SEVEN DEADLY SKILLS
Welcome to the third instalment of our Musician's Survival Guide series, and the third of our Seven Deadly Skills. Strap in folks, this one's gonna get beefy.
Today we're discussing Sociability. So far so obvious, right? I would argue that there are certain things about being social that are...perhaps not. We’ve heard the phrase "Social Skills" all over the place...*yaaaawn*...yup I'm with you there. What do they actually mean, and why are they important as a musician?
Sociability is literally as much of a skill as anything else we do. What's the awesome thing about Skills? If we turn the telly off, get up off our butt and practice - we get better at them. It's simple - by immersing ourselves in as many social environments as possible, whether we feel comfortable or not, we slowly but surely build connections with the people that will ultimately have a huge impact on our career. And all the while we're practicing our Sociability.
In an industry as small as the music business (indeed, a lot of other industries too), if your colleagues aren't your friends already, they can quickly become them. They are the people who will send you work. They are the people who will recommend you. Your friends are the people who you can call upon when you’re stuck in the mud with no work. Moreover they’re the people that you will recommend, that you will put forward for gigs. Just as with Innovation and Thoroughness, your friends - your Sociability - becomes part of your currency. If our careers are an endless mountain, we’re all climbing it together; giving one another a helpful nudge when fellow climbers get tired. What happens to those who keep all their energy for themselves? They don’t receive those helpful nudges when they need them most. This is the key to Sociability. Showing people that we’re here to be helpful, that we listen to what they have to say, and that above all we care about them.
look around you
At university studying music? You are in an incredible position, with brilliant people everywhere. Holy macaroni I would give £3,000 a YEAR to be in that position again….oh wait. OK, so think about the people around you during lectures. The chances are, a good chunk of them will go on to work in the music business. Is there anyone you haven’t at least said hello to yet? Introduce yourself! Smile! Anyone snub you off? They’re already losing, believe me. Openness and friendliness are two massively positive characteristics that can carry us a very, very long way - not only in life, but in business. The trick is, to really really not worry too much about how you come across, or overthink what you should be saying. Being yourself is as much as you will ever be able to do. There are few excuses for snubbing off a friendly smile and a chat - small talk has way too much of a bad reputation. But in business, it works.
as a musician, your reputation doesn’t just precede you; it’s your entire business model
Why do you think modern companies put such a massive emphasis on customer care and feedback? Forget about companies like BT or Tesco - they're out of touch. Look at AirBnb, Kickstarter, Uber, Apple, the platform that I write this blog on, Squarespace; most modern tech companies! They know that if someone has a crappy time using their product or service, that person can tell all of their friends in a matter of nanoseconds. So these companies want to show that they're social. They want to show they're willing to listen. Most of these companies employ one specific person to handle customer care exclusively on social media. As musicians, we are AirBnb, we are Apple. Can you think of any people who are more...BT Broadband?
There are ways of being extremely unsocial as an extrovert, and ways of being massively social as an introvert. Being social isn’t about making loud noises with your mouth. It’s about being interested, asking questions, but crucially relaxing and just being you. It's how we make someone feel during any social engagement that will make them either remember us, or forget us. In a world of personality tests and 'self help' books, way too much emphasis is placed on whether we are introvert, extrovert, or the "best version of ourselves we can be!". The fact is, it doesn’t matter two flying f***ks whether you're an introvert, extrovert, or the best version of yourself you can be. This is all baloney. You are already...yourself...right? Check your arms, check your head - they yours? That sounds like a pretty good version to me. So get out there and strike up a conversation.
Social Skills are completely seperate from all of this hyperbolic 'personality type' rhetoric. Forget about what personality the world keeps pushing on you and trust who YOU want to be...be an INTEXTROVERT! YES, some people like to talk a bit more than others do. But talking is just...speaking words. It's absolutely not the be-all and end-all of our Sociability. "That's such a Aries thing to say"....*FACE PALM*...
While you’re building your career, the small, day to day interactions will get you infinitely further than any sexy glass table meeting at McMajor Label will. Whether that’s having a chat with another band while crossing paths on tour, or saying a quick hello to a mid-level artist manager at a club. The value of these interactions can be indispensable if you make use of them. So create as many as you can, and follow it up later with a friendly email.
Remember the mountain analogy - when one of the people you took time to speak to reaches higher ground, who are they going to call? The guys who messaged them on Facebook yesterday because news of their success spread? No. They will call YOU, because you made the effort during the time they were climbing.
The smallest of conversations can be that hand-on-the-back someone needed during the mountain ascent; That hot drink you poured them from your thermos flask; that joke you told, boosting their mood.
Ok I'm channeling Partridge now...
the people tree
Think about any achievement you’ve ever been proud of, big or small, and trace back through every moment you can think of that build toward it. More often than not, these positive achievements in our lives have come out of some sort of conversation. Heck, I can trace every single piece of paid work I’ve ever had back to a conversation or interaction
Time is the most valuable thing we have in life. When you talk to someone, you are giving someone a piece of yours, and they, a piece to you. There is no higher compliment!
Think of your career as a tree. With each positive interaction comes a new branch. That branch might grow leaves (the leaves are income), you just never know. So make sure you grow the branches in the first place, because there can't be leaves without them.
"I’ll just stick with my group at the bar tonight.", "That person looks like they don’t want to talk so I won’t bother them", "Those two are busy having a conversation so I’ll stay out of it"...all branches you’ve just snapped off.
More meaningful conversations mean more branches.
If you live in a city, there are an incredible amount of free resources we can use to meet new people. If you’re lucky enough to live in London, these resources are practically served to you on a plate. That’s a hell of a lot of possible branches. Write songs? Get involved with PRS, the Featured Artists Coalition, BPI; they all hold social events. Session musician? Look up PPL, Musician’s Union. Get Googling more!
An absolute golden nugget for musician’s are jam nights. Check out a great blog about them here, by a bassist called Sam Skirrow.
The digital and physical spheres are more intertwined than ever, and will only get more so for a long time to come. When it comes to Sociability in 2017 - it means to use both the real and the digital forms of socialising in balanced synchronicity. Whenever I'm introduced to someone over email now, more often than not I'm greeted with "nice to meet you".
Facebook, email, Twitter, Instagram: all huge business resources for me and many musicians I know. The important thing is not to let your digital presence consume you; simply see it for what it is. Just as computers are utilised as an extension of musicianship (Ableton, Logic, V-Drums, Digital Keyboards), Social Media can be an extension our business.
But perhaps the most powerful thing about Social Media for musicians, is the potential it contains to turn digital interactions into real, physical interactions. One time I was struggling to find a dep for a show, so I put a shout out to a friend, who sent me a huge list of other great drummers, all of whom I was able to contact immediately and sort the whole thing within ten minutes. Digital social interactions reaping brilliant results!
Another crucial part of Sociability, is that it can also help our ideas reach new heights, too. Our Innovations can get taken to places that never even occurred to us. Bouncing our ideas of our friends and peers takes us out of our own head space and in to someone else’s - and just in Seven Deadly Skills #1, Innovation, all of those lovely neurological pathways we’ve built up intermingle with theirs through our social interactions. I mean, how insanely awesome is that? When we share ideas, engage, and talk with people - we share the way our mind has developed. Like a form of osmosis, we can build our own brain pathways by cross-pollinating with the minds of others.
Sociability is not just a business tool. it also plays a HUGE part in our creative and intellectual development...mmkay?
So get out there godamit! Right now. Meet every person you can! Embrace their way of thinking. If an interaction doesn’t work out, forget about it and move on to the next one. The more you get out there and talk to people, the hungrier you’ll become to do it more.
See you next Wednesday for the next instalment in my Musician's Survival Guide, and the next of our Seven Deadly Skills.