The word "Networking" gives me nightmares filled with fake smiles, limp handshakes, empty eyes, and a sea of business cards. You won't catch me up late checking my LinkedIn page, searching for everyone I have ever met or endorsing everyone I know for skills like jazz and music. I was drawn to music with the belief that it was a meritocracy. A profession purified by the audition process, where a hard worker would create the best product, earn a place in prestigious ensembles, and ensure a long playing career.
As my days as a professional slowly turn into years, I amended my beliefs. Yes, some jobs are won through auditions, but jobs are also lost through the inability to connect to our coworkers. As a result, I was surprised when I asked my wife Caroline what I should write about this week and she responded with, "you seem to be good at networking, why don't you write about that?" After a good think, I realized that I don't try to network! Rather, I focus on making deep, human connections with people that I like or want to be like. This focus connected me to Buddy of FredBrass, who asked me to share my thoughts with you.
Connections are incredibly important, and here are a few helpful strategies on how to connect with people for life, AND build a great network in the process.
Group 1 – Peers
Rule #1 - Don't be a jerk, ever.
Word of bad behavior spreads like wildfire in the music world. Imagine you lose your temper one day and take it out on you neighbor. Guess what? That person and all of their friends now want nothing to do with you. They won't recommend you for a gig, connect you to a resource, or help you out of a tough spot. Nobody wants to sit in a section and collaborate with a jerk. I know you are wondering, "Will, what if someone is a jerk to me?" There are two answers:
1. Tell that person you did not appreciate being treated that way, or
2. Just avoid them.
There are so many awesome people out there that I tend to let jerks be jerks and hang with the nice people.
Rule #2 - Don't dismiss people.
Most of you are brass players and, naturally, are friends with mostly brass players. Trust me when I say that vocalists, string players, pianists and non-musicians have souls too! Behave like everyone you meet has the potential to open a door for you. You never know who will go on to be the high school band director who needs a brass coach, the college administrator who needs a new faculty member, the cafe owner that loves to support live music, or the person who has a bomb chili recipe (most important).
Rule #3 - Embrace vulnerability.
Many musicians are naturally introverted, spending long hours isolated in a practice room at the expense of socializing. In order to make friends, you will have to get out of your comfort zone. Start by making a non-musical connection with people that play your instrument. If you don't know what to talk about besides Bordogni and Charlier, remember that people love to talk about themselves. Great questions include: “Where are you from? What do you like to do besides play music?” If conversation is flowing and you want to have some fun, ask something that requires a creative answer like: “What is your spirit animal? What is your favorite condiment?” It doesn't matter what the question is, as long as it puts the other person at ease.
Rule #4 - Invest time.
Time is the only non-renewable resource, making it more valuable than money.Playing duets is a great way to spend time connecting to someone on a musical level. Everyone has too much stuff to practice, so if the person agrees they must like you on some level.
While playing duets, pick something about your new friend's playing style that you like and tell them you like it. Then, try to absorb it. Challenge yourself to have sweeter vibrato, smoother slurs, more resonant releases, or clearer articulations. We can learn so much through osmosis.
ProTip - Attend recitals and concerts.
Go check out some live music together for a great shared experience and support your friends when they are performing. After working hard in the practice room, it feels incredible to look out into the crowd and see someone there to support you.
Group 2 - Teachers/Faculty
Rule #1 - Don't be a jerk.
Although the repercussions of bad behavior can be more serious in this category (expulsion), it is hard to get into a bad spot with your teachers because their #1 goal is to help you. They want to connect. Be thankful, half of the battle has already been won. If you develop a great relationship with your teachers, they will open doors for you that you did not know existed.
Rule #2 - Respect their time.
My high school band director Norm Dea taught me an incredibly valuable lesson. "To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, to be late is to be.....(DEATH STARE)." Teachers have families, other jobs, hobbies, and friends of their own. Be respectful of their time. Don't call or text after 9pm, email instead. Show up to lessons and lectures early. Be prepared to share something valuable in the lesson. Implement strategies they recommend. Be curious. Ask thoughtful questions.
ProTip - If you want to connect to a teacher you need exposure. Ask your friends if you can observe their lessons so you can get connected to their teachers too.
Group 3 - Idols
Rule #1 - Don't be a jerk.
Cool, you get it now.
Rule #2 - Understand that they are busy.
Connecting to your hero is similar to connecting to a teacher. The big difference is that they aren't trying to connect with you in the same way. If you are at a trombone convention and ask Joe Alessi for a lesson, don't be offended if he can't see you. If you get a chance to ask your idol for a lesson, ask if they have a moment before launching into why you love them so much. They will almost never say no.
Rule #3 - Be prepared/do your homework.
If you are at a Tuba convention and Gene Pokorny responds to your lesson request with, "Meet me in the practice rooms in an hour," you better have something ready to play. I recommend having 2 things to play: something you think you are great at and something you struggle with. Think of one or two questions that are unique to your idol. Mr. Pokorny loves trains and imagining he is an organ. Figure out a non-musical connection and you will be more memorable.
ProTip - Every single one of your idols was just like you at some point in their journey. Some will be better than others at communicating their ideas, but all of them can help you in some way. Get out of your comfort zone and go meet your hero.
In conclusion, the best tool for building a great network is simply being a nice person.
You don't have to be a great networker, just focus on avoiding the potholes. Work hard so that you can play great, but remember that while everyone has ups and downs in their playing, but nobody has to have ups and downs in their personality.
Do you have some advice to add? Tell us by commenting!
Will is currently the Bass Trombonist with both The Des Moines Symphony and
Orchestra Iowa. In addition to his jobs in Iowa, he has recently become an Associate Artist with the Rodney Mack Philadelphia Big Brass, and has performed with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago Brass Ensemble, the Lake Forest Symphony, and a number of other midwestern orchestras.