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What Three Startup Founders Learned About Industry Networking On Their First Trip To SXSW Music

Toneden-logoWhen I interviewed two of ToneDen's co-founders back in February, they told me they were planning a trip to SXSW to broaden their music industry contacts. So I decided we should touch base afterwards and find out what they learned on their first music industry networking excursion beyond the Bay Area. We finally got the chance to do that last week and to also chat a bit about their new customizable SoundCloud player.

I previously described ToneDen as an About.me for music. But they actually started out with quite a bit more including a single page site designed for fans, a single page EPK for the industry and an analytics feature so that you can keep up with core social media accounts from a ToneDen dashboard.

Now they're adding their own embeddable SoundCloud player to the mix and even open sourcing the code for those who want to take it and do their own thing.

It's designed to give you an alternative to SoundCloud's look. Though it's a tad more complicated right now than embedding one of SoundCloud's players, the option to copy and paste a couple of lines of code into your blog post is not far off.

Screenshot: ToneDen's Customizable SoundCloud Player

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 1.38.31 PM

When I spoke with ToneDen CEO Tim Thimmaiah, CTO Nick Elsbree and CMO Ali Shakeri about the company it turned out that the player doesn't just represent a chance to spread the word about Toneden though it does have an almost hidden link back to the site.

The ToneDen player is designed to be agnostic in all possible ways making it accessible to whatever use musicians wish to make of it. So it's not only intended to be usable across browsers and operating systems but also eventually to include other music services.

And that openness to all with an emphasis on bringing value to the artist is a key aspect of the brand ToneDen wants to build.

So What Did ToneDen's Co-founders Learn At SXSW?

Most of our conversation centered on their trip to SXSW Music. Though they already have strong contacts in electronic music, particuarly with up and comers, and reach out in various ways to others in the music industry, they felt going to SXSW would be a great way to expand their network and introduce ToneDen.

Given that they put their trip together rather last minute, they discovered a key SXSW lesson: Plan Ahead! There's a huge competition for accomodations at SXSW and, from everything I've heard in the past, there are likely plenty of people already booking 2015.

But Team ToneDen did have specific goals going in. Beyond introducing ToneDen they wanted to get an understanding of what people in the industry really needed beyond the up and coming musicians they were working with and to meet more people in the industry especially those associated with larger indie labels and with pr agencies.

SXSW Music also provided an opportunity to meet people that they'd previously only emailed.

They decided not to get wristbands this year having been advised that, for their goals, wristbands would not add enough to the experience to make them cost effective.

Here's What Happened Once They Got There

At SXSW they found the unofficial route worked well for their purposes. They would RSVP beforehand for parties and also get on guest lists if they had a contact.

To focus their efforts, Team ToneDen did such things as attend parties where they would know the most people so it would create a comfortable environment meeting new people. In addition they held informal meetings in spots like hotel lobbies which they found both more personal yet more busines-like than events.

But they also introduced themselves to strangers, for example, when finding themselves standing next to somebody they didn't know they'd simply ask, "So what do you do?"

They quickly discovered that they needed thick skins because no matter how you approach some people they aren't all going to be interested in chatting with strangers. This seemed to especially be the case with people higher up in the industry who didn't have a very public profile.

The upside at such events may be that the pros get to "no" (or to a facial expressive that says "go away") a lot more quickly which actually maximizes your time for those who are interested as I discovered at the MIA Music Summit.

Team ToneDen didn't let that stop them and they ended up meeting people who worked at big labels, artist managers and booking agents whom they would not have otherwise met.

The team shared what they learned in the process including the fact that different encounters required different approaches. Sometimes it seemed more appropriate to take a casual approach. Other times they ended up basically giving an elevator pitch. Technical conversations also arose on occasion.

So they found it important to be open to the moment and to adjust based on what seemed to fit the individual since they were often encountering folks they didn't know.

I asked about meeting well-known individuals who might be swarmed at events and they said that often meant waiting in line or catching them at random moments.

What they realized is that such situations are actually great opportunities to meet professionals at lower levels of visibility who could become solid contacts. In some cases they wished they'd figured that out a bit sooner.

But with SXSW Music there's always next year.


ToneDen Launches About.me For Music With Extra Features For Musicians

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) posts music crowdfunding news @CrowdfundingM. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.