What’s your relationship with networking? Is it a love/hate kind of thing — is networking torture for you? If so, you’re missing out on opportunities to expand your career.
Every year there’s a slew of professional conventions and booking conferences — these are prime networking opportunities for musicians. Through these events musicians often find new collaborators, performance possibilities, as well as new ideas, and resources.
Are you missing out?
If you’re avoiding these kind of events because you hate networking or because you haven’t found conferences helpful, read on. And know that this perspective I’m offering comes from . . .
A card-carrying member of the introvert nation?
Maybe I don’t seem shy because I’ve done a fare amount of public speaking, classroom teaching, and I do a FB Live every week.
But what makes you an introvert or an extravert comes down to what’s energizing and what’s depleting for you. Introverts are usually fried after networking events. In order to re-charge and renew, we need “alone” time. On the other hand, extraverts are energized by being in groups and connecting with others.
I have no documentation to back this up, but the vast majority of instrumentalists and composers I’ve met I’d characterize as introverts. And then there are singers, the marvelous exceptions to this — they often identify as extraverts. The good news is the world needs both types.
And YES we introverts CAN learn to network effectively, even thought it may seem like an uphill battle. We all start somewhere.
Networking as cruel and unusual punishment
For me, networking at events, introducing myself to strangers, and trying to make small talk was excruciating. I’d take a look around the room at people who all seemed to know each other and I’d feel like a rejected outsider, a loser.
I’d flashback to my grade school playground and to getting chosen last to be in dodgeball games. Though it’s many decades later I still feel a familiar sinking feeling. My stomach goes sour and my thoughts start to race. And I’d find myself heading for the exit.
To cope with this at networking events and at post-concert receptions I often had to make pacts with myself. In the beginning, it was that I had to stay at the event long enough to talk with 3 people I didn’t already know.
Once I got so I could do that at events, I set the bar higher. The next pact was I had to stay at least 45 minutes and initiate 5 conversations before I left the event. (Note: initiating a conversation could include something as basic as asking someone in the buffet line if they knew what was in the hors d’oeuvre you were now trying to choke down.)
Here’s what I found out: the anticipatory dread of networking was far worse than the reality of doing it. And that networking in the end is really only talking to one person at a time. And that most of us LIKE doing that — finding out about other people and what makes them tick — especially when you have a love of music in common.
It’s true: the more networking I did, the easier it got. Is networking torture for me today? No.
But I find that if I haven’t done any for a while, my old Resistance is back along with the queazy stomach and the negative self-talk. So I need to be networking regularly: to get back in the arena and connect with people.
Networking is a contact sport. You need to stay in the game.
At any conference or professional development event, people re-connect and rekindle existing friendships, and cultivate new friendships.
The people at conferences may include presenters: people who have booked you in the past and those who could in the future. So conferences may be crucial for getting and staying on presenters’ radar screens.
Yes, there are conference sessions where musicians can speak on panels and offer their perspective, and there are showcases where they can perform. But attending conferences is not just about being able to “show your stuff.” It’s also important for hearing about what’s current in your field, and connecting with colleagues and friends you may not otherwise see.
Too many musicians don’t attend conferences because they dislike networking. Or because they attended once and didn’t see an immediate return on their investment. In other words, their ego and expectations get in the way.
Your networking mindset determines your experience and results.
I wrote about this in my column in Chamber Music magazine “Angela Answers.” A column I’d never be writing if I hadn’t attended the Chamber Music America conference regularly and gotten to meet people and learn from them. And because the conference is coming right up, here are my best tips:
“Whether it’s your 1st or your 21st conference, what you get out of it will have everything to do with your attitude and your expectations — it comes down to mindset.
So instead of offering tips on how to “work a room,” let’s focus on our thinking, attitude, and assumptions, because with the right mindset, you can’t go wrong.
Beware the Transactional Mindset
First, watch out for clues that you’re operating with a transactional mindset— valuing transactions over relationships. This is self-centered, “what can I get from this person?” thinking. It can stem from an aggressive focus or worry about booking the next gig. It’s limiting and short-term in nature, and it reduces other people to “prospects” or “targets.” Not recommended.
The transactional mindset stems from what author Steven Covey termed scarcity thinking. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey explains it’s the notion of “life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life.” It keeps us rooted in comparison and score-keeping and can keep us isolated, distrustful, and thinking small.
Abundance: Are we there yet?
An alternative to these traps is to dial into what Covey calls our abundance mindset. It starts from a place of optimism. Instead of comparing ourselves to others and resenting their success, we’re inspired by and energized to learn from them. And instead of focusing on immediate transactions and needs, we think long-term and focus on cultivating relationships.
By seeing the glass as half full, we’re actively geared toward finding creative solutions and new opportunities. And we get further faster because people like interacting with us.
Of course, you may still be worried and focused on getting your next gig and meeting your season goals. But your mindset determines how you go about doing this and the results you achieve. With a more positive mindset, the networking you do will be more generous and your connections more authentic.
How do you want to experience networking events? It’s your choice.
Music conferences bring together performers, composers, managers, presenters, publishers, educators, and students — the whole community. How do you want to be known within that community? What‘s the energy you want to add to the room?
Take a cue from Ben Zander, co-author of The Art of Possibility. Ben recommends asking yourself, “How can I be a contribution?”
From “all about ME” to a focus on “WE”
It’s about being less focused on “me” and more on “WE.” Be curious and fully present with others, interested in their work and their ideas. By focusing on others, we’ll see more possibilities and needs we can fill. Over time, that’s what creates success.
With an abundance mindset and a focus on making a contribution, you can set yourself up to find unexpected inspiration and opportunities, allies, and new ways to be of service to others through music.”
We learn by doing. And we grow our networks over time, building awareness, interest, and trust. It makes sense to invest in relevant organizations and attend the conference regularly. Before too long you’ll get so that you recognize the “regulars” and you start being glad to see those familiar faces — as well as the new ones!
If networking is torture for you, the solution is to practice so it becomes easier.
Here’s an opportunity to do just that: the Chamber Music America conference is this week! If you’re in or near New York, don’t miss this fabulous event. It’s happening Thurs-Sun Jan. 16-19 in Times Square at the Westin and there are amazing showcase performances, terrific panels and keynotes.
And they have a super-affordable rate for people 25 & under (you can attend the whole conference for $10!) There’s also a day rate if you can only make part of the conference.
Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of CMA. Over the years, I’ve been inspired by the performances and presentations, the thought-provoking keynote talks, and the openness and generosity of all these wonderful people sharing their artistic visions.
And by going to the conference, by interacting and asking questions, I got past my aversion to networking. Thank you, CMA, for helping me grow up and get past my networking aversion!
And FYI: I’m speaking at the conference as part of the “NextGen” program on Friday 12-1:30. If you’re there, stop by—we’re doing an interactive session on The Hero’s Journey of Your Music Career.
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Here’s to your forward motion,
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well