How to Build Your Network by Creating Value and Good Karma

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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A couple years ago (before AngelList acquired Product Hunt), AngelList founder and CEO Naval Ravikant did an AMA on Product Hunt during which a founder (Brent Summers) asked a fairly astute question: “If you were just starting out again, what are 1-2 steps you’d take to surround yourself with successful people?”

Naval’s answer?

Share freely.

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In so many words, Naval had underscored what I believed in work as well as in life: that introductions and great networking are a function of good vibes and positive karma. “Paying it forward” as Naval articulated.

Confidence and Good Karma Beget a Good Reputation

Everything good that’s happened in my professional career has come my way as a result of being open and sharing what I knew with others. Most every paid writing job I’ve had came my way because I published freely and shared ideas with people who were then in a position to throw some work my way. When I got into tech, opening myself up helped cultivate a paradigm in which new and exciting opportunities came my way, sometimes serendipitously. 

This is arguably one of the easiest things to learn and implement in your strategy as you build out your minimum viable network. When you know some something—when something is your wheelhouse and you can provide great feedback or ideas on something or to someone—do it, and don’t get caught up in the “what/when will you pay me?” question in the beginning. The good opportunities will follow, and compensation—monetary and otherwise—will materialize when the relationships have had time to germinate.

I’m not advocating for always doing work for free or selling yourself short. But this series isn’t about the hard realities of making money; it’s about how to put yourself in a position to cultivate long-term relationships that yield a broad, engaged network over time.

To Naval’s point, if you figure out something you’re really good at—something you know will benefit other people—then prove you’re the person they need to come to for that. How do you prove it? By showing people you’re confident and comfortable enough in your abilities that you’re happy to simply pay it forward.  Project this confidence, and you will become infinitely more attractive as a prospective network connection. You create your minimum viable network one relationship at a time, by building your reputation as always being around, and always being the right person for “that thing.”

Transactional Relationships Are Short-Term Relationships

This is a solid example of what Chris Sacca calls creating value for others before asking for it for yourself. By going out and doing things for other people—in this case, sharing what you know—without being transactional, you begin to make yourself indispensable, and therefore attractive as a candidate for someone’s network.

Transactional relationships make for short relationships—they are expendable as soon as they outgrow their utility. Symbiotic relationships, however, continue to grow and evolve as the people do, and this is born out of an ease of interactions—free exchange of ideas perhaps—between the individuals.

Plant the Seeds of Value

The best example I can give at the moment is this series: I know that I’m good with people. I like people; I like talking to them and building bridges between them.

So this is an exercise in how to help others do it. You want to start to gain influential followers on Twitter? Share things you know and freely reference other people in your blog posts and podcasts—and always credit them, because that’s a wonderful back-street way of building credit for yourself. Highlighting others’ value highlights your own value.

When that value seed is planted, it continues to grow—one connection, one lukewarm intro at a time—until you look back and realize you now have a minimum viable network that can allow you access to almost anything.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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Take Breaks—Burnout Kills Networking

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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As I’ve been writing this series, I’ve been reflecting on some of the most difficult things about networking, and one thing that always pops into my head is the reality that taking breaks is so important. We don’t really think about networking as something you should take a break from; after all, why would you ever stop networking? Ever stop hustling? How can you possibly build your minimum viable network if you’re not always grinding away?

The answer is because burnout is so incredibly detrimental, and burnout can occur so easily when you’re putting so much energy into meeting new people. Relationships take effort to properly maintain, and it’s easy to lose sight of the focus they take to build. Taking time to give your mind a rest and reenergize will do wonders beyond what you think. By giving your mind a rest and time to recharge itself, you end up sharpening it, and let new ideas sink in which you might then use for your networking thereafter.

It’s always worth noting that the reverse is similarly true: trying to talk to people when your head isn’t in it will tell the other party that you either 1) don’t take proper care of yourself, or 2) that the discussion and/or face-time really isn’t all that important to you. Even if neither of these things is true, the result is the same: you make exactly the impression you don’t want to make. Instead of coming across as gregarious and magnetic, you will not be persuasive, engaging, or opportunistic, negating the entire point of the networking.

Understand that taking a day off to not be on social media or be a face in the community is good. People will chalk up your absence to the normal things (work, family, health, etc.), and when you come back, you’ll project a more energized and engaging persona. It’s easy to get caught up in the fast-paced milieu of networking, but don’t drive so hard that you burn yourself out.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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How to Piggyback Without Stealing Credit

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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In a previous post, I discussed how lurking can be a beneficial strategy to building a network because it enables you to absorb aspects of a topic of conversation before needing to jump in. Part of strategically lurking, though, is not only learning from others’ ideas, but using them to take the next step in the discussion.

There’s a precise way to do this, however. You don’t want to come across as someone who steals ideas or thunder from others; that will not endear you to the very people you want to be in your network. Constructing a minimum viable network means understanding how to use someone else’s ideas as a jumping-off point for your own without coming across as conniving or self-centered.

Understanding the Balance

Rule number one in this whole scenario is giving credit where credit is due. If you’re using someone else’s idea as a jumping-off point, then make that clear to everyone else. No one will think poorly of you for giving credit where it’s due, but you will absolutely self-sabotage if you look like someone who needs to control a whole conversation in order to get your point across. Worse, you don’t want to steal someone else’s insightful point and misrepresent it as your own.

In my experience, the answer is balance. Take all the time you want to lurk in a conversation, absorb new material and ideas, craft a point, and deploy it when the time is right. I’ve been in a conversation threads many times where I’ve seized on the specific point made by a VC or other founder, but taken time to craft a response. The feedback is almost always positive because a thoughtful response beats a quick response any day. The opposite side of the balance therein is making sure that credit for your thought or response goes to the right person; if someone’s initial message or point gave you a new idea or perspective, acknowledge that and run with it.

By taking time to examine conversations closely and add nuance, you do two things simultaneously:

  1. You validate the other person by virtue to referencing their point; you essentially show others that that person’s point is worth considering, and
  2. You show others in the conversation that you can be patient, sit and absorb information, learn new concepts, synthesize context, and use all of that to develop your own original points to share

Validate Someone Else, Validate Yourself

Show people that you can be patient and thoughtful. In the end, this will do the most for you because it’s a human calculation. When you validate someone’s point, you validate their experience and knowledge, and that has an endearing effect on people. People like to associate with others who are patient, who give credit where it’s due, and who can build on previous concepts to create new ones.

The goal is not to come across as the number one expert in that industry; the goal is to show people that you can sit back, be patient, learn from others, and use that to contribute meaningfully to a group dynamic. Done correctly, this tactic can open you up to numerous new conversations and fields, and has the potential to tell the successful people in those fields that you’re someone they should keep an eye on.

Anyone can go read a book and spit back information that someone else has already written. But it takes real skill to be able to synthesize knowledge from others and use it to take the next step while simultaneously crediting the appropriate sources. That is that skill that will tell an investor or other founder that you’re someone whom they should get to know and take seriously. This is how you will build your minimum viable network in all areas, even ones that are new to you.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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The Lucrative Strategy of Lurking

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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There are many times I find myself lurking in conversations with topics I know very little about, but which I’m very interested in learning about. It can feel daunting to try and contribute something meaningful to a conversation when 1) you’re unfamiliar with the topics, and 2) it’s around other potential experts. The preferred strategy of many people is to avoid these situations altogether; after all, the last thing you want to do is look like a dummy in front of someone whom you respect and/or want to make a good impression on.

But this does a disservice to yourself in the long run. Intimidation is a normal and valid feeling, especially when you’re new to a particular community. But avoiding the situation entirely doesn’t solve either your goals of learning more about the respective topic or making a good impression on the people you want to notice you.

A Better Strategy

A much more lucrative strategy is lurking, something which I do continuously on community sites like Twitter and Product Hunt. For me, topics like music-tech and networking are my wheelhouse; I feel very comfortable discussing them and putting my two cents into discussions, even when the other participants are people that I might somewhat

For me, topics like music-tech and networking are my wheelhouse; I feel very comfortable discussing them and putting my two cents into discussions, even when the other participants are people that I might find intimidating by virtue of their success alone. When topics shift to other industries, though, like med-tech or AI, I feel less confident in my ability to contribute meaningful comments simply because I don’t know as much about those particular areas.

AI is a great example. As much as it intrigues me, I’m still trying to understand enough to contribute major points to a discuss. So I lurk; I sit back and read viewpoints from others who know more than I do about these things and then try to surmise my own original thoughts based on them. Then, when the time is right and the conversation is right, I try to add a new viewpoint.

The Benefits of the “Lurk and Listen” Play

This strategy has two major effects early on:

  1. It relieves you of having to come up with a bombastic and earth-shatteringly brilliant point under the gun, and
  2. It allows you to absorb information and knowledge from others in an unassuming way, learning from their years of experience and insights 

A third, possibly hidden, result of both points is that when you do feel confident enough to contribute a point of view to the conversation, you have time to carefully compose exactly what you want to say. Flinging tweets off left and right is for subjects which you’re very confident speaking about, not for new ones you’re trying to understand. Shooting from the hip on something you don’t fully understand can backfire dramatically.

Lurking is a great strategy precisely because it requires so little effort, except for focusing on learning from others. It teaches you how to receive information in an age when we’re told we need to be continuously providing it. Additionally, absorbing information at your own pace has the added effect of making you feel more confident about a topic.

It’s not a quick or flash strategy, but it works. Learn to lurk and listen, then move when the time is right.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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Win Where You Win

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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When building out your minimum viable network, it’s easy to feel as if you have to be great at everything—or at least be good at the “right” things. This is something I especially struggled with when getting into tech; I felt that because I didn’t study engineering at Stanford—because I excelled in other areas—that I somehow had to shift my strengths to fit the “right” type of strengths for the tech startup scene.

Understanding Where You Come From

But I was wrong, and it took a lot of self-exploration to see that.

In the end, I know at least three areas where I excel that help me stand out from the crowd:

  • I’m a good writer/editor
  • I’m good with people
  • I know that the music industry is my wheelhouse

It’s important to know where you win, and be comfortable with that. There are tons of people who will always know more about SaaS than I will, who will always be more suited to design than I will, and who will always find bitcoin more interesting than I do. There will for sure always be tons of people who will win at engineering in ways that I won’t.

And over time I’ve accepted two things:

  1. I don’t need to be good at those other things to be valid and valuable
  2. By winning where I win, I can become the “expert” in those respective areas

Becoming an Expert in Your Field

Over the last few years, I’ve cultivated an image as being a good writer/editor, being a good people person, and knowing a lot about the music industry. And that’s mainly where I stick.

I’m always down to jump into a Twitter conversation music streaming because I have a decade of experience in music. I’m comfortable enough in my own viewpoints and experience to hear other’s points without feeling an attack on my own validation. This is a mix of confidence in my own experience and comfort in my industry.

The result is that I write and tweet extensively on music, and that people reach out to me when they want to understand something that’s happened in the music world. I love discussing royalties, licensing, artist dynamics, and content distribution.

Win where you win. If you know a ton about video and Snapchat, then make that your flagship quality. Run with it. Write about it, tweet about it, and take a stance on it. Even if you expand your quiver of arrows later on, become “the video guy” or “the marketing woman” that everyone has to know in that respective field. Developing that persona will tell others that you know much more than the average joe.

Keep in mind that it’s very hard to become an expert on something without taking a stance on something in your field. Being ambivalent will only take you so far, and might even tells others that you don’t know enough about it to make a definitive decision. This is not a perception that you want to promote. Be willing to put your money where your mouth is; people rarely remember when you write an article with a flawed thesis, but it’s very memorable when you write a piece with a new point of view that turns out to be right on the mark.

Which brings up the further point: be generous with your knowledge (to a point). If people in your network start coming to your for your expertise on a subject, give it to them. Prove to them that you’re priceless as an asset in understanding that industry. When you cultivate this persona, guard it with your life. You don’t always have to be right, but never let anything shake your confidence in your knowledge of your industry. Confidence grows over time, but the best way to help cultivate it within yourself is to put yourself in positions where your opinion and/or viewpoint are integral parts of the overall conversation.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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Forget Building a Network—Build Relationships Instead

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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For many people, the prospect of building a network is daunting. It requires putting yourself out there, and for any number of people, this constitutes being confident in ways that may not come naturally. But because so much of life seems to depend on who you know and who you can get access to, networking seems to be, at the very least for some people, a necessary pain.

But in so many ways it need not feel this daunting and arduous.

Why Networking Sucks

Make no mistake, meeting people can be difficult if schmoozing doesn’t come naturally. But the mistake to avoid making is in the perspective of how you go about “building your network” as opposed to how you should actually perceive going about it.  

The fact of the matter is that “networking” as something we do—something we go to events for, listen to motivational talks on, read how-to books on—is presented in an overblown way. In so many words, it’s overrated and superficial.

AngelList founder and CEO Naval Ravikant tweeted it so concisely just a few days ago:

Anyone who’s ever been to a networking event has more than likely experienced a similar reality: many of the other people there are there to drop titles, salaries, company names, and other supposedly impressive credentials. These, in turn, are meant to persuade other “targets” at the event that Person A is too important not to notice and/or connect with. It’s why so many of these events are dry, useless, and why so many successful founders, VC’s, and business operators simply forgo them.

So If Building a “Network” Doesn’t Work, What Does?

So what does work?

In short: relationships.

Where the act of networking fails, relationships succeed over and over again. Networking events feel transactional; relationships feel genuine.

Where networking comes across as superficial and self-serving, relationships immediately feel more symbiotic and mutually beneficial. And where the former requires a somewhat unnatural, car-salesman-esque confidence, the latter relies simply on one’s innate personality.

It’s a fair point to note that relationships require much more effort and more time than “networking” does; after all, networking is done by handing someone your business card, and relationships can take months, if not years to cultivate. Most people don’t want to spend the time or effort to do that kind of work.

And they only do themselves a disservice for their laziness.

Time Is on Your Side

The first basic thing to understand is that time is on your side when building relationships. Utilize it. Be willing to do the work that it takes, usually over a longer period of time than any “networking” event usually runs. Put in the hours—don’t be lazy.

Once you shift your mindset from transactional networking to focusing on long-term relationships, a lot of the intimidating—and therefore daunting—parts begin to take care of themselves. The prospect of having to prove to someone else that you’re worth their time works quietly in the background as the relationship develops. Instead of heading to a networking event and trying to get someone to meet up for a follow-up coffee (something VC’s especially seem to detest), understand that there’s no reason anyone should make time for you after 20 minutes of talking (unless you’re a really good talker).

Relationships happen naturally; they can’t be calculated to work in a specific time frame and they can’t be forced. Natural development—as slow and tedious as it might seem in some moments—actually helps to strengthen the potential relationships precisely because it doesn’t feel cheap and transactional.

I have never had good outcomes when I’ve tried to force relationships in the past. The best thing to do is make patience one of your virtues—things will happen in the right time frame. And I say this as someone who isn’t a patient person by default—I’ve worked very hard to become a more patient man. All of this, though, will yield a much better result in the long run than any networking event ever could.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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The Minimum Viable Network: Introduction

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A few months ago, I was discussing with my friend Jason Rowley how it seemed to me that so many people on Twitter talked about how to build and ship a minimum viable product, yet didn’t seem to be utilizing similar strategies to build their networks. A lot of thought appeared to be given to the prospect and process of building a product prototype, but little seemed aimed at cultivating the seeds that real networks take to germinate into robust synchronicities.

For those unfamiliar with it, the “minimum viable product” (or MVP) concept is a strategy for efficiently building, releasing, gaining feedback on, and improving a product and/or service with as few financial and personnel resources as possible. It’s become a mantra in the tech world, and there are whole books and courses dedicated to understanding how best to achieve this.

(Another friend, Andy Sparks, is currently working on a project compiling some of these great resources for founders.)  

During the course of our conversation, though, it struck me just how much people’s strategy seems to differ when it comes to building and maintaining one’s network. It occurred to me after some reflection that this is because building a network—cultivating relationships—is everything that the MVP strategy is not. Whereas the MVP strategy is barebones (bootstrapped), fast, clean, efficient, direct, and requires comparatively little personal nuance, building real relationships can be robust, messy, time-consuming, arduous, abstract, and doesn’t just require a human touch, but a touch all your own.

And as I thought more about it, I began to conceive of a new idea—a new strategy: the Minimum Viable Network.

How could one build a network without having the same benefits that others might have? What if you don’t have the “required” skills? What if you’re in a different city than many of the other people you want to connect with? What if you’ve studied something different in college? Or not gone to college at all? What if your passion and drive is in an industry that others already consider over? What if your overall strengths are different and sometimes hard to articulate?

A lot of these questions came from a place of personal experience. I’m in the startup tech industry, and yet:

  • I live in Atlanta, not San Francisco, LA, or New York
  • I studied history and art history at Brandeis, not engineering at Stanford
  • I’m a non-tech founder; I don’t code
  • My passion is music; my first startup was a music-tech startup
  • I still see huge signs that music—an industry many argue is already over—is still very much up for grabs
  • I don’t excel at code or designing, but I’m a good writer and I’m good with people

I began to think about all the strategies of the MVP process and how to augment them for the MVN process. Bullet-points and adages need to become more fluid—less rigid—and the length of time needs to extend greatly, from trying to build and ship within a couple of weeks to focusing on cultivating a persona and relationship over the course of a few years.

People, after all, are not products, and won’t act as such. They are irrational, emotional, passionate, driven, and abstract—everything which the MVP doesn’t account for. In the end, it’s all about the human calculation factor.

So this will be a continuing series on how to do just that: understand people and relationships, and how to build your own Minimum Viable Network.

Among other things, I’ll discuss:

  • How to approach people and broach new relationships
  • How to be valuable without being aggressive
  • The difference between reading someone and manipulating them (strive to understand the first, never do the second)
  • How relationships evolve over time
  • How to work with flighty or mercurial individuals
  • How to weigh potential relationships
  • How to match-make
  • How to create a personal brand as “someone to know”  

Life is relationships.

Let’s begin.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

Acknowledging Friends and Their Support

It seems appropriate that my first post of the new year is in reference to something I started doing before the new year began. Beginning in the last couple days of December 2016, I started to think about what type of “resolution” I wanted to make.

Now I’m not much for resolutions because I think they imply a sort of dedication that “times out” after a certain amount of time. We all make them, and we all break (a lot of) them.

But I went through all the usual ones: to write more, to exercise more and eat healthier, to try to be more positive about things in life, etc. All of these are good things to do, but it occurred to me that they all are somewhat connected by the same thread: they all are mostly in reference to myself.

And thus, I began to think about two things:

  1. How I wanted to make a “resolution” that didn’t really feel like a typical New Year’s resolution
  2. I wanted to start doing something where I wasn’t the end subject

I subsequently started sending messages. A lot of messages.

Emails, Facebook messages, Twitter DM’s, and texts to people, thanking them for what I get out of my relationships. Not the networking connections or the business opportunities (there is a different time for that type of thanks), but simply the support that comes from friends and allies. Some out there may have already received one of these messages, and others are on the way.

It’s important to me to continue to do this indefinitely. Many times friends are taken for granted, even by the most thoughtful people in the most unintentional ways. It is a necessary effort to continue to acknowledge those relationships and the people who put in time and hard work to make them possible.

Messages of acknowledgment and thanks should not be a networking strategy or a marketing ploy. They may have business benefits, but that should not be the goal.

In the coming year, I will endeavor to make acknowledgment of the positive relationships in my life (professional and personal) of paramount importance.

Life is relationships.

Karma, Passion and Identity: A Response to Chris Sacca’s Bleeding Aqua

Chris Sacca‘s post “I Bleed Aqua.” yesterday is the must-read (or rather, reread) for me today. It’s poignant and candid, enabling it to speak on a deeper level than perhaps would be possible, had it been more reserved. It touches on business terms, but it’s really not about business at all. It’s about relationships and identity.

Sacca illustrates his relationship with the service in an intriguing way, preferring to start the post with a declaration of his passion for it, rather than examining it as a wise business investment. Though he touches on this candidly in the following paragraphs, they fade somewhat when compared to the arguably deeply personal thoughts he shares.

For him, it seems to be so much about the relationships and personal experiences it’s allowed him to have—how it’s allowed him to share milestones in his life with friends (and complete strangers), and to glean from that a certain conversation with the world. As he bluntly notes, “Twitter went from just being an investment to a huge part of my identity.”

And like with so many things, I make the music analogy in my head. If Twitter was the indie band trying to gain any sort of traction in its early days, then Sacca was the truly passionate fan who brought people to their shows and proudly wore their T-shirts. He was (and is) the fan who identified something so magnetic that by his own words, they became a part of him—a part of his identity.

For anyone who missed Sacca’s Periscope talk with Peter Pham on Wednesday, a huge topic that they covered (well, huge in my opinion) was the concept of good karma and relationship building. When discussing the process by which he builds and cultivates his relationships (personal as well as professional), Pham stated that one should do things for others without asking for anything upfront: “create value before asking for value.” Pham and Sacca seemed to agree that the dynamic of good karma was something they both subscribed to. Pham went on to discuss how it’s through this dynamic of good faith and positive relationships that he’s built his (former and current) companies.

Sacca’s subsequent post on how he thinks about his relationship with Twitter is telling of this sort of relationship dynamic. In many ways, it illustrates the notion that I discussed in my post on being excellent; letting your passion inform your professional decisions as much as good business strategy. As I examined with Product Hunt, letting concepts of community and positive relationships inform one’s business tactics is a winning strategy. Even as he discusses the concept of being critical of some of Twitter’s moves towards the end of the post, he does so in a way that reaffirms his love of the service, and excitement at what it is and can be.

Perhaps the strongest sentence is also the simplest. Just three words: “I bleed aqua.” That’s how Sacca caps his post—a blunt, positive statement. And that’s exactly how the post as a whole comes off: blunt, positive, reaffirmed, excited.

Be Excellent: Even After a 4-Year Hiatus, People Remember You

"Be excellent to each other"

“Be excellent to each other”

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from a guy who I didn’t know. At least, I didn’t think I knew him. I didn’t recognize his name, and couldn’t remember where I would have met him. And then it hit me—I did know him, from years ago!

Perhaps one of the most magical things about Facebook is how it’s enabled people to reconnect with people they haven’t seen in long bouts of time. Yet, inasmuch as reconnecting with old classmates or coworkers is nice and can dredge up all sorts of nostalgic feelings, reconnecting with people you’d even forgotten about is certainly a different kind of trip.

Screenshot of Facebook message from old band contact

Screenshot of Facebook message from old band contact

The guy who messaged me yesterday was someone I’d connected with years ago, and we haven’t spoken since early 2011. At the time, he was a guitarist in a band in the U.K., and I was a hungry new music journalist who’d stumbled across their band page. I’d fallen in love with their garage rock sneer, and written up a short piece on them. We’d exchanged a few messages and gotten to know each other a bit.

And then they went silent (on a hiatus and then breakup, I’m now aware). I moved on and went to college, and frankly forgot about them. Not out of malice, but simply because people get busy with life.

Yet to get this message yesterday from him—telling me he’d taken a break from music for a few years but was now back with a new project, had some demos, would love my opinion on them (was I even in the music industry anymore?)—was as thrilling as our first correspondence. It reminded me of why I love the independent music industry so much. It reminded me of the dynamics that are so magical—that you can go years without speaking to someone, move on with your life, and resume your conversation like no time had passed at all.

"Party on, dudes!"

“Party on, dudes!”

I’m not perfect by any means, but I do my best to take to heart Bill and Ted’s poignant mantra: “Be excellent to each other.” You never know what will come of your relationships with people.

I’ve since listened to his demos and they’re awesome. I’ll be messaging him tonight to see how I can become involved in his new project. This is where the real thrill is in the music industry. At the end of the day, like so many other arenas, it all comes back to the people you meet and the relationships you develop. Everything else is secondary.