Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Networking: I Hate It. I Need It.

It's been a year since I originally wrote this, and I'm still not great at networking. I'm just now getting the hang of not shutting down when someone wants me to describe a project I'm working on. Some of us are more comfortable at self-promotion then others. We all grow at different stages, right?

In the arts, networking is everything. You can be the next Richard Rodgers, but if you don’t know how to network, you’ll never get anywhere. Just check out producer Ken Davenport’s recommendation on getting your work to a producer—get it into the hands of someone who will act as a go-between. Even submit to NYMF, you have to know the right person.

That’s one of the reasons why getting into this business is a challenge, to say the least. The reality is that if my dad had been Steve Martin’s mailman, I would have a much easier time breaking through than I have had. It’s just the nature of the business.

The bummer is that I hate networking. I love people, but I hate imposing on them or putting myself in a position to feel like I am using them. Real networking isn’t using people, but it can become a fine line, particularly if you’ve run across any power networkers in your past.

In my attempts at networking, I have learned much, and as social networking sites like BroadwaySpace.com continue to grow, it’s important to learn a few things about the art of networking.

A few rules I share:

1. Networking is a mutual act. It is not “helping me.” The best piece of networking advice I have ever received is to look at it as helping others. Do what you can to help others because it’s the right thing to do, and when the time comes, they will reciprocate the action.

Several years ago, I spent some time in Los Angeles to scout out the Hollywood scene. While there, I traded business cards with a number of really kind people who were excited to meet me. However, when I emailed them with an idea or to maintain contact, I never got a response. Why? Because they gave me their card so that if I got a show produced, I could call them with a job. That’s using people, not networking.

There was one woman—a propmaster—with whom I did maintain some contact, and she even went as far as to invite me to an industry Halloween party. When my times comes—and come it will if I have to create a project for myself—guess whose card I still have in my wallet.

This means that if you expect people to read your work and comment on it, then you must be willing to read and comment on theirs. Don’t send your MySpace friends a big update about your career and ask for support if you never respond to their calls. If you have a concert, a reading, or a gig, don’t expect anyone to show up if you don’t support them. You haven’t earned it.

2. Cut off the dead weight. If you do find yourself attempting to befriend someone who is clearly using you, delete them from your friends list, don’t respond to their emails, and don’t go out of your way for them. Use your time wisely.

I have cut once-close friends out of my life because I got tired of them never responding to my invitations, never being able to attend my performances without so much as a response to an email, only to then receive minute-by-minute invites to their projects, multiple mailings to raise funds for their causes, and so on.

Everyone is busy, and we have to understand that, but if you really mattered to that person, they wouldn’t treat you like a footnote. Cut them off.

3. It’s all about the work. Talk is cheap, and in the world of the arts, very easy. A great networker is going to get nowhere if he or she doesn’t have work to prove themselves. No one cares about the plans you’re making; they only want to see the result.

To quote myself in my second musical:

There are two kinds of dreamers—those who talk about what they’re going to do and those who do it. It’s in your hands now.

4. Online networking doesn’t replace face-to-face communication. You could literally spend ten hours a day networking online, but what you really need to be doing is getting yourself in a position to meet and work with people.

Online networking is very difficult because the proof is in the pudding, to use a cliché. You might chat with some of the kindest, greatest, nicest people, but in the end, it’s ability that makes the cut, not friendships. Singers and songwriters can post music online, but the rest of us need to get ourselves in a position to have our work read or seen. Nothing will ever replace that.

This is not to say that online networking isn’t valuable. I’ve met some great people online. The Internet is too young to accurately gauge its success in matching people to projects, and perhaps in ten years, we’ll be seeing a string of shows that have grown from online friendships. But don’t neglect the face-to-face kind!

5. Respond. I once tried being part of a Yahoo group called Musical Makers. I was shocked at the lack of professionalism from the people in the group. I would get emails from people wanting to collaborate, and if I knew our styles were not compatible (or if I didn’t care for their work), I gave a speedy reply that was both respectful and personable. If someone reaches out to contact me for that, that’s the least I can offer.

This pansy, no-response thing, I don’t get it. I have had people interested in working with me (actors and songwriters) who just drop off the face of the earth without so much as an email. That’s what you do in tenth grade when the “special” girl in class keeps hitting on you; that’s not how you react as a professional, creative adult (particularly when you initiate the contact). In some ways, for me, it was good when that happens because then you don’t waste time on that person. But if you’re not in the game to play, then go back to the minor leagues.

I once had someone contact me for collaboration, to which I responded promptly with some information. Not only did the songwriter not respond, but he put me on his email list for updates about his career. Yeah, thanks for the spam.

6. Remember the Ten Minute rule. At one point, Idina Menzel was ten minutes away from never being a wedding singer again.

the Broadway Mouth
originally posted April 17, 2008

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