If you’re serious about your music, you know you’re going to spend some combination of time, money, and effort (probably lots of all three) whenever you attend a music conference. You’re there to take your music-making to a higher level, reach more people, earn more money, book more gigs — and you know that’s not going to happen if you don’t show up prepared.
By “prepared” I don’t mean you have absolutely everything planned in advance (that wouldn’t be much fun), just that you’re ready to get the most from your conference experience.
Here’s what you need.
What every music conference attendee should bring to the event:
Swag? Promo material? Business cards? CDs? Showcase schedules? Yeah, yeah. Sure. Have those things at the ready.
But whether we’re talking about an international event like Folk Alliance or the DIY Musician Conference, a giant festival such as SXSW, or a smaller regional gathering like NERFA, your focus needs to be on forming relationships first and foremost, not shoving your promo materials in everyone’s face.
With that in mind, you need…
1. A to-do list
First, what are you trying to accomplish by attending the event? Write those goals down in order of importance, and get specific. Commit yourself to concentrating on the TOP priority.
Then examine the conference program, website, web forum, or Facebook group. Who do you need to meet? What sessions or opportunities should you prioritize?
Basic reverse engineering: Start with the grand ambition in mind, but break it into lots of smaller, achievable tasks.
If you can’t tackle all those tasks by yourself, delegate. If you don’t have fellow band members or a partner attending with you, reach out to some other musicians before the event and come up with a plan to divide-and-conquer.
2. One good question
It’s a cliché, but true: The person who asks good questions seems more confident and trustworthy than the person who appears to have all the answers.
So arrive at the conference with one really good question. Something that might take a dozen conversations with different musicians and speakers to fully answer.
That question will give you a concrete entry point for what might otherwise be awkward and aimless conversations with strangers. You’ll also leave the conference wiser in at least one important area.
3. Thick skin
There might be thousands of other musicians at this thing. Some of them, lots of them even, might be “better” than you. This person has a better voice. That person makes better beats. This woman is a more charismatic performer. That guy is a crazy guitarist.
But we’re not talking about Voltron here.
It’s worth remembering:
- You might have a unique combination of skills that is seen as “better” in the eyes of other musicians.
- If you’re not as “good,” get inspired to work a little bit harder on your weak points and a lot harder to highlight where you DO excel.
- The attendees are a self-selected slice of musicians, which means many of them are probably already highly motivated and accomplished. Learn from them.
- One particular conference CAN make your career, but it’s not going to break your career. If you didn’t create a splash, try again when you’ve got things a little more dialed in next year (either in terms of skill, quality of music, or relationships).
4. An open mind
I’ve had my mind changed at conferences. I’ve also helped other musicians change certain attitudes that were holding them back. It’s the MOST rewarding thing to facilitate, and one of the most exciting things to experience when my own thinking shifts.
If you come to a conference bitter and ready to do battle, you’re going to see cliquishness and failure everywhere. With an open mind, you’ll see where new opportunities are waiting.
5. Your health hacks
Hotel rooms are dry. Conference hours run into the early morning. There’s booze everywhere and not many green vegetables. And who has time to eat or sleep anyway?
The end result might be a thousand musicians all sharing the same cold.
Whatever your health hacks — portable humidifiers, water bottles, running shoes — bring them. Exercise. Eat well. Sure, party. But not full-force for five nights straight.
Have you attended many music conferences? What helps you have the best experience possible? Let me know in the comments.