For songwriters who don’t have the luxury of living in a music industry town like New York, Nashville or Los Angeles, music conferences are an exceptional way of concentrating your education and networking efforts into a much shorter time frame. The key is to maximize your preparation so that long before you actually arrive in town for the conference, you’ve done the necessary groundwork to take full advantage of your time.
Visiting a music city means having access to people, organizations and events that, most likely, aren’t available to you wherever you live. For example, scheduling a meeting with a representative from your PRO (performing rights organization such as BMI or ASCAP) is a great place to start. If you aren’t affiliated, this is a chance to meet with representatives from both organizations to find out more about what each has to offer. The key here is to keep these meetings short and to the point. Bring in a song or two so that the representative has a sense of where you are as a songwriter and leave it at that. Having someone in your corner at your PRO is a very useful thing and getting that first face-to-face meeting can be essential. Another great thing to schedule in advance is a slot in an open mic or writer’s night. You’ll need to do a little homework to find a few of the popular places in town where these events happen and it may be that you can’t reserve a spot in advance but you can certainly be aware of these events in advance and be there in time to take part. As nice as it is to perform in a new town, the real key here is that you’ll be meeting other writers and making valuable contacts with potential collaborators for future visits.
If and when the time comes for you to show someone in the industry your work, I’d highly recommend that it be professionally recorded. I should say, first of all, that if you’re so new to the process that you don’t feel like you have songs that are ready, there’s no harm (and plenty of good) in not bringing any of your music to a conference. If, on the other hand, you’ve got songs that you feel are strong enough to make a good impression on people in the industry, then I think it’s important to remember that you’ll only have one chance to make a positive, professional first impression. This means investing the time and money necessary for high-quality demos of your songs. For the record, high quality doesn’t mean full band productions. It simply means using an experienced studio instrumentalist and demo vocalist to put your song in the best possible light.
You’ll be meeting lots and lots of people at these conferences. It’s never a bad idea to have a very simple business card with your name and contact information on it. This can include a link to a site where your music is available to listen to but, as I mentioned above, only if the songs (and the recordings) are ready for prime time. I’d also recommend writing who the person is and where you met them on the back of any business cards that you receive. This will play a part in my next recommendation.
As you go to more and more industry events and conferences, you’ll get to know plenty of other songwriters, publishers and a variety of other music industry professionals. If you’ve had a particularly nice interaction with one of them and have stayed in touch, it’s never a bad idea to reach out in advance of an upcoming conference and set up a time to say hi, have coffee, etc. Of course, these meetings also happen spontaneously during conferences but if there’s someone in particular you’d like to connect with, it never hurts to set it up ahead of time. As I’m sure you’ve picked up by now, music conferences are as much about networking as they are about the workshops and other hosted events.
Speaking of networking, there are, without a doubt, right and wrong ways to do this. Because we, as songwriters, are passionate about what we do, our tendency is to want to tell an industry decision maker all about ourselves and our songs and make them love us. This often comes off as being pushy or, at the very least, annoying. Instead, why not put yourself in the position of the industry person you’re talking to? It might be more fun for them (and educational for you) if you took the time to ask them a few questions about what they do and get to know them a bit without asking for anything in return. By treating people in this way, you stand a much better chance of a favorable response when you make a request of someone down the road.
A week (or even a couple of days) in an industry town can be intense. Things tend to get started early and go late. As important as it may be to maximize your time while you’re there, don’t forget to leave yourself a little time to reset between events and meetings. If not, you run the risk of being stressed and, along with not being your best, not enjoying what should be a truly great experience.
It’s important to remember that careers aren’t made in one week so you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself to hit a grand slam home run at every conference you attend. As a matter of fact, those dramatic successes almost never happen in the space of a few days. Instead, relax and enjoy the process. Get to know people that you’ll surely see again and again if you stay at it. Remember that the cumulative effect of all your effort will be that you’ll end up getting closer to success with your songs.