This rule is deceptively simple, but not always easy to understand or practice: never waste a person's time. That is a lesson many of us, myself included, have to learn more than once. It applies to your career in music, but it also fits into every other aspect of your life.
Time is money. If you are wasting someone's time, you are stealing their money.
You will learn the importance of this rule when people yell at you, hang up on you, ignore your emails, walk away from you mid-conversation, or refuse to give you something you need. Burn this rule into your brain. Practice it. Recognize when you are breaking it. Live by it, and watch your life improve. The old saying is true: "time is money." So, if you are wasting someone's time, you are stealing their money, and no one likes being robbed.
The trouble is that most of us, especially as kids, have family members, friends, or kind strangers who allow us to waste their time because we have a preexisting relationship with them, or because they're polite. As a result, we grow up being conditioned to think that everyone is cool with us yammering on about nothing, believing that our uninformed, irrelevant opinions matter.
Once you go out into the real world, however, you begin to realize the value of time and straightforwardness, and you start to notice that people who don't know you may get pretty pissed off if you take their time without good reason. For example, say you're asking a bar manager for a gig. You hand him a demo CD and talk about what style of music you play, and who your influences are. You're wasting his time.
The manager wants to know about audience. He wants to know how many people you can bring to a show. 9 times out of 10, he doesn't care what kind of music you play, unless he thinks it will impact what type of "crowd" it will bring to his venue. For example, a bar that caters to middle-aged yuppies may not want to feature a teenage punk band. You should have done that research before you approached a specific venue.
If you can't help a bar sell drinks, they don't need to give you a show
The only reason a showrunner cares if you're "good" or not is because he wants the audience to stay firmly planted on their barstools as it were. He wants to sell drinks and food. If you can't help him sell drinks, he doesn't need to give you a show.
Every human in the world at some point needs the help (which could be a product or service) of other humans. This includes you and me and everyone you know. The world is built on this principle: "I will help you, if you can repay me (in most cases) with money, service, an object, or gratitude."
With that in mind, BEFORE you ask someone for a product or service, ask yourself "what's in it for them?" Work that into your pitch. Why do they need you? Some people are fine with one form of payment, say money, but are not okay with others, say favors or gratitude. Figure out what drives them, and approach the discussion with that in mind.
For musicians, this help could mean that you're sending your album to a radio station to see if they'll play a song, or sending it to a blogger to see if they'll write a review. You might be emailing a studio to ask if you can intern, or record a track. You could be inviting someone to your show.
It doesn't matter what you're asking for. If you waste someone's time while asking for this help, you could jeopardize the potential opportunity you had with them, and what's worse, you could damage your relationship with them.
Realize that if you're asking someone for a product or service, you are likely not the only one. Most people are busy, and have to sort through many emails, voicemails, tasks, or customers/clients. Don't get in their way, or become a burden. The problem is, many people THINK they're making valuable use of someone else's time when they really are not.
Here is a very real example of what I mean... For a short period of my life, I owned a photography studio. During that time, I received several requests from kids who wanted to intern or work in the studio. The email at the bottom of this post is from just such a kid, a college student whose name I have removed. Please read it, and see if you can figure out where he went wrong.
Keep in mind, I'm not trying to hurt his feelings. I'm only trying to provide a practical example of how NOT to communicate with someone that you need help from. Come back here once you've finished.
Okay, all finished?
This kid clearly wants something from me: to "help out around the shop." That's fine, and I'm willing to hear his pitch. However, his email could easily have been cut down to 2 sentences, 3 at the most:
"Hi, my name is so and so, and I am looking for a photography internship. I am willing to work hard, and I have some ideas about food/commercial photography that I'd love to share with you." Phone number. Link to portfolio. Signature. DONE.
However, in this kid's message, he talks about his feelings regarding retail in my town. I don't care what he thinks... about anything really. That may sound harsh, but when was the last time any adult went to a kid and said "tell me your thoughts about the world"? More than that, these comments don't relate to his request, so they need to go.
If you're asking for something, never complain. No one likes complainers
He then complains (yes I said COMPLAINS) that other companies aren't answering his emails. That's not my problem. He complains about people labeling him. This has no place in a professional message. If you're asking someone for something, NEVER complain. No one likes complainers. If you're complaining before I've even met you, it's only going to get worse if you're working for me. It makes you sound lazy. It sounds like you think the world owes you something. Learn this lesson quickly, kid: the world owes you nothing.
The kid talks about not having a background in photography. Well, clearly. If you did, you would be asking for a job, not an internship. This is useless information. He goes past that and basically implies that he's only tinkered with photography ("[I] try to shoot a great picture that makes my friends happy"), and hasn't done his homework. He's talking me out of giving him what he wants.
He also failed to proofread (or have someone else proofread) his email. That is never okay. If I'm tripping over your sentences, I am very likely to trash your message halfway through. 1 or 2 mistakes are forgivable, a message riddled with errors is not. Everyone knows someone who is good at proofreading. For important emails, make use of their help. He also needs to break up his paragraphs. No one likes huge blocks of texts in their emails.
Hopefully, this kid will learn from the lack of response he got from other studios, and me. Hopefully he realized that when asking for something, he should stick to the point as much as possible, and never EVER complain. Hopefully he will proofread his future communications.
Even if you are a professional artist, you still have to be professional.
Another issue that musicians and other creative types run into is that they want to make it clear that they are artists when they communicate. They write flowery prose, or make attempts at humor, or try to be clever. Cut that out. Get to the point, stick to the point, get the hell out of there. Even if you're a professional artist, you still have to be professional.
If someone wants to help you, or has a reason to help you, they only need the pitch. They do not need to hear your jokes, or your poetry. Read through your message at least 3 times. If you can ask what you're asking for without a given word or sentence, GET RID OF IT.
Keep your communication simple. "Hi, I'm Jim with the band 'The Forgetful Yellephants' and we're interested in working with your venue. I've attached a one-sheet with our bio and some highlights of our recent performances, and a link to our music is below. We look forward to packing your bar sometime!"
That's all the info a bar needs. If they want more, they'll ask for it. If not, move on to the next venue.
People, especially business people (including bar owners, DJs, bloggers, reviewers), respect "straight-shooters." That is, people who say what they mean, and mean what they say. There is a reason no one likes aggressive salesmen. No one likes being lied to, or being manipulated, or people pretending to care when it's obvious that they do not.
I'm sure we all have gotten those messages on ReverbNation that say something like "love your sound, check out my band!" Don't be that guy. Be genuine, be clear, be considerate, and be quick about it. Your life and your music career will improve if you can work that way.
I highly recommend the book "How to Win Friends & Influence People." It's easy reading, and it's information you won't learn in school that will benefit you far beyond your music career. I wish I had come across it earlier in my life... I just read it last year, and it reinforced many of the lessons I'd already learned through failure.
Note: I've kept this message entirely intact because spelling and formatting is part of the problem.
"My name is [redacted], I live around [your town] as of now I am in college at [a school] up in Philadelphia. I just came home for spring break last week and noticed you opened up your shop in town. I am very excited and happy to see a shop like this, open in [your town]. Usually its just hair salons and coffee houses that later go out of business around here; anyway I tried to stop by just the other day, but you guys were closed. So I am hoping, maybe you will receive this email instead. I was wondering if you guys were looking for an assistance/ any help around your shop. Anything, really. It dose not have to be an internship, I just want to learn from someone who is actually living in the field. Over the past few months I have been emailing and calling otherphoto companies (around [your county] and even in center city philly) asking for the same help. Although, they have mostly denied or ignored me. I don't understand why, to succeeded in any field you have to start from the bottom, and asking is the only way.
Although I do not want to give the impression of, this is just some silly teenage who thinks he's a photographer. I dislike it when people say that, it bugs me so much. I don't brag my work, I just learn from others and try to shoot a great picture that makes my friends happy. I have done two years of a food photography course, plus some classes in graphics at my votech school in [your town], I love this hobby so much and would enjoy to show others the excitement in it. That really, is my only background inphotography. I mean I have done some shoots over the years of my friends and events around [your county], I can attach a example photo in the message. I also noticed no one does food photography around here and if they do, it's just a little. Maybe that could bring some new ideas in your shop?
You can reach me with this email. I would love to make a portfolio for you guys. I will be free on weekends and soon for summer break. Any thing would do, really! Thanks Again."