers in the New York City arts scene. As we left he remarked to me, “It seems like just by being there people trust you and are willing to give you opportunities to work with them.” This really struck me – and so I want to write about the importance of just being there.
See – being there is what makes people trust you. Most people aren’t going to bother checking your credentials, they just want to talk to people who seem cool and have something nice to say about them. They aren’t trying to be exclusive – they are just going to talk to anyone who is there -it’s like any other party. Getting backstage and into a lot of these places can be a little bit tricky, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make right now. What I’m trying to emphasize is that all that matters is knowing how to be there and how to use that to your advantage. Most people aren’t going to try and judge your credentials, they just are going to be curious about what you have to say. This industry is filled with some surprisingly friendly people – they have to be friendly, this is a both a very cool and very brutal industry. There needs to be some light at the end of the tunnel!
I remember being sixteen or so and having all these TV executives at a French metal TV show being a little surprised at my age. I didn’t see what the big deal was. I just so happened to know the band they were filming (Dead Cowboy Sluts if you’re curious) and was in the backstage area. That led to a relationship that I still profit from today. I didn’t really DO anything special. I mean sure I had a blog and stuff, but I wasn’t Dead Cowboy Sluts manager, or label or anything. I was just some kid who happened to like the band and wrote some things about them and it paid off after a fashion. This is just the first of countless examples. Hell – most of my income just comes from going to Hellfest every year and hanging out in the VIP area, being a smartass, charming people (I hope!) and then eventually (Somehow) getting hired for gigs. I’m not even trying to network, I just make sure that I end up in the right place at approximately the right time and am at least moderately sober.
Of course – getting to those ‘right places’ can be hard, but not quite as hard as you think. In an industry where everyone is a fan but very few people actually contribute anything becoming one of the folks who does even a little can get you pulled backstage at shows. Hell – even just going to a lot of shows can you backstage, simply because by having paid for countless tickets over the years you have won yourself favors. (Be From there it’s just a question of being kind and friendly. It’s not a question of impressing people (Trust me – you probably can’t, not for years at least) but rather of just listening to what they have to say and seeing what things you have in common. It’s not about proving who has the biggest dick or showing how great you are at your job, at least not directly. You have to subtly bring these things up in conversation and then go from there. It’s no longer a question of just networking – simply because to network means to figure out how to be in the right place at the right time. It’s an art to be sure, but one that can guide you into the career of your dreams.
The backstage can always be tricky to navigate. It’s one of those places where being natural is all that matters. You can’t try to impress people in these spaces, you need to realize that these things are supposed to be fun. Every backstage is meant to be a party and if it isn’t then you’re at the wrong kind of show. All good people want in backstage areas is a chance to chill out and to enjoy the party. The madness of rock and roll can be stressful and people who keep trying to impress people and do stupid things in order to sound good aren’t going to actually gain any respect in the long run. You just need to be able to hang out, be cool and let them enjoy what they have built up to. Being backstage is a question of chilling out and letting the vibes come,rather than trying to define anyones demented rock and roll fantasy with your own hijinks.
So try and join the party. I know it won’t be super easy at first, but it’s something that is hard not to fall in love with. Rock and roll is something where everyone can have a chance, especially if that person can show off their chops and have the swagger to make their way backstage. Being there is more than just a question of knowing who to impress and how, it involves literally actually showing up, and showing that you care. This whole industry is about being able to keep up appearances, and nothing does that like finding your way backstage and shaking some hands. Don’t be a sleazebag and in the end it might even pay off! After all – everyone wants to share their passion and fall in love with the music all over again.