Making A Living Doing Music – Networking At Conferences

Part of my marketing plan every year involves looking at all the “best fit” conferences and industry events in the upcoming year. If you’ve never been to a trade show, you may want to start thinking about which ones are right for you.

“Local” conferences cost less and represent a smaller network. If you’re looking to network for local business they can be good. For larger networking, going to bigger national conferences can yield more, but they’re more expensive. Attending conferences can help you find job opportunities and develop contacts for short term and long term. They can also be overwhelming and disorienting so it’s important to go into them with the right mindset. I’ve been to conferences where I didn’t know anyone and I had to find the gumption to go up and just meet people.

I just returned from the ASTA conference (American String Teachers Association) this weekend in Providence, RI. It was full of networking opportunities. For string players and teachers working in traditional or “creative” settings who want to network nationally, this is a good conference to go to.

I’ve been to tons of conferences over the years, and learned the hard way that going to conferences can also be a waste of time.

Make sure you research the conference and find out who the other attendees are. How many attendees came last year, and who were they?

Some time a conference has too many “sellers” and not enough “buyers”. Sometimes you might assume the conference will be great, only to go and find that you weren’t able to connect with the type of opportunities you were expecting. For example, everyone hypes up SXSW in Austin for bands, but  from what I’ve heard, it’s extremely difficult to get any meaningful opportunity for your act at SXSW unless you’re already well-connected. Similarly at the national APAP conference I’ve been there before when I felt like I was getting swallowed up in an ocean of anonymity.

If you’re unsure about a conference, minimize your risk by spending as little money as possible the first time you go- Maybe wait until the conference is hosted nearby, or just buy a “day pass” to walk around the conference the first time. Don’t buy ads or pay for a booth until you’re sure it’s your market.

Also, you’ll get more out of a conference if you present a session. You can submit session ideas (or “clinics”) to most conferences, but the deadline is usually a year in advance. When you present a session, people will come to your session and become more interested in what you have to offer.

For teaching gigs or clinician gigs:

Music education conferences and meetings – These include citywide (a local network of teachers – Columbus has the “Columbus Music Teachers Association”), Statewide NEMC and ASTA (Ohio Music Educators Conference). Sometimes the more local conferences are more like “meetings” or “get togethers”. That’s fine. You just want to be in one room with a lot of people you can network with who are working in a similar field.

For players (to get performing gigs)

-Local wedding shows (to get gigs playing at weddings and meet local corporate agencies).

-APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) – The national conference is NYC every year is chaos. Don’t go to this until you’ve tried a regional or statewide conference first. APAP has regional conferences such as Arts Midwest and Western Arts, also PAE. It changes all the time, so check it out by googling “Performing Arts Presenters Regional Conferences”.  You might also ask more established teachers or artists and agents what conferences they recommend to be a good fit for where you are in your career and what your goals are.

The Folk Alliance is great for performers in folk styles.

Chamber Music America sounds like it would be good for classical players, but I don’t think you’re likely to get any gigs there. You’ll probably do better going to a local jam session or “Classical Revolution” show somewhere nearby, depending on what kind of music you’re into..

For that matter, you can network online if you’re in the right groups – for creative string players, you might want to join my facebook group “Creative String Players” at https://www.facebook.com/groups/creativestringsacademy/

There are even statewide performing arts presenter conferences like OAPN (Ohio Arts Presenters Network). You should start at some of these smaller conferences and then develop your plan to meet agents, self-represent, showcase, etc..

JEN (Jazz Education Network) is also growing for jazz educators.

The point is, conferences are a very important part of marketing, networking, and developing opportunities as a musician and teacher. You need to get hip and find out what’s going on, but you need to be very careful in the process, and find the right ones for you. Start small and inexpensive, but get in the game! You can’t hit the ball if you’re not on the field.

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