Lately, there's been a lot of media buzz about the amazing resurgence of vinyl record albums. Wow, what's next, people actually talking on the phone?
What's old is new again, because it's better. Millennials are buying vinyl again, because it's a better way to listen. I'd argue that some of the old ways are better when it comes to business relationships, too. Personal contact is still the better pathway to success, whether you are in the music business or any other kind of business.
The most often repeated fear that I hear these days is that the art of communicating among the millennial generation is being lost to new technology. The problem is that without real human contact, the person you're doing business with looks at you as just another name on a list. Your name has no context, no story, no connectivity, and ultimately, no network of people who want to work with you and help you succeed.
Friends and Fuel
I learned my first big lesson about the importance of relationships during the 1973 oil crisis. Our band Twisted Sister was only eight months old, and we were living in a house in Northern New Jersey when the great gas crisis hit in November of that year. Everyone in the band had a car, and we also had a truck rented weekly. We were working six nights a week at that time.
We always used to get gas from a station on Route 17, close to our band's house. The guy who ran it was in his mid-20s, and I would always have conversations with him about the music he listened to. Eventually, I invited him to come see us play in the local bars. We had been playing out for only a few months when the gas crisis hit. The new emergency laws mandated that you could only buy gas on the odd or even day of the week that matched the last number of your license plate.
This would have been a huge problem for us, because we had to drive to the clubs six night a week. Plus, our truck was old and had terrible gas mileage. But since I had a good relationship with the gas station employee who had become a friend and a fan, he would sneak us in late at night whenever we needed to fill up. He liked me, he knew my story (and I knew his), and he wanted to see me and the band succeed.
As the crisis wore on (it lasted about seven months), it got to the point that no one was even allowed to buy gas on Sundays, period. Many gas stations were being robbed of their gas on those days. That's how desperate it got. The gas stations would barricade their driveways with large trucks to protect them. But my friend would meet us under the cover of darkness (3 a.m.) on Sunday mornings, roll back the trucks, and sneak us in to fill our vehicles up. We never missed a show during that very trying time!
This was the first of many business relationships that we benefited from. We built personal relationships with lighting companies, trucking companies, music instrument stores, radio station DJs and general mangers, club owners, recording studio owners, engineers, and other bands. Could we have made it without close working relationships with all of these people? Probably. But with all of these people on our side, it made the experience much more manageable--and a lot more pleasant.
Building a Human Network
How do you develop these relationships? It's actually pretty simple. Look people straight in eye and shake their hands. Ask their names and repeat it back to them as many times as you have to when asking questions (an old bartender's trick to remember customers' names). And ask a lot of general personal questions (Where did you go to school? Where were you born? Any family?). When asked subtlety, you would be surprised what people will tell you. As soon as you can, jot down their names and info into a document or whatever database you use. And then follow up with an email less than 24 hours later. (Oh, and drinking with people also helps.)
There are levels of nuance to all of this, of course. You can't overdo it. And when you are building your network, keep these four tips in mind:
1. Don't be demanding.
2. Be grateful for what you do get.
3. Always be gracious.
4. Compliment the person helping you out.
5. Always ask if there is something you can do for them.
At the end of the day, it comes down to being the kind of person that other people want to help succeed.