Every scene has them. The bloggers, the radio DJs, the music editors, the local Twitter stars, the club and festival bookers. Gatekeepers are an elusive group of somebodies who once were nobodies.
What they all have in common is they love the culture of music. They’re typically not musicians and have very little actual music (theory) knowledge. They know what they like and know what they hate.
How can you crack the gatekeeper clique and become accepted in your scene’s inner circle?
Here are 7 places to start:
1. Hang Out With The Cool Kids
This isn’t a lesson middle school guidance counselors would ever reveal, but cool begets cool. Most gatekeepers respect other gatekeepers. The radio DJ will meet up with the music editor and grab drinks with the club booker. They are a tightly knit group who see each other at the buzz shows.
So, find out what those buzz shows are and go there. Find a mutual friend of a friend to introduce you to someone in that crowd.
The way you’re going to work your way in is not by handing them a CD or sending a cold email, it’s by being welcomed in by a fellow insider.
2. Follow them on Twitter
You want a newspaper review? A blog review? A show at their venue? A song played on their local show? Step 1 is to get on their radar. You’re not going to break this crowd in a day. Or a month. It takes time. You have to start somewhere. Follow all of the local music journalists, club and festival bookers and radio DJs and learn. What shows are they frequenting? Who are they tweeting? Most likely it will be other gatekeepers. What is their personality?
Anyone is flattered when they are followed on Twitter. After some time, start to interact with them. Favorite a tweet here and there. Retweet them once and awhile. Reply to tweets with something witty or brilliant.
Above all, don’t creep. Following on Twitter is totally acceptable. Friending on Facebook is not. You can search for mutual friends on Facebook, though, and ask for an intro the next time you’re all at a show together.
3. Comment On Their Blog
You want something from them? Give something TO them first. Read the reviews and comment (occasionally) on the articles. Most of the time they won’t get any comments, but if they see your name giving insightful (or just praiseful) comments to their articles, they will remember you when you meet in person.
4. Go To The Spots
After you’ve been following them on Twitter for a bit, you’ll know where they hang out. Where they like to see live music. So go to those spots. And if you’re trying to get a show booked at a venue, frequent it. Go hangout and be a pleasant presence in their club. Tip the bartenders. Buy the band’s merch. Pay the cover price. Meet the door people and bartenders. If you get known as a positive energy in their club, they will be much more receptive when you eventually ask them for something (like a show or a review). Which brings me to my next point:
5. Meet Them In Person
No digital message or phone call can replace the electrifying experience of a physical encounter.
Even just a 30 second interaction with a few jokes (or shots) will get you further than 20 beautifully crafted emails. So get out often. The way you’re going to be a member of the scene is to get out INTO the scene. Physically.
6. Don’t Bad Mouth Anyone
The worst thing you can do is trash talk. They may do it, but don’t stoop to that level. If you get caught up in the negativity, you will eventually talk shit about the wrong person or band which could turn YOU into the punch line of their next meet up. Rise above and be a positive presence in the scene.
7. Ignore Them
Or, you can disregard everything above and make kickass music, draw big crowds and make them come to you. There’s nothing they love more than befriending the hottest band of the moment.
Music journalists love writing about their friends’ bands. So the best thing to do is to try and be their friends. Obviously these gatekeepers’ passion is music. More specifically live music. More specifically indie live music. Even more specifically, local indie live music. If you’re not that hot local indie band of the moment, then befriend them. Go to their shows. Play shows with them. Invite them over for parties.
Don’t be sleazy about any of this. That’s a quick way to ruin your reputation. If you can be a supportive, positive presence in the scene then word will get around. They’ll eventually want to meet YOU.
Photo by Jon Candy from Flickr and used with the Creative Commons License.
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of Ari’s Take. Listen to his new album, Brave Enough, on Spotify. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake