by Wells Hanley, MA
As a self-employed artist, part of me easily resonates to the painful relationship many artists have to networking - we view it as a necessary evil, having to gear up for surface level conversations in the hope of scoring a gig or a gallery placement. Something we feel pressured to do but do not want to do. Some people are just good at it and I’m not.
Part of the issue is that many artists are introverts, happiest in our own home, tending to our inner creative process. We find a room full of people we don’t know exhuasting - even terrifying. The popular American “go-getter” model makes no sense to us. We prefer instead to build our careers from the inside out.
When we think of the art of networking as surface level, meaningless, and not nearly as important as what’s going on inside our heads creatively, we distance ourselves from something that is actually much more relevant to our lives and livelihood. If we can think of it as working a “net” that is an extension of our art, as something meaningful and important on a soul level, perhaps we can redeem this art and claim it as our own.
A common misconception is that networking is a hunter-gatherer activity when it actually follows much more of an agrarian model. Networking is not about going out to “get” something, it is about forming connections in the interest of community.
A literal net, like we might use in fishing, is a series of strings drawn together in a way that forms a grid, which acts like a strainer. If applied in a skillful way it can capture what would otherwise flow past us. We may have no specific interest in some of the fish streaming past us, but we have to do something about the rumbling in our stomachs! The skill in “working” the net is not in specific techniques for catching the fish but in how we build it. If our social net is built well and maintained with care it will do the work for us.
The substance of the net is where our individuality is key, because it is different in different fields. In my field of music, the net is built out of a mutual love of music as pure music-separate from and more important than any business surrounding the making of music. With this in mind, if I am to be a good networker, every action I take within the network must take into consideration a mutual love of music-whether I am looking for, accepting, or turning down opportunitiesz.
As an introvert, I do still sometimes struggle against my typology in order to accept invitations. Being social often involves a kind of tension with which I am familiar. But I can endure this discomfort nowing that it is in the interest of community building. Being a part of the music community not only opens door in terms of concrete gig offers, but it lends me a sense of belonging which is priceless. And this iner sense contributes to my art in ways I could have expected.
Wells Hanley is a freelance musician in Richmond, VA, who performx at clubs and festivals all over the USA and Europe, including the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Spoleto Music Festival in Italy, and performed and/or recorded with jazz greats Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, and David Liebman; rock icons Dave Matthews, Carter Beauford, and Tim Reynolds; folk singer John McCutcheon; and Broadway stars Tom Wopat and Darius DeHaas. Wells has a Bachelor of Music from James Madison University and a Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music. In his spare time, he writes songs which he sings and records. His first solo CD entitled “camels are coming” is in progress. More at myspace/Wells Hanley.