It is not what you know, it is who you know
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
At Wallifornia MusicTech I had the honour to meet Richard James Burgess, (CEO A2IM). At the conference we talked about our doctoral theses and exchanged them in the further email communication.
The core topic of tamanguu respectively tamanguu.contacts is business networking, i.e. the establishment and maintenance of your own contact network in order to be economically more successful. The importance of the network, or rather a well-maintained network, is the topic of the case study in Richard James Burgess’ doctoral thesis. The major title of the doctoral thesis is: “Structural Change in Music Industry: The evolving Role of the Musician”. In the aforementioned case study “It is not what you know, it is who you know” James reports on his first time in England, which shows how difficult it is to build on the previous success without a strong network despite successes and grown networks in other countries. In fact, I experienced it similarly in my time in England (2009-2012), when I wrote my doctoral thesis about artist development in the music industry.
Actually, “It is not what you know, it is who you know” doesn’t hit the nail on its head. It would need to end with “who knows you”, as in the ideal solution, it is your relevant business partner who continuously choose you to work with or to recommend to other potential customers. That’s tamanguu’s top-of-mind approach which we pursue in our guided relationship management.
Since this case study by Richard James Burgess fits the networking theme of tamanguu very well, James kindly allowed me to post an excerpt from his doctoral thesis here (it is a long excerpt, but absolutely worth reading):
It Is Not What You Know, It Is Who You Know
I arrived in England with no contacts in the music business. I was excited and optimistic but back to square one. I went to many of the auditions advertised in Melody Maker, and I quickly realized that this was a losing proposition. There would be at least a hundred drummers lined up ready to play, and invariably the person who got the gig was either known to the band or came via a personal recommendation. This reminded me of my Mother’s oft-repeated adage, “It is not what you know, it is who you know.” She used it cynically, but I figured I could turn the concept to my benefit.
It is not always obvious where you are going to meet someone that can be important to your life and career. I had a bread-and-butter gig in an Irish band with a very nice husband-and-wife team. We played working men’s clubs, pubs, and church socials. Not even close to what I was looking for, but it fulfilled Burgess’s first law, keeping body and soul together for those first few months in the new country. I started to connect with people that knew people that knew me or my track record in New Zealand, and modest opportunities began to develop. In order to leave the Irish group I had to find another drummer. Nobody wanted that gig. In the end I taught the couple’s fourteen-year-old son to play drums so he could take over from me.
Well, file that thought away for seven years because their son was Rusty Egan, who became the drummer in The Rich Kids, co-founder of Visage, and sonic prophet for the New Romantic and Futurist movements via the influential club, The Blitz. The Blitz was a Tuesday-night gathering promoted by Rusty and Steve Strange which became the rallying point and central clearing house for the new post-punk scene as it developed in the late seventies. As Steve Strange defined the look, Rusty shaped the sound. He spun music from artists such as Eno, Bowie, Fad Gadget, Ultravox, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and my own group, Landscape. These records formed the soundtrack for The Blitz and the other clubs and warehouse parties that established the movement in London prior to 1980.
The networking and connections had paid off, and I became an in-demand session musician as well as a member of several bands. After nearly a decade of studio work in the UK I resolved that I wanted to move into record production but had no real strategy other than positive thinking and putting the idea out into the universe—telling everyone I knew. Working with many of the top producers in New Zealand and the UK had taught me a great deal. I had electronics training and experience, having been a recording geek since buying my first tape machine at sixteen. Making label demos for groups I played with got me major studio production experience. By now I was well networked within the major labels from being signed and from playing on so many records. I casually mentioned to all the A&R men (they were all men in those days) at record labels that I was “moving into production,” but no breakthough opportunities were being offered. I had not spoken to Rusty Egan for some time, and then, unexpectedly, he called me one night and invited me to The Blitz. As soon as I walked in, I recognized that what was happening in that room could become the next big movement. Punk had been established for more than three years, had become part of the mainstream, and was diffusing as a musical and cultural force. I instinctively understood that it is better to be first than it is to be better. I knew this could become my breakthrough opportunity, although exactly how was still not obvious.
The club night started at 10pm and did not really get going until after midnight. During this period I had early morning sessions every day as a studio drummer, but I could not allow lack of sleep to keep me from missing this opportunity. Initially I was excited that my own band’s music was getting played at the club, and I was meeting other musicians who shared my passion for electronic music. I saw Spandau Ballet play their first gig at the club, and when they got up on stage I realized that I knew them, and had been talking to them for several weeks. As it turned out, they would be my first opportunity, and would launch my career in record production. They had heard some of my work (with my own band Landscape) in the club, and from our conversations they knew that I knew my way around the business and recording studios. We also got along very well on a personal level. Nonetheless I was still pleasantly surprised, perhaps shocked, when I got a call from their manager, Steve Dagger, to ask me to produce their first album.
Develop and maintain a wide, professionally relevant circle of contacts and acquaintances.
Be kind along the way. Opportunities arise from unexpected sources.
Developing connections without developing appropriate skills is pointless. Maintain a balance between abilities and connections. Having a convincing way with words is useful, but substantial progress will depend on well-honed professional skills.
Socializing can waste a great deal of time without well-planned strategic objectives. Spending time in clubs can be enjoyable, and fun is a necessary element in a well-balanced life. However, assessing the productivity of specific activities relative to career advancement can be a useful eliminative process. If short-term goals are being missed because of inefficient use of time, it is highly likely that mid- to long-range objectives will not be met. Being the best at what you do is not useful if nobody knows about you; there are few careers in which it is possible to achieve greatness by being a master barfly or couch potato.
There may still be no substitute for making a face-to-face connections with relevant professionals, but the Web 2.0 social networking sites such as (at the time of writing) Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Linkedin, Plaxo, etc., can rapidly broaden networks beyond geographical location and immediate social circles. The benefit of these sites is that they are not simply a passive or outward form of marketing. They offer a fast way to get a message out, and, perhaps more importantly, the interactivity allows immediate feedback. These reactions allow artists to test their work and build not only an audience but a community of allies, friends, like-minded artists and collaborators. Such sites, along with judicious use of e-mail and texting, offer a relatively low-pressure way to stay in touch with fans, friends, casual acquaintances, and business contacts, keeping them updated on past, present, and future work activities. The social networking sites are easy to maintain on the move via a mobile device, laptop, or any available computer. It is possible to take a purely practical approach and maintain an up-to-date schedule, resume, bio, and show-reel. Alternatively, the online presence can become a living piece of art itself, comprising videos, innermost thoughts, recordings, artwork, and photographs. Whichever method is chosen, the primary objective is to control the image and brand presented to the world. Monitoring the efficacy of these activities by tracking views, visits, tags, and comments is a simple matter of using free Web tools. Cross-marketing is always more effective than single-channel marketing, and the easiest way to do the former is to reference Web sites, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr pages from the stage and in any printed materials. List at least one major link (Website?) on business cards and/or handouts and distribute them liberally. Link to all sites from everywhere possible; tag and share liberally. Check Google rankings frequently by simply searching key URLs, names, and terms, and use Google analytics or other Webmonitoring software. Set up Google alerts for important names and brands to catch any online publications that reference them. It helps to have an unusual name. Google can now crawl Flash pages, but at the time of writing it still does not have the ability to link within the Flash. It is more effective and less difficult to build a site with all significant information in html, mostly on the top level. Resist the temptation to have a mini-movie as an intro unless making mini-movies is a fundamental career objective. Get as much data on the top-level home page as is feasible without it becoming a confusing mess. It is no accident that most commercial Web sites, as well as the social networking sites, have huge amounts of data on the top page. The Web is all about instant gratification, and any barrier is likely to cause visitors to click off. Just as valuable time can be wasted in bars and clubs, and at events and conferences, entertaining but unproductive communications on social networking sites also carry a high opportunity cost. Most people go to these places, physical or virtual, to pass the time and hang out; for the professional networker these are places of business. Everyone needs to relax, but methodical networking, whether online or in person, demands clear objectives and detailed strategies for how to meet them. If it cannot be measured, it cannot be improved, so keep track of views, visits, comments, friends, tags, business cards, etc. For real-world interactions contact management software is invaluable. It does not take long to accumulate an unmanageable amount of contacts, and keeping all the information filed in an easy-to-search system is imperative. Follow up and respond as appropriate, and ensure that some progress is made every day.
J. A. Barnes coined the term social networking in 1954, well before the advent of personal computers and the Internet. He was carrying out a community study and discovered a social structure that cut across organizational boundaries. Social networking is a natural life process that is a necessary survival skill and an activity that can enhance the quality of life in the real and online world. There is fishing for fun and fishing for a living. It is important to differentiate the two activities when it comes to social networking. An extended physical and virtual network is a requisite resource for a successful career.
As CEO of the American Association of Independent Music Companies (A2IM), the equivalent of VUT in Germany in the USA, it is still essential for James to maintain good relations with important contacts.
I am very grateful to have met Richard James Burgess in Liège at Wallifornia MusicTech. Unfortunately, his doctoral thesis as a whole is not available in bookshops. However, he has written other books, such as: “The Art of Music Production (Amazon DE)”, “The Art of Music Production (Amazon US)”.
All information about the A2IM Association: https://a2im.org/
All information about Wallifornia MusicTech: http://walliforniamusictech.com/
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In this sense: Happy Networking!
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