Each year, throngs of upcoming and established artists, songwriters, producers, composers, and musicians attend music conventions and conferences all over the U.S. These events can be an important part of your music career. They provide you with excellent networking, showcasing, and critique opportunities and they often educate you on current music industry topics and trends.
Attendance at one event can range from a few hundred to several thousand people. There are usually multiple panels or education sessions happening at the same time. Music is often being played live in the hallways and lobby of the hotel or conference center. Egos are rampant. And everyone is trying to get the attention of the VIPs who have come to share their knowledge and experience.
With so much going on, it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed.
So, in this two-part series, Fett and I are going to share some of our favorite tips and techniques that we’ve used ourselves–and have recommended to our clients–that can help tame the overwhelm factor and let you take advantage of each conference you attend.
1. Before You Go: Set. Your. Intentions!
What’s an intention? Well, Merriam-Webster defines an intention as “the thing that you plan to do or achieve an aim or purpose.” So, for example, you could ask yourself:
- What is it that I want to get out of this event?
- What’s my purpose for attending this conference?
- Who do I want to meet?
- What do I want to accomplish?
If you’re not sure what you want, or if this is your first time so you’re not even sure what to expect, then set your intention to what I call “Receptive Mode.” Something like “I’m open to receiving what I need to know right now” or “my intention is to meet the people who can help me take my very next step.”
Many people confuse intention with goal-setting. But I find that goal-setting often becomes more like a glorified, high-level, and sometimes-hard-to-achieve to-do list.
Setting an intention is more like setting your internal compass. You point yourself in a general direction and then start heading that way. That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t veer off course occasionally. But your intentions will help guide you, allow you to adjust, and keep you on track.
And here’s the really cool thing: intentions are quite adaptable and can be used for just about any situation. So, you can set an intention for the whole conference, for each individual day, and for each meeting or panel that you attend. Heck, you can even set an intention for one conversation you’re going to have. The key is to take a moment to consciously and clearly set your intentions ahead of time.
At a MINIMUM, set your intentions for the conference as a whole. You’ll be surprised how this one technique will help set you up for success.
2. Come Prepared
I think the biggest mistake I see people make at music conferences is that they’re just not prepared to talk about themselves or their music. If you want someone to sign you or listen to your music or otherwise take you seriously, then you need to be able to talk confidently about who you are and what you do.
What kind of music do you do? You should be able to answer that question with a short sentence that rolls off of your tongue like you’ve said it a million times. So, if you don’t have a description memorized, create one ahead of time and commit it to memory by practicing it…out loud…not kidding.
You’ll also want to be prepared to discuss who you are as an artist–i.e., what you stand for, what your mission is, what makes you unique and different–and why an agent (or label or publisher or other VIP) should work with you. You don’t have to have your answers rehearsed. But you also don’t want to hem and haw or ramble on and on with someone because you haven’t got a clue what to say. Knowing your general answers in advance will allow you to have a natural conversation and come across as confident and professional.
And finally, you need to come with materials that you can leave behind with the people you meet: business cards, press kits, CDs, etc. At a MINIMUM, you need a business card with your name and contact info on it.
And here’s a bonus tip: don’t be stingy with the contact info! You want people to contact you, right? Then provide a few different ways for them to reach out. I suggest phone, email, and your own website URL.
Attending a music conference is NOT the time to be a passive wallflower in the back of the room. Make sure you participate fully:
- Ask questions.
- Introduce yourself to people you’re standing next to in line.
- Sign up for the open mic.
- Attend other people’s showcases.
- Submit your songs and demos for critique.
Get comfortable with the UN-comfortable zone! It may feel scary at first. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And it’s a great way to grow your career faster than you expected. So, take a deep breath and go for it!
But at the same time…
4. Pace Yourself
Initially, you might feel that you have a million reasons to attend. (e.g., you’re looking for a booking agent to handle your gigs, a publisher to handle your songs, or a record label to make your records…oh, and then there’s this whole licensing-for-film-and-TV thing that you’ve heard about…or crowd-funding. Yeah! Maybe that’s what you need!) And you might feel that to truly take advantage of the conference, you’ve got to do it ALL.
But the reality is this: you can’t do EVERYTHING at the conference. It’s simply not possible. And honestly? It’s not even in your best interest to try.
The best thing you can do is to pace yourself.
Be strategic, and select panels and educational sessions that are right for you for where you are right now…NOT where you’ll be 3 years from now.
What do you need to know now? What will help you today? What will help you take your very next step?
Also, don’t attempt to be super-human. You’re allowed to take a break to eat a real meal instead of wolfing down yet another Clif bar. And pay attention to your body. Do you need a mid afternoon nap? Take one! And yes, it’s totally OK for you to go to bed early…or earlier than everyone else does, anyway.
Give yourself permission to miss some sessions. You don’t have to be everywhere and meet everyone. Go back to your intention. If something doesn’t fit, you can let that one go.
5. Take Notes About The People You Meet
I’m sure you’ve heard this before: the music business is all about relationships. And that’s entirely true. So, while the information you’ll learn at these events is awesome, it’s the PEOPLE you meet that will make the biggest difference in your music career.
And I’m not just talking about the VIPs on the panels. You might meet another songwriter who you’ll co-write your next big hit with. Or maybe that guitarist you heard at the open mic will join your band.
So, here’s a key tip: take notes about everyone you meet. And don’t wait to do it at the end of the day or the end of the conference. Take them immediately, while the information about them is fresh in your head.
If you get a business card from someone, write the name of the conference and the date directly on the card. If you had a conversation with them about something specific, write that down too. Are you supposed to follow up with them? Make a note of that. Put it on your calendar.
The more notes you take, the better prepared you’ll be for keeping that relationship going later.
If you follow these five tips above, you’ll be ahead of 90% of the other attendees at the conference and you’ll be well-equipped to take advantage of each opportunity that presents itself.
In part two of this series, Fett goes into detail about how to prepare your CD that you’ll be presenting to all the new contacts you’ll be making. But first…
Do you have some tips to share about music conferences? What’s worked for you? And what hasn’t? Let us know by commenting below!
p.s. here’s that link again to Part two: Preparing Your CD For A Music Conference
About the Author
is a singer/songwriter, artist development coach and co-founder of Azalea Music where she teaches and mentors musicians, singer/songwriters and indie artists how to activate their "inner music mogul" so they can change the world through music! She specializes in working with the not-quite-mainstream and those "second-timers" coming back to music after a long hiatus. She's even been known to work with actors, writers, storytellers, and other creatives because the principles of pursuing a creative life are often the same regardless of the medium. She believes that the world needs to hear you and your music...whatever it is...because we would all be less without it.