I was talking to one of the main dudes from MetalSucks, perhaps the most influential metal website on the net, at a show the other day. He said something to me that really resonated, “Just go to shows, that’s the best advice I can give anyone, it’s where we all hang out.” This got me thinking – going to frequently shows is quite honestly the single most important thing to happen to my career. Yeah it’s fun (Though once you start going to 15-20 shows a month the veneer starts to fade) but it also serves as a valuable networking opportunity. You’re not just schmoozing, you’re at a bar with a bunch of potential friends and allies.
One thing I haven’t talked about nearly enough is what I like to call organic networking. That is to say – you don’t just message your Facebook friends when you need stuff from them, but also just to check on them. Cultivating personal relationships is key and one thing that computers haven’t been able to take from us is the importance of having personal relationships that work on a physical level. If you’re just some keyboard warrior then few people are really going to be interested in working with you. There needs to be some sort of physical manifestation to make your relationship ‘real’. There have been countless people over the years who I’ve had a weird relationship with online but who I immediately was able to hit it off with at a show. Again – if all the important industry folks are going there you might as well dedicate your time to it as well.
Simply put – I genuinely believe that we haven’t sufficiently evolved as a species to be able to really view people we only know on the internet, or even on the phone as real. As we might respect their autonomy it’s so much easier to dismiss a Facebook friend than someone who you see regularly. That’s part of why going to shows is so important, it allows people to see you in what nerds affectionately call ‘meatspace’ and what makes real, valuable networking (NOT just tagging thirty people in a Facebook status) possible. Going to shows allows your brand to profit whilst you fund someone elses nightmarish tour.
There’s a right and a wrong way to do it too. Just because you see someone from a famous blog or label or whatever doesn’t mean you should immediately go talk to them, and certainly doesn’t mean you should ask them for anything. If you DO want talk to an industry figure what you should start of by doing is thanking them for everything they do. After all – it’s people like them who help to make this whole thing possible. I can guarantee you that they don’t get nearly enough appreciation either. They will love any sort of praise you decide to lavish upon them, and you need to take advantage of that (But be careful not to brown nose) if you want to make them into a regular buddy. As I have said repeatedly in these columns – these people are impossibly busy and we need to respect that. They probably do want to be your friend, they just don’t want another leech on them.
Live shows are great because they teach you about your scene too. They help you to figure out who the hip bands to play with are – not just which groups you should put on your bills because they were featured on a cool blog. It gives you a sense for the organic power of the music. Live shows give you a much better idea of the concrete realities of the local scene and that has a major long term impact for your band. Furthermore it gives you a chance to interface directly with these bands. They are a lot more likely to want to deal with you face to face about a potential show than via Facebook message. In other words – it is only going to help give you more opportunities to grow your brand.
As I’ve no doubt discussed before, this is a key step in becoming ‘that guy’. There are people who will go to a show just because there’s a person in the band who they happen to be buddies with. They never have to have bothered listening to the music, they just care about what you, not the band, represent. The best part is that shows are easy to make friends at – so becoming someone who people just want to hang out with is not that hard. It allows you to immerse yourself in a world that far too many musicians ignore. While I understand that maybe you have work and a girlfriend, you need to consider the time investment that comes from live music to be a key part of your bands growth because even if you’re not in a band now, going to shows can help in the long term.
So yeah – there are fun, cheap and effective ways to boost word of mouth about your band in an organic way. In other words – all of the most important things to be looking at whilst promoting your band. So follow the advice of that wise MetalSucks writer – go to shows. Like he said, that is where we all hang out. Hell – that makes for pretty much all of my social interaction on any given day. Everyone does it – the people who really want it go to hundreds in a given year – if you’re no ready to make that sacrifice it might be time to give up and go home.