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Music conference success: 31 tips for music industry trade fairs

Music conference success tips for trade fairs

Travel is a big adventure, especially when attending a music business conference.

In this article I outline what you should expect from music industry trade fairs and music networking events. I give a load of tips learned along the way, and also provide you a handy list for packing, a flight checklist and a hand-picked list of extras to make your travel easier and more efficient.

Many of these tips are useful for a general business conference, networking social or trade show in any industry.

The big question: how to make it in the music industry?

There are numerous careers available in the music business. Whatever path you choose, you can find a professional advantage by attending music industry conferences that happen around the world.

A lot of aspiring musicians become disillusioned with the industry. The feeling of “it’s not what you know – but who you know!” is a constant source of frustration among artists.

So – how do you actually meet the people you need to know? One route is international business networking at Music industry Conferences like SXSW, Amsterdam Dance Event, MIDEM, Reeperbahn, The Great Escape Festival, or one of the many smaller, more intimate networking events.

There’s every music deal to be found at these events: Information and contacts for how to get a record deal, how to get a publishing deal, connect with music sync companies or a music supervisor, find a suitable music management company or hire promotion in the music industry. Even information for how to start a record label yourself.

These events give you the chance to mingle with top-level music executives from the biggest music companies in the world, alongside hungry indie start-ups and independent music hustlers from around the world. Information and opportunities exist for every kind of deal imaginable.

You will gain a solid grounding across the music industry and see opportunities for growth in your business.

The format of a music conference

Music conferences are mostly centered around a series of moderated Q&A panels in a specific topic, with high level industry names answering questions from the crowd directly. There’s usually a chance to meet the speakers briefly after each session.

It’s not all panels and meetings though – compared to lots of other business conferences, the music industry ones have a real party atmosphere. There are numerous networking parties, showcase gigs, private record label events, excellent food and drink, priceless experiences to find, wild anecdotes to collect, big personalities to meet, hangovers to regret and life lessons to learn. Some of the best times of my life have been at music conferences.

By attending an industry conference, you are another beat in the heart of the world’s music business.

Is it worth the investment?

Music conferences can be expensive to attend with event tickets often costing several hundred dollars to start with. Then add hotel costs, flights and promotional materials on top. It can be a sizable chunk of money for a band or new label, but if approached correctly it can also be one of the most valuable investments you can make for your music.

Thanks to the internet, survival in the modern music industry doesn’t rely so heavily on living in a central hub like London, LA or New York anymore. But emails can only get you so far…

It remains true that the best way of forging meaningful relationships is with a personal connection. Shaking hands, drinking beer, dancing to music – this is where memories are made, and bonds formed that can last years, often blossoming into friendships that exist outside of the business world.

Attending conferences also immediately places you in the “serious” category in people’s minds. These events are an expensive commitment, and it is unlikely that casual musicians will risk the investment.

Of course it is possible to make it to the top of your chosen industry path without ever attending a conference, but it’s a safe bet that you will get some positive results by going.

Loz of Fat As Funk Mastering / Rinse The Sync outside Capitol Records, as one of the UK Delegates for the LA Sync Mission

Tips to get the most out of your conference

Here are a selection of conference tips that I hope you will find useful.

1: Go light on your physical promo

Don’t waste your time and money making a stack of CDs to hand out. Nobody wants them anymore. Seriously.

Instead get your business cards absolutely kick-ass and slick looking, with an artistic QR code linking directly to your best online landing page for executives to instantly stream your music (make a free QR code here).

If you represent a large amount of music (or just want to look extra-fancy) then consider having some custom USB sticks made. There are various options available, and they are still relatively uncommon so you will stand out more among the pile of promotional materials on someone’s desk.

Custom USB sticks can be an expensive option so you should be judicious about only giving them to people who really want them. Wait for them to show a decent amount of genuine interest in what you have before offering your USB, or you will have wasted your money when they throw it away later. Harsh but true.

2: Select the most relevant event for your niche

There are so many Music biz conferences, some filling a specific niche (e.g. Amsterdam Dance Event), and some being all encompassing across every sector of the music industry (e.g. MIDEM).

Think about your musical focus, what you want to achieve and who you want to meet. Each conference ticks a slightly different set of boxes.

A thirst for specific knowledge and niche industry connections may be more suited to a smaller, tight focus conference, whereas getting a lot of new global leads for your services-based music business would be better suited to one of the larger conferences, for example.

3: Get the early bird rate

There are usually “early bird” rates for every conference with substantial discounts to be had. You can sometimes save 50% or more on the conference ticket price.

4: Book your flight and hotel at the same time!

Other delegates will also want to find the hotels that are closest and cheapest to the venue, and these book up very soon. Get in there first!

There are tonnes of travel agent options, but the majority of times after spending ages searching I’ve ended up booking through Ebookers, as they seemed to reliably find the best hotel + flight deals that suited my needs.

5: Set up meetings in advance

If you are attending a major conference like SXSW or MIDEM, then it’s a good bet that most of the large labels, publishers, tech players and music libraries will have a presence there.

Many conferences offer to set up meetings between you and other appropriate businesses before the event, and many have a private online messaging board for delegates. This is invaluable for organizing your schedule and making the most of your time away.

If there is no official online networking hub, then often organizers can make introductions themselves and help you find people you need – it’s in their interest for you to meet the right people, so do ask for help setting up a meeting.

6: Network like a boss

The music industry must be one of the most fun industries to be involved in, so make sure you attend all the parties you can, check out what other companies have to offer and get involved in all the networking opportunities you can surrounding the conference.

You don’t have to be a huge extrovert to network effectively, just a big smile, confidence that you deserve to be there as much as anyone else and a friendly outlook.

Networking is the very heart of why you are there, so jump right in. If you feel absolutely exhausted and talked out by the end of the day, then you’re making the most of it! 

Although the usual social rules apply, everyone is also there to do business which makes introducing yourself much easier. You are all on a level playing field at the after-parties.

Make the most of every opportunity. If you see someone on their own staring at their phone at a networking party, there’s a good chance they are not really busy, just trying to avoid looking like that “spare” person (which we all are, at some point), so they usually welcome you taking the lead. These are prime opportunities to walk over, smile, extend a hand and get chatting.

7: Networking can start at the airport

Chances are there will be others on your flight going to the same conference. If you spot someone who looks a likely suspect. Don’t be afraid to say hello and ask if they are going. most people are already getting in the mood for networking before the conference starts so you may find an unexpected connection.

Conferences are incredibly tiring though, so don’t expect the same results on the flight home! Nobody wants a forced conversation with a hangover after chatting to hundreds of people for days.

8: Keep your promo materials on you, not in the hold

After money and passport, the most important thing to arrive with at the conference is your promotional material. Keep it with you at all times in your carry on luggage until you safely reach your hotel.

Hold luggage gets lost in transit occasionally. You can always replace clothes and other essentials when you land, but business cards, USB sticks, flyers etc. cannot easily be replaced in time.

9: Research the speakers

Conferences will provide biographies of their speakers, but take some extra time to research the key people a little. Nothing intrusive or personal (don’t be a stalker!) but it’s just polite to know a bit about their work.

If you discover you have some common interests or hobbies then it can open the door to further discussion over a beer. Always be genuine though – better to be silent than to be fake.

10: Give yourself time before it starts

If possible, give yourself a few days to acclimatize before the conference starts properly. If an event starts on Monday, it’s good to arrive on the Friday at the latest, then you have time to rest, explore the surroundings, check out the nightlife and have Sunday free to go through any last-minute scheduling, pre-meeting research and so-on before an early night.

11: Get your mastering sorted

Going to conferences brings opportunities for important people to hear your music – why settle for “good enough” from instant A.I. Mastering or a rough home master, when an experienced human expert can really get inside the heart of your music in a way no automated A.I. could ever do – with soul and flair born from countless musical experiences busting through their brains over the course of a lifetime.

We have mastered thousands of records that have been released on major labels and indie upstarts since 2006. We work hard alongside you to achieve the pro sound you crave. We can handle all genres, but specialize in anything with a bit of a groove.

12: Choose accommodation wisely

The conference will often have a preferred list of hotels (that they will tell you are the cheapest option), and of course they want you to use them, as it will all be on commission. Occasionally there can be good deals here, but purely based on my own experience I have found better deals to be had with a quick online search myself.

Do a little research on the area your potential hotel is in too before confirming. In a lovely place like Cannes in the South of France (MIDEM) then the whole town feels very safe, (even while stumbling around lost at 3am). However in L.A. for example, choosing a hotel 2 blocks in the wrong direction can be the difference to feeling safe walking around at night, or not.

Air BnB can be a cheaper option if you know the area. I did have a bad experience which I will share – I was once stranded outside my AirBnB on the street in Los Angeles with 2 suitcases, in an area I didn’t know because my host was unreliable. I ended up having to wait 30 minutes on the sidewalk with all my bags (looking exactly like a stranded tourist), until another Uber arrived to take me to collect the key from my host across town. I could have been mugged and lost all my promo materials, money, passport, the works.

Luckily it was a decent area, I didn’t get robbed, and all was cool in the end. But after an 11 hour flight and no sleep, this was not a good start! I understand this is not the norm for AirBNB, and I probably just had a bad experience, but it was enough to make me seriously consider using it again for a business conference.

You will have a lot riding on the conference, so it makes sense for everything surrounding the event to be as comfortable and stress-free as possible. If your budget can stretch a little higher to a hotel, you should expect more security and reliability during your stay.

13: Sit right at the front in panels

You’re not at school, or a stand-up comedy show – It’s best to sit right at the front!

This gives the panellists a chance to eyeball you repeatedly and recognise your face later at the party. It gives you the chance to ask more questions, and most importantly the chance to get there first at the meet and greet afterwards.

14: Put your photo on your business card.

I’m seeing this more often, and it’s a good idea to help join the dots surrounding your conversation when you reach out after the conference. Make sure it’s recent and still looks like you!

15: Meet the speakers early

As soon as the panel ends there is usually 5 minutes where everyone can queue up to meet the panelists. This is a golden opportunity. The line fills up extremely fast, and both the organizers and panelists themselves are keen to move it all on, so get your stuff together just before the discussion ends, and start getting up almost as soon as the clapping is over.

If you can be one of the first 5 people to meet the panelists, you will get the best response before they are overwhelmed by the crowd. Introduction fatigue sets in very quickly for some people.

16: Appreciate the advice

Hopefully you will have learned a lot from the panel, so make sure to thank the speakers for the info when you meet them. Everyone likes to feel their advice was well received and valuable.

Be sincere and try and remember a specific thing they said that you found interesting.

17: Play it cool

Nothing is more of a turn-off than desperation.

Understand that the top executives and panelists are mobbed after the session, and usually try and seek refuge within a few minutes. It can get overwhelming for them, and you don’t want to be remembered as the guy who held them up when they were making for the door.

If you notice a panelist you really want to talk to is flagging and you are at the back of the queue, think ahead, walk ahead and catch up with them beyond the crowd.

If they have obviously had enough and just want to leave then a simple “thanks for a great panel, I hope to catch up with you at the showcase (or whatever)” will often encourage them to trade one last business card.

18: Ask the locals where to go

A great way to find enthusiastic conversation is by asking local delegates what their favorite places in the city are.

After 20 people yammering on about their band, it’s refreshing. People are usually pretty passionate in their responses, and you can get tips on memorable places to go which are off the tourist trail.

20: Don’t rely on your laptop for taking notes

You won’t remember all the information. No way. You have to write it down.

Please use pen and paper, not a laptop. The noise of 20 people tap-tap-tapping in a quiet room is distracting to everybody. Several times I have seen organizers request no typed notes for this reason, prompting a sudden scramble to borrow pen and paper.

Be prepared and bring a decent pen that feels good to write with and notebook! I prefer to start a new notebook for each conference, to keep it organized right off the bat.

Audio recording is often not allowed at many music conference panels either (for obvious potential copyright-infringing reasons if unreleased music is being played). For the panels where it’s OK to record the speakers you’ll appreciate having a portable voice recorder (dictaphone).

21: You’re not speaking on the panel – don’t act like it!

There’s always one person (at least) who feels the need to heckle and get involved in a panel way beyond asking questions.

They argue with the panelists, hog the limelight, play devil’s advocate, waste time and disrupt proceedings. Don’t be that person. It’s embarrassing.

If you want to expand deep into one specific detail and how it uniquely relates to your company, or want to argue a point for 5 minutes, wait and discuss it with the panelist in private later.

22: Don’t get stuck in a boring panel

If you decide a panel is not relevant to you, it’s OK to leave discretely and find some good conversation elsewhere. People need to leave the room for many reasons, so it will not be assumed that you find the panel as stimulating as watching cheese harden.

19: Know your party limits

There is a lot of free alcohol at these events. Good stuff too usually. We all know that alcohol is a social lubricant that can help dispel networking awkwardness, and It’s incredibly tempting to say “yes” to everything that’s handed to you.

The first time I went to MIDEM a glass of champagne was pressed into my hand at 10am, and this vibe continued at every networking event, every large booth I visited and into the evening entertainment. Woo!

The next day I had a stinking hangover which affected my performance in the morning. After spending the morning feeling like death, trying to sell music to the masses I soon learned to pace myself .

It’s a party atmosphere, and sometimes it feels like a holiday – but this is still work, so it’s important to keep a professional veneer up… Even when you are laughing at your conference buddy being spanked by a stripper at 2 am. This is still networking. God bless the music industry.

23: More power!

Don’t forget to bring a quality portable battery pack, and maybe a USB hub for when your phone or laptop inevitably dies before you need to do something important, or call an Uber.

24: Don’t only see others in your group as the competition

At smaller events it’s a common mistake to only focus on the panelists, but there are often great people to connect with in your niche, even if they are your competition.

At conferences there is a great open-minded willingness to share information, and by having a good chat you can learn a lot and make new friends through the spirit of camaraderie.

Numerous unexpected side opportunities can be found. I have attended several sync-focused conferences pitching music, and also ended up with some new mastering clients, and composing music for other catalogs too.

25: The music industry is a people business

Remember that complaint “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” that so many people have? So now you know how to meet the people – but don’t expect things to happen overnight.

Cultivate relationships, but do it genuinely. Nobody likes a stalker, so keep it light, positive, friendly and professional when you follow up on your meeting. People can spot a fake a mile off, and high level music executives come across more fakes than most people. You may have to meet people a couple of times before anything happens.

Once you have your foot in the door, it’s very important to be nice and easy to deal with. Be gracious and accommodating to revision requests, deliver fast and accurately. Make them glad they took a chance with you.

26: Be memorable

This sounds like quite a broad topic to pull out of the blue, but I’m not suggesting you run a full audit of your personality here!

Just finding something small that will be memorable will help a lot when panelists are trying to place your face.

This can be anything from a hat, a piece of distinctive jewellery, whatever. How would you stand out among 1000 people?

Again, don’t be contrived about it. Keep it natural for you. For example If you never wear a hat in your daily life, the chances are you will feel self-conscious wearing one at a conference, which could then subtly lessen your overall vibe of confidence. Do what feels right for you.

Be careful to avoid the less-desirable memorable aspects – carry breath mints, use effective deodorant and watch out for clothing stains!

27: Keep it short and sweet

Don’t monopolize the speaker’s time after the panel finishes – other people want to meet them too, and it’s straight-up rude to keep on talking beyond their attention.

This should seem obvious to anyone with a smattering of social skills, but the amount of times I’ve seen the opposite happen, with the panelist trying politely to move a chatterbox on while everyone else in the line taps their toes, I felt it wise to mention this.

Keep it short and sweet initially, give them your business card and promise a longer catch-up at the networking events later.

28: Tweet from the conference

Follow the hashtags of the event on Twitter. Tweet using the relevant hashtags for more reach. If you say nice things about the conference then you may get a retweet from the organizers, which can have great reach.

Interesting #music #conference guide from @fatasfunk #studio #musicbiz

29: Travel light, post ahead

If your business sees value from distributing printed materials or physical products then this could be something to consider (although my first point still stands – keeping your promo material minimal is better).

The first time I attended MIDEM in 2008, I had a load of flyers printed for Fat As Funk mastering. There was the promise of over 10,000 delegates from around the world, and lots of places to leave promotional materials, so I had several thousand large flyers printed. They arrived in numerous heavy boxes.

These would have massively weighed down my luggage and taken me over the allowed weight, so I contacted the hotel and asked if I could post the flyers over before my arrival. They agreed, and I saved money posting them vs. the excess baggage weight cost. I avoided the hassle of carrying many kilos of cardboard too. I used up all the flyers and got lots of new business.

Alternatively you could get the materials printed in your destination country, but then you run the huge risk of not seeing the quality ahead of time.

30: Follow up effectively

Always follow up on your meeting after the event. But when is the right time to follow up? It depends on the conference, and people.

If it’s a small sync conference, for example, and a panelist gives a brief for music they are looking for in a hurry, then it would be best to send over a link at the earliest opportunity.

At one sync-focused panel a speaker mentioned an urgent brief they were trying to solve that afternoon. I had a great track ready to pitch, so I sent an email with a relevant streaming+download link during the panel itself. When I met the speaker afterwards I told them they already had an email in their inbox with the track. This made an impression, and my track submission was downloaded a couple of hours later.

Alternatively if you’re following up from a chance meeting at a huge conference with lots of delegates, it would probably be best to wait until mid-week after the conference. Why?

During the event they will be too busy to really focus on what you have to say in the email, and on their return to the office there will be pressing work to attend to. So towards the end of the following week is often a good time to reach out, when they have cleared some time back and will be reflecting on the conference.

Briefly remind them of how and where you met in the first line of the email. Mention the conference in the email subject. Make sure any streaming/download links you send don’t expire.

31: Remember you’re in it for the long game

Sometimes things take a while to get going. Don’t lose heart if you don’t sign a massive deal immediately after your first conference!

Keep reaching out to your contacts respectfully, offering them great music, keep showing up to events and being a nice, easy person to deal with. Positive things will start to happen.

Don’t give up. Really go for it, and good luck!

Various badges from my times at conferences, networking events and trade fairs.

Some useful links and services

Book your flights + accommodation early! Super quick flight checker below.

Get a good deal on your custom USB sticks and business cards here. These people have offices worldwide (scroll down to the bottom of their page for your local branch)

Check out my pick of travel essentials to take with you.

Download my free business travel packing and preparation checklist (XL file) HERE

Please share this article if you have found it useful.

Interesting #music #conference guide from @fatasfunk #studio #musicbiz

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More random photos from conference trips.

Disclaimer: these tips are given with the best of intentions, and I have personally found all these approaches very useful. In the end your results will depend on numerous factors, including luck! We take no responsibility for your actions or business results from following this guide, it’s all on you at the end of the day! Get out there and hustle.

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