Conferences are beasts. Look at any major conference’s schedule and you’ll see hundreds of panels, workshops, “must see” keynotes, shows and parties. Look up and you’ll see thousands of people just like you trying to sell themselves. These events come with a lot of hype, and somehow you have to find the substance.

Last night MusicOntario gathered a panel of experienced organizers and attendees to pass on wisdom, share horror stories and answer questions about making the most out of conferences. Panelists included:

The most important thing is showing up. As Darryl Hurs said, “Too many bands ask me if conferences are worth it. Is sitting on your couch worth it?” But showing up is just half the battle. You have to strategically plan your time, meetings and shows. Here’s the panels top dos and don’ts for a getting value out of a conference.

Do your homework.

You need to do preliminary research, especially if it’s your first time attending a conference. You need a plan of attack for how you’ll hit each aspect and what you want to get out of it — create your own personal schedule of panels, workshops, networking events, shows and parties and know what you want to get out of each one.

Also figure out who’s going to be there. Conferences often release delegate lists, and email people you want to meet weeks in advance to set something up. Don’t blast the whole list, choose who you could actually work with and send them personalized notes.

If you’re playing a showcase, plan how you’re going to promote it at the conference, in the hotel and on the streets. David Cox saw Gym Class Heroes at SXSW with five other people in the room because the band left promo to the last minute.

Do practice your elevator pitch

You never know who you’re going to run into, and you have to be ready to pitch yourself in one sentence. The 5 W’s are a good guide for your elevator pitch: Who, What, Where, When and Why the fuck should someone listen to you?

If you’re an artist, find a reference point for your music that the person can easily understand. Don’t just say you’re unique, say you’re like “famous band X meets famous singer Y if they were from place Z.”

Don’t expect immediate payoffs

The legend of someone getting discovered at a conference and going from 0 to record deal in a month is rare. But conferences are great opportunities to build your network for the future. Think 12-24 months ahead of time and purposely meet people you may need to call upon down the road. All panelists have worked with people they met at conferences, but it might have been one, three or 10 years later.

Do understand where you’re approaching someone

If you’re going to introduce yourself to someone, understand the their headspace in that moment. Do they look like they’re focused on something? Is their band on stage? Are the speaking on a panel in 10 minutes? Or are they taking a few minutes to relax? Remember that everyone there is working long days, pick your moment wisely.

Do connect on a personal level before trying to sell a product

Don’t be fully scripted, but know the main points you want to hit. Come to them naturally. Don’t approach someone at a party and fire off a 60 second pitch, you’re gonna dull their good time. Plan to be at the same three parties as someone and you can slowly become friends.

Don’t email all your music, videos and press

People who run conferences don’t look at unsolicited emails, and often delete ones with many files attached to them. Have one link for all your music.

Do be creative with your promotion

You’re going to drown in a sea of press kits and postcards. If you have a card, make sure it can fit in someone’s pocket. But also find a way to stand out. It might mean spending a little money. Some bands pay the hotel to put their demos on everyone’s pillow, some use Tinder and free drinks to attract fans to their showcase, others make a big scene each time they walk in a room. Have a gimmick that’s true to who you are, then have the talent to back it up.

Don’t make it a one time thing

Continue to be engaged. The more stuff you go to, the more people you’ll get to know organically. They’ll start wondering, who’s this person I keep seeing? Look at your budget and figure out how many events you can go to in 12 months.

Do volunteer.

Events can’t run without volunteers and you’re often working directly with people you want to get to know. But make sure you actually do your job or you’ll get a (deservedly) bad rep.

Do stretch the truth if needed, but don’t lie if you can’t back it up

The tough part about the music business is to gain experience you need to have experience, so sometimes you need to stretch the truth about your experience. Take your grain of truth and blow it up to where it’s impressive, but still believable — what Samantha Pickard calls “the truth as we know it.” Cox told a story of one artist who put on Twitter that she got a SXSW showcase (she hadn’t) but from that got invited to play eight other showcases.

Make sure you can backup your claims with hard work. Some people are great at selling themselves, but have no follow through — which is more important than the initial meeting.


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