Well Done to Wide Days
At The Great Escape this year, Edinburgh’s Wide Days won an award for Best Networking Event (or something like that – I’m not sure of the precise title), and I want to take a moment to congratulate Olaf and the team and to explain a couple of reasons why I think the award is entirely justified.
First off, though, I should point out that there are plenty of bigger and more well-known events in the UK which do broadly similar things. We have another Scottish alternative in GoNorth, and there’s also The Great Escape itself and Sound City in Liverpool, just to name a couple. Of these Wide Days is by far the smallest, but not one of the others made the list, leaving the Edinburgh event as the sole British representative, which is pretty impressive.
When it comes to networking events that is a huge drawback, at least on the face of it. The point of these things is to meet people and if you happen to run a label which, say, struggles to book decent gigs for its artists like we do, then going to an event like SXSW with dozens of great booking agents at it would seem to be the best way to do it. At Wide Days you’re more likely to get one single booking agent if you get one at all, and if they a/ happen to mostly book for punk bands and b/ have a full roster anyway then that meeting is not going to be all that productive, now is it.
Somehow it just doesn’t work like that, though. Because the event is so small instead of getting dozens of record labels attending you may only get one or two, but because the events are small, friendly and relaxed you get two huge advantages.
Firstly, it means you will almost certainly have the chance to talk to someone if you want to, unlike The Great Escape or SXSW, where even if you can get through the deluge of people wanting to speak to any given person and actually make contact, you may well still end up playing endless Twitter or Text Tag with them in which they’re at one venue and then heading to something else, while you’re at another venue and on your way to something totally different. This can go on for days on end and is incredibly fucking annoying, and as well as feeling completely unprofessional (to me, anyway), it means that even if someone is interested enough in speaking to you it may still never happen. Or it may end up being rushed and uncomfortable while you’re both trying not to miss some other vague appointment, or the convoluted series of messages and missed messages it can take to get you both to the same place at the same time ends up making the whole thing too embarrassing and annoying to be productive anyway.
Secondly, the size of the event also means that anyone you want to talk to will not be deluged with other people wanting something from them, so they themselves will be way more relaxed and more inclined to have a chatter. Assuming you obey the cardinal rules of networking (Don’t foist yourself on someone unless you know that what you want to discuss is genuinely relevant to them, make sure you’re genuinely interested in what they do instead of just wading in with the hard sell, remember that you’re starting a relationship not approaching someone to make a series of thinly-veiled demands, and don’t outstay your welcome if they are looking bored and fidgety) then most folk will give you the time of day.
This lack of inundation is really important in setting the visiting industry folk at their ease, but there is another, and that is the Wide Days team itself. Olaf personally takes all then delegates on a tour of Edinburgh, there’s an opening party where travelling delegates and Edinburgh music people get to relax and have a drink before any real work commences, and everyone goes to the same showcases. It means you may see a higher proportion of music you don’t like than if you were picking and choosing from a large lineup of multiple events, but because you’ve all seen the same stuff, everyone’s in the same boat. Olaf introduces all the bands too, so even if you disagree with him, you know there are specific reasons they are there above and beyond the hipster buzz nonsense or just having an influential booking agent.
All of this makes it feel like a friendly event that people actually care about. You aren’t just there to make up the numbers, you’re at the same events and same panels as all the rest of the delegates, and there is a genuine sense of all being in it together. You feel like you are someone’s guest, that they have taken a lot of time for you, and that makes people a lot happier to give some time back.
And in terms of making actually useful professional contacts, well actually, it works pretty well. Sure, you do suffer a bit from having such a small cross-section of the industry there, so you rarely end up meeting the one precise person you most wanted to meet in the whole world, but because the whole event is more laid back you actually get a lot more out of meeting the people who are there.
For the record, I’ve met a lovely guy who has (for free) advised me on a couple of licensing deals when people wanted to use songs we’d released, I’ve met kindred DIY spirits from a few different places in the UK, saw Paws for the first time (who we ended up doing a release with), and with a bit of luck the people who can now offer us US distribution for upcoming releases. That might not sound like much, but it’s at bare minimum on a par with the relationships I have forged at The Great Escape, GoNorth or SXSW, only done in a much less frantic way.
Most of the good relationships we’ve had in the music industry haven’t come from aggressively pitching to people, they’ve come come from slowly getting to know people and coming to trust and respect what one another does, and for that the unique atmosphere at Wide Days is far more conducive than the permanently-pished, phone-running-out-of-battery, oh-wait-I’ve-got-to-be-somewhere-else-in-ten-minutes conversations, held with people permanently looking over your shoulder to see if there isn’t someone more interesting to talk to. And I’ve had far too many of those at bigger and more famous industry events.
So well done Olaf and team. Richly deserved and I’m genuinely delighted for you.More: wide days