In real, human, one-on-one relationships, people don’t want to perform/record/commission your music because they are trying to give you something you want; they decide to take action because doing those things becomes something that they want.
v. glommed, glom•ming, gloms
To seize upon or latch onto someone, e.g. “The composer glommed onto the conductor and wouldn’t leave her alone until the conductor was completely sick of him!”
Composer Stacy Garrop and I are just now gearing up for the 2013 Fresh Inc Festival, where we’ll be working with members of Chicago’s Fifth House Ensemble and a bunch of cool young performers and composers interested in honing their entrepreneurial skills. So as we prepare to talk to a whole lot of people about all the confusing aspects of navigating the professional world, I decided that I ought to share my number one networking tip. It flies in the face of much conventional wisdom, but it is also likely to come as good news to composers for whom “networking” remains a dirty word.
Some years ago, another composer and I (both peers) were attending rehearsals for the same music event, and by chance we had some limited contact with the conductor. My colleague became very excited by the tantalizing closeness of this “big fish” conductor and resolved to hound her every chance he got, to little avail. Meanwhile, I had kept polite and more or less quiet, until at the eleventh hour said conductor approached me and asked where I was off to next—a golden opportunity, as it turned out that I would be missing her performances in order to fly to a recording session with a group that the conductor really liked. I saw my pushier colleague’s jaw drop as the conductor handed me a note with her address, requesting that I send her a recording as soon as possible.
This incident, perhaps more than any other in my life, made clear to me that the conventional “pushy” tone of much networking and PR is rarely successful other than when dealing with mass media. In real, human, one-on-one relationships, people don’t want to perform/record/commission your music because they are trying to give you something you want; they decide to take action because doing those things becomes something that they want.
Taken by itself, this seems incredibly obvious. But almost all composer networking strategies I have seen—as practiced by actual composers, and as preached by many well-meaning service organizations—ignore this essential truth. That is why strategies involving asking (or worse, begging) people to help out your career hardly ever work: by preempting another person’s process of coming to know your music with a direct request, you cancel out your only chance of causing that person to “get it” for themselves.
Most people (and especially musical gatekeepers such as administrators and conductors) want to discover something new and exciting for themselves, rather than being told (or asked) to like something—just think, how many times have you tuned into a TV show or listened to an artist you knew nothing about, solely because someone said, “Hey, you should totally check out X, it’s great!” If you do think you have been moved by such a pitch, it’s likely because you were instead enticed by some reported or perceived detail of the new experience that made you want to jump onboard for a whirl. Once you create a sense of obligation in another person, you’re creating a situation where you’re causing that person to choose between what they want and what you want, and I don’t need to tell you how that usually plays out.
It’s much better to allow the other person to arrive at what you are hoping for as their own idea: this is how true interest and loyalty are born! Not every time, but it’s the only way that the possibility of strong and sincere interest remains open. In my above anecdote, my recipe for a successful encounter was: 1) don’t glom onto that poor beleaguered conductor; 2) wait until asked about my own activities; and (now here is the hardest part) 3) make sure to be busy and active, no matter the scale, so that when asked you have interesting and truthful things to report about yourself. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter what those accomplishments and activities are, as long as you are sincerely invested in them.
I don’t want to knock letting people know what you want, as especially among closer acquaintances and friends one has to make people aware of what they can do to help—but only if they have already shown a predisposition to do so. Similarly, the quid pro quo is absolutely ubiquitous in the music world, especially in academia where there are resources available that are often considerable (at least for composers). But trading opportunities (while helpful at times) is just a business transaction born of convenience and need rather than true support and commitment. “Operator” types who overuse this particular move may seem to have everything going for them, but often they are cheating themselves by devoting too much energy to relationships that will cease to be fruitful once the institutional budget goes away.
So for all those composers who have always said, “I hate networking. I find it gross, and I am not suited for it!”, I feel for you. You’re on to something. It’s easy to get a little annoyed and more than a bit jealous when we are often surrounded by others so aggressively glad-handing, glomming onto anyone who could advance their careers with oppressive and transparent attention; and assuming the worst, we often grumble while feeling a combination of offense at boorish behavior along with a secret desire that if we could just be more like that, we’d enjoy more of whatever we currently lack. Above all, don’t glom! Don’t fall for it just because everyone else is doing it and because you are afraid of being passed up! This kind of fear warps personalities and exudes desperation; everyone can tell when they’re dealing with someone who speaks from a secure place.
There is a quite a bit that can be said about making a life and career in music, and one of the happier consequences of our wired age is that on the whole, most composers seem increasingly well-versed in many entrepreneurial skills. However, it seems like the need to allow others the chance to form their own impression of your work is likely the most consistently overlooked facet of making connections in the music world. The majority of the time when networking isn’t working well and it feels gross and sketchy, it’s because it is gross and sketchy to pressure strangers for favors they have absolutely no reason to consider. But concentrate on being someone who is active and interested, and others will surely take note even if you haven’t pressed a soon-to-be-discarded CD into their hands.