Party & Bullshit: The Essential Guide to Music Industry Events

Skip the line, raid the bar, here’s how to “turn up” with the best of ‘em

A few years ago, I was at a music industry party when an aspiring rapper, presuming I was a nobody, asked me to “sell myself” to him.

Confused as to why any human, specifically a rapper with no buzz, no money, and no record deal would resort to such tomfoolery, I chalked it up to one thing: this guy went to too many music industry parties.

Ah yes, parties. The supposed lifeblood of the music industry. Everywhere you turn there’s an “industry” party to go to. But what’s an industry party anyway? Why should or shouldn’t you go to them? How should you act there? And what should you take from your experience?

An industry party is an event that will usually draw a large number of people who work—or in this day and age, used to work—as professionals in the music business. I want to hone in on that word professional, because it’s a very loose term when applied to music, and the amount of real professionals who attend an event will most likely correlate with the value gleaned from attending the event in the first place.

In Part 1 of The Essential Guide to Music Industry Events, I will cover the different types of events that answer this very important question: “What Is A Music Industry Party Anyway?”

Listening Session

Tinie Tempah, Calvin Harris and Rita Ora imbibe at Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories listening session, May 13, 2013 in London

A listening session is an event where an artist’s record label marketing department gets a whole bunch of influencers—journalists, DJs, bloggers, social media personalities—in one room, usually a recording studio or an intimate lounge, and plays the artist’s new album.

The purpose of this event is to draw attention to the piece of art that the act just spent the past year of his/her life working into the wee hours of the morning to create. But, more often than not, industry folks use it as an excuse to chit-chat while getting free food and liquor, before heading on to another event.

Typically, an email blast goes out a few days ahead of the event, and by the time it’s actually set to happen, people have spread the flyer on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Consequently, a bazillion people who exist largely on the outer fringes of the recording business, swoop down on the location like vultures, in some misguided attempt to get on.

If you’re not an influencer or don’t work professionally in music, you should do your best to stay away from this type of event. You’re not wanted, needed or accepted here. The music may be playing, but this is nominally an event for friends and mild acquaintances to get to know another better.

Album Release Party

Rick Ross and entourage at the Hood Billionaire album release party, December 2014

When the music industry was more flush with cash and labels released albums more frequently, album release parties were definitely a thing. They still do exist, but they are a lot more rare than they used to be.

There are two types of album release parties. There is a party that goes on in the early part of the evening, some time around 7 PM, and then there’s a party that starts around 10 PM, at a nightclub. If you’re in the South, maybe it’s at a strip club.

Before you go to either event, you need to ask yourself who you are and who you want to be around. At the earlier party, you will most likely be surrounded by more professional people. You will drink and eat for free, and the artist in question will be receptive, jovial and appear genuinely appreciative of your support, no matter who you are.

At the later party, you will encounter a long line outside the club and inside there will be many paid party girls there to make the artist seem much more famous than he/she probably is. You will pay for drinks and may even have to purchase a bottle or two just to step foot inside the establishment.

Once you’re inside, your eyes will fixate on the VIP section, where the artist will be surrounded by the paid party girls, the groupies who aren’t being paid and most of all, the artist’s entourage.

If you’re lucky enough to get a minute to chat with the artist, he/she will likely be so drunk and fixated on the sexcapades lying in wait, that whatever you say will almost certainly go in one ear and out the other.

Networking Events

What Goes Around Comes Around: NYFW Cocktail Party, September 2014

“Networking” refers to parties or conferences—sometimes packaged along with other events, like talent shows—that are put together for the sole purpose of having people meet one another. They are sometimes a gift, but more often than not a curse. And here’s why.

People who maintain positions of influence are generally too busy to attend events like these, unless they’re being compensated. And when they’re being compensated, their presence is likely going to be advertised, and such, they have a bullseye on them as soon as they walk in the door. Everyone wants to meet these folks. And if everyone’s meeting them—remember, they’re getting paid to smile and tell you they’ll check out your music—it’s very hard to stand out.

At these events, you’ll also find a collection of meandering middlemen, aspiring CEOs and self-employed industry journeymen. I’m not saying these people don’t have value and that connecting with them is useless, but there is a strong chance that whatever you might attain from them, you could attain from a simple Google search. As such, you may never follow up after meeting them. It’s okay, they’ll live and so will you.

Someone of importance occasionally strolls through unpaid, and maybe meeting that person for five minutes is all you need. Then again, there are dozens of other people bending those people’s ears, thinking the same exact thing. That’s one of the reasons why so few people who really work in the industry attend these things. Unless they’re being paid, of course.

Charity Event

Kanye West offers applause at Keep A Child Alive’s 11th Annual Black Ball

People who attend charity events are typically fortuitous enough to be charitable in the first place. That means they’re extremely rich and probably successful at whatever it is they do.

Sometimes that’s not the case—party planners tend to invite scenesters, people who look pretty but ultimately do nothing, to fill up the room—but regardless, charity events draw a far different, more well-heeled and sophisticated crowd. People in attendance pretend that they are there for a good cause, they’re likely in the company of peers and they just want to let loose and have a little fun, without getting all sloppy.

Because charity events are far more formal and subdued, it is rather easy to bend someone’s ear, hold their attention, and have a real conversation. But, you definitely need to dress for success. In fact, looking the part is about 90% of getting the most out of a charity function.

Product Launch

Wyclef Jean performs at the Play.It Podcast Network CES launch party, January 2015 in Las Vegas

Product launches can be a mixed bag. Sometimes red carpet will get rolled out, sometimes it won’t. It really just depends on the product, the brand and which artists are involved.

But product launches, undoubtedly, are great for meeting people. You just have to make sure you arrive before everyone is too drunk. Because so much hinges on launch events—brands need to wring every bit of press and social media awareness out of this thing—no cost is spared to make sure partygoers have a good time. There’s usually food, an open bar and lots of beautiful people.

As such, if you arrive late, you may wind up having a handful of would-be meaningful conversations with a bunch of people who are far too drunk to care about anything you are saying.

The door policies at product launches are legendarily strict. A brand launching a new line of headphones will treat getting in that party like it’s Studio 54. So do not be surprised if you make your way to the front of a line only to be greeted by a no-nonsense publicist grilling you.

“Who are you with?” she’ll ask.

You’ll mumble something under your breath, watch as she glances up and down a 5-page guest list, and if you’re lucky enough to be on it, thank the music industry party gods, you’re in.

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