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Pitch Craft with Valerie Denn Episode 18

Pitch Craft with Valerie Denn

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[00:00:00] Rosalyn: Hello, and welcome to a special pre conference drop of ReFolkus, where we will be releasing four episodes prior to the Folk Music Ontario Conference, which takes place October 12th-15th in London, Ontario.

One of our illustrious delegates that will be appearing at the conference is our guest today, Valerie Denn. Val is here to give our listeners the short and sweet version of her workshop ‘Pitch Craft’ which she has delivered prior to conferences all over the world. In this episode, we'll be talking about pitch meetings, otherwise known as B2B meetings, otherwise known as speed meetings, lightning talks, whatever you want to call them.

They are short one-on-one meetings that take place between two professionals where you have a chance to talk business, ask advice, pitch your latest project, and get to know the industry experts sitting across the table or screen from you. Valerie is very active in the World Music Roots Americana community as an agent and a manager.

She's passionate about her artists and especially adept at helping her clients with export development and building global careers. Val served for four years on the board of directors of Folk Alliance International, where she also served a term as president. President. Val teaches and partners with other industry events to lead workshops and panels for the enrichment of the creative artistic process.

She has been a mentor at South by Southwest, Mondial Montreal, Womex, Folk Music Ontario, ECMAs and partnered on numerous panels at industry events. She's currently on the board as Interim President of Folk Music Canada and a board member of the Live Music Society, which gives grants to small venues in the US. Val is the Canadian Ambassador for the House of Songs based in Austin, Texas. This organization matches songwriters globally for co-writing experiences and has residencies in Austin, Bentonville, Arizona, New York City, and is opening new houses in Nordic countries. In her spare time, she's an organic farmer and potter with her husband of 41 years, and they live in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Here's my conversation with Val.

Hi Val, thanks so much for coming on the show, how are you doing?

[00:02:35] Val: My pleasure. Great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

[00:02:38] Rosalyn: So we're talking about pitch meetings, B2Bs, one-on-one’s, lightning talks, call them what you will, looking at how folks can best represent themselves, when they're in a business focused meeting. You have done a lot of coaching for folks pre conference. You've done workshops before FMO, Mundial Montreal, WOMEX, Folk Alliance, all sorts of, uh, conferences to try and coach folks, before they enter into these types of meetings.

We're so lucky to have you here today to guide us through, some of the do's and don'ts, uh, mostly do's of how to best represent yourself in a one on one meeting.

Thank you so much, Val.

[00:03:19] Val: My pleasure. Good to be here.

[00:03:21] Rosalyn: So what would be your first tip out of the gates on how to approach a one on one meeting?

[00:03:26] Val: my very first tip is before you even take your meeting is to know who you're talking to. many times I've had an artist sit down in front of me and actually ask me what I do. And, I've taken the time, usually when you're on these one on one meetings, the persons you're sitting with, if they're doing their job, they know who they're meeting with, and we will Google the artist to know, sort of, are they are, and just sort of know things about them.

And we expect the sort of the same thing back. So if you sit down in front of an agent and you don't know if they're an agent or a festival, know who you're taking your meeting with. Just know who you're going to be pitching to because you normally have, you know, five to ten minutes. don't use that time to figure out who you're speaking with.

I mean, it's easy. You go on Google and find something about the person you're having a meeting with. And even a little piece of advice is a lot of times you can Google a person and see that they're interested in something like, Oh, Val lives in Nova Scotia and she's also a potter. And you'll find things out, and it's always nice if you find out something about someone like that, to sort of make note of it in your notes and have it as a sort of sometimes a talking point, or they just know that you've been seen and heard.

And it works both ways. and then I guess, The other part is that to remember that your pitch is just as much a craft as your craft as being an artist. It's really important, throughout your career, even if you have a manager eventually to make these pitches or an agent, part of your craft is learning how to create a moment with a person and make a connection.

And as human beings, we're always looking for connection. And so, I think to not let that 7, 10 minute moment go by without trying to, craft your pitch enough to know who you are as a product, as an artist, and come up with some sort of talking points. Same thing if you're sitting down with a festival, get an idea of the genre of the festival, when it happens, and just show that you know who you're talking to.

And then I guess as far as just before you sit down, getting your materials in a concise one sheet, or just even a business card with a link for them to download your EPK and remember that in a live music link is important. So I think preparing materials, you can bring CDs, but many times if you're working with, um, export development and bringing in delegates, many of them do not want to travel back with CDs anymore. I mean it's changed so much you might not even have a way of playing them. So it's always okay to have them on you, but don't expect them to take it. You can offer to send it, or send them a link….but don't just sit down and push your materials forward with them as well. It's our nature to have someone push something to us, and then we begin to read it, and then you've lost the contact and the moment to have with this person to show them who you are and what you bring to the table.

So, a one on one meeting really is about making connections, and sometimes you're not even needing to do huge business as much as just be memorable.

[00:06:34] Rosalyn: That's great, so that leads me into my next question of, most folks are familiar with the concept of the elevator pitch, right? The short, you know, three sentences max about, who you are and, and, and what you do. And, you know, at a conference, you get the chance to exercise that a lot.

But in these, one on one meetings, in the B2B meetings, you might lead with that elevator pitch, but then you have, presumably about five more minutes to fill. So I was wondering if you can explain a little bit about some, some strategies about the rest of that, time and maybe how to structure, structure that time.

[00:07:11] Val: Well, one of the things that I kind of believe in, too, is that when you sit down is to not go right away into your elevator pitch, but take just a moment to center yourself. Like, if you're at FMO, ask them, have you been to London, Ontario before, or have you seen anything, or sort of just a moment to just sort of both center.

I think you do the pitch, it's going to be obviously at the beginning, but there is this moment of just person to person, and one thing I have found is, it's called a random fact, like if you're talking with someone, is to get across something really random about yourself that will make you memorable, that when you go to follow up, sometimes it's so hard to remember, like, who is who, but when you are able to get across It's a random fact about yourself and make it feel natural.

You become memorable. And for me, I told you something about myself early on in our conversation. You know that I'm from Nova Scotia and I do pottery. So it's a random fact, but it's something that I could get across where it's one sentence, but when I call you back later on or because I actually am an organic farmer in Nova Scotia and I live in an area that's not like, oh, Toronto and you know, it's a little bit more, uh, unique.

It can just be one sentence, but I think it's important to try to be memorable, not just with your music, but with who you are.

[00:09:17] Rosalyn: Do you think it's okay, you know, I come into the meeting and I'm like, Val, it's so great to meet you. I hear you're a potter. I love pottery. And then, start talking about my favorite pieces for the next five minutes. Like how far should that go?

[00:09:31] Val: No, not at all. I mean, I think it's more, it's not in the beginning, but you can say something like, Oh, I read your, bio. It's cool that you do pottery. I love that. I've always wanted to take a pottery class. And then you move on. A lot of it's just saying, I see, I see you. And, or if it's the other way around, it's not about them noticing what I do.

It's them saying something to me during this meeting, like, yeah, it's really good to be here. I do pottery and I'm just coming off of this crazy thing of getting ready to come to the conference or just something that can be in one sentence. That just makes it so when you call them back for follow up, you can, might be saying instead of like, yeah, I'm that musician from Toronto that has the band, the da, da, da, da, da, but it's so much easier to be like, I, I hope you remember me, I'm the musician from Toronto that's also the potter.

It can be just random and it's one sentence, it's, you don't have to harp on it, but it's just sort of a way to get one thing across about yourself, and it could even be like touring. Remember, I'm the one that took the train across Canada from one side to the other to do my tour. You're just trying to have that person go, oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Have you been in a meeting where you're not getting a lot back from the person on the other side of the table or the screen?

Yes.

[00:11:09] Val: I actually use that time to teach them pitch craft. I actually say, okay, you don't know who I am. Can I just give you advice for the rest of your time here? Like, look, I'm an agent. The reality is I'm not going to sign you. So let's spend our 10 minutes…let me help prep you for the next five people down the line.

[00:11:29] Val: do you know who they are? And I can look down and I'll go, Okay, well that's Charlie Cram from Strawberry Festival. That festival runs in September and also in May. I'll just look down and be able to say, “so here's some talking points.”

Just as something as simple as describing what is your music like. And don't say it's just Americana and folk, whatever, like come up with some buzzwords that's memorable. Let's come up with five words to describe your music. and actually utilize the time.

the worst thing you can say is, I don't know why I'm in this meeting, cause they do say that, they go, I don't know, my agent signed me up for this, or my manager signed me up for this, and you're like, I don't even know why I'm in this meeting.

It's such a turn off, but instead, if you're sitting in front of someone that you know you don't have a match, or there's no business to be had, is to ask them, if you or me. Who should I talk to while I'm here and or make it completely personal and use the time and just say is there any music you've heard here this week that's awesome that I should go here and it can be me asking them or them asking me but it just shows that let's not waste the time let's just connect as human beings

[00:12:34] Rosalyn: Hmm.

[00:12:34] Val: if we can't do the work together but if you're smart you're asking is there anyone you suggest that I talk to who's here that I might not have been signed up with?

[00:12:45] Val: If you were me and here's my music, how would you describe it?

It's just using the time to make connections and not let minutes go by. But don't ever sit down at a meeting and just say, I don't know why I signed up with you or I'm not sure what to ask you because, um my manager just signed me up for all of these.

[00:13:04] Rosalyn: I think the worst one I've ever heard was, and, and I've heard it more than once, someone sitting down across from me and saying, so who are you and what can you do for me?

[00:13:12] Val: Yeah, that's the whole Google who you're talking to.

And it takes, I mean you can do it when you get there an hour before your meeting. Just Google who you have, if you have seven meetings, just Google and make teeny notes about them, where they're from. Just, you make little notes with a notebook, So, if you get to the end of the meeting and there's time left, you're not sure where to go, this is where you get to ask professional questions.

That's what we do in this business. We it's all a relationship built and it might be like, yeah, I'm not into you know this old timey music. It's not what I book. I'm not saying that's true for me. It's not what I book. I'm much more into the indie rock thing But have you talked with so and so?

Ah, you should get your music to this radio station. I see that he's here

And most of the delegates I've seen that have been brought in, I would say 95 percent of them, they're not here just for a free trip because you kept working a lot, it is that you are there for these artists to help them.

And if they're not export ready, it is to help them figure out how to be export ready.

[00:14:19] Rosalyn: When do you start, or maybe even how do you start pulling out, facts about, yourself and your, like, you know, should you come prepared with, like, here's how many downloads we've had in our CD sales, like, how many stats should you be sharing during this pitch?

[00:14:36] Val: I think one thing that's hard but it's very memorable for me is if you've had awards or nominations. to brag about yourself. Sometimes, oh, I hate to brag about myself, but you don't say it that way. You just say, so you know, throughout my career, you know, I've released X amount of records. This one was Juno nominated.

This one was nominated for a Folk Music Award. I won the Folk Music Award for Best This or That. The sooner you can get in your accolades, awards, or nominations, I think is important. And I think the next thing is sort of the streaming, not about revenue, but more about your social media presence. and then if you don't have a great social media presence, just say that you're really working on your social media presence.

And ask them the same thing if you're not sure what to do. Um, is to ask questions about how to build on that. Also I, as an agent, don't want to sit down and hear someone say, I just want to play gigs, I'll work 365 days a year, I don't care when I want to go, where, where I go.

I want to hear, I live in, um, Quebec, and I really, you know, need to continue working and building my fan base in Quebec, but I really want to concentrate in the next six months on the Maritimes. I'd like to concentrate on the East Coast for the next six months. and then of course for festivals, I want to try to get festivals wherever they are and build around those, but as far as my touring goes, this is what I'm thinking.

You know, and so you can see that they have sort of a plan in their head.

Yeah, so you're coming in with a bit of

[00:16:09] Rosalyn: at least the outline of a plan, right?

[00:16:13] Val: And I mean, for when you're sitting down with a festival, I think as well, their job, they have a mixture of a job, which is to sell tickets and get their headliners, which they do first. And then they begin to fill in. With people that they've either are going to see at this conference and that they're going to fall in love with or they've had someone on their list for a long time.

But their job also as a developing artist is to bring someone who's never played there before to introduce their audience to this new person. And so I think that's an angle as well that if you're export ready you know, they're going to ask you, where have you played in Alberta?

And you can say, well, I've played here and there, or this small festival or that, but I would love to be at Calgary Folk Festival, and why you would be special to be there kind of

thing. in a festival like that, or whether it's a smaller festival, their job is to also bring in just people that they heard that they just liked.

And so how do they find you? They liked you on the one on one meeting. You had something that was intriguing enough to pull them to put down on their little card or go into the app and put a star by you to go see you, because that meeting, you were likable, you knew who you were talking to, and you did have enough stats.

to figure out why they should put your little star by your name in the app and pop into your room.

[00:17:32] Rosalyn: So, um, maybe another, piece of advice for folks when you're doing these meetings going into conferences to, make sure that you have those showcase times

too,

[00:17:41] Val: A hundred percent. I mean, most of us, if there's an app, we're going to use the app. But some people, they totally open up The brochure part and they begin circling and highlighting and it's there's nothing wrong with it if you see them doing it to even help show them where you're at.

Um, it is helpful if it's a small like kind of postcard. To have it and highlight, you know, the ones that would be great on this is going to be me solo but this is with my trio. and obviously you will if you're there's an official versus the other ones. It's like, I hope you can make it. To my official showcase, but if not, I hope I see you at the gorilla as well the gorilla showcases But I think come with something

[00:18:22] Rosalyn: I feel like some of the strategy is that you're kind of appealing to that, that sense of accountability that the delegate has. So you know, you're trying to make that connection and you get that, that bit of face time, and now, like as the artist, I know your face and I'm going to look for you in the crowd when I'm doing my showcase.

So as a, buyer, you might, or a delegate, you might feel that, that bit of accountability like, Oh, we had this good connection. I want to make sure I'm there and I show up for this person you ever share music or share a video or something like that during the meeting?

[00:18:51] Val: had people do it and I don't have, they'll bring their laptop. if we've made a little bit of a connection beforehand, I'm happy to hunker, hunker around their iPhone or their computer and see. a minute or two of something, I have no problem with that. I don't have a problem with it. But if you go sit down and you go right into the pitch with it, for me, I have to have some kind of connection to bring me interested in you.

But it's really so small, humans within like 30 to 45 seconds, almost make an opinion on who they're talking to. So that's the craft. Just figure out how to be really amazing for 30 seconds, 45 seconds, and then you can go into whatever mediocrity you might have to face.

[00:19:36] Rosalyn: I think what would, potentially, make me uncomfortable as a delegate would be to have to give an opinion. Like, sure, I hear some music, hear about the stuff, but if, but if you played your music and then said, like, what do you think? or, like, have to, like, give, like, some sort of opinion if I don't like it or if I don't think it's, you know, is that something that, that you've ever been asked to do and would you be comfortable in that situation?

[00:20:05] Val: Yes. Cause I've taught a lot at song schools before, and there was absolutely a way to not make someone feel bad about their music and, or, lift them up in a way that's also not just not lying to them. And you can always find something good in something. So it might be, I might say, let's say I hear something and the song is absolutely horrible.

It sounds okay. uh, or let's say it's the opposite. They have a horrible voice, but the song is really, really good. Well, it works either way. You focus on what's good. So it might be like, ah. Well, the production sounds great.

Your voice is great. I, I, I mean, I give my opinion on songs because that's what I've done for so many years, but you can always find something positive to say because you're not there for everyone, and to remind people that your opinion is just your opinion. Because they were just looking for some sort of validation. They're not looking for a full on critique

[00:21:01] Rosalyn: hmm

So then after the meeting, how do you suggest people follow up? Should they email you right away or, or wait till post conference? How do you like to be followed up with?

[00:21:13] Val: For me I always tell them first of all is to follow what like you get during the conference is to try to say hello to them again and not do business just be like hey have you heard anything that you really like or hey if let's say I live in London Ontario um it's like hey by the way there's a really great sandwich shop a block away Or just make a suggestion of something or hey if I know it's I know we had our meeting if you haven't heard me But there's this band that's gonna that's coming up in an hour.

They're so good. You should check them out. You're sharing a moment of yourself, but then for follow up is get home. Give them a couple days. Shoot an email and just say hey, I'm just following up. We had a meeting. I enjoyed meeting you so much. I hope you enjoyed your time in London, Ontario. I just wanted to follow up, uh, you had mentioned, cause they've taken notes, you had mentioned that there was someone in Vancouver I should reach out to, and I was going to get ready to do that.

And just checking out, is there anything I can send to you or is there a good time we can maybe have a conversation? And if they don't respond, a lot of times I tell myself, pretend that it's me at 35 or 38 years old with a kid that's a banshee and I've just gotten home from a... A conference and I'm just trying to get back into my family life and I'm, I'm just not going to be able to answer all the emails or keep up right away.

It doesn't mean I didn't like you. It doesn't mean I might not answer. it just means I'm overwhelmed or that's just not, I'm having a bad day. I then would wait and maybe go, Hey, I emailed you a couple of weeks ago or a week ago. Is there a good time to connect and or if you decide to just pick up the phone and call the person If you're going to take a call and make it make an effort to make a call to someone You can always begin the call and preface it by saying something like Is this a good time to talk? That way you give them an out, which is, No, actually I'm on the way to pick up my kid from school.

I'll be back in an hour. Tomorrow will be better for me. But instead of just going right into it, and not taking it into consideration, and I do it all the time, even if it's someone I know, even like with you. I think I've even done it where I've said, Is this a good time for you? Because we're busy, and it's just also showing respect that I'm going to make sure When I reach out to you that I have your attention.

I'll even say I don't need a lot of time, I just need like five minutes. What's a good time for you? You're giving people choices and just like little kids if you give do you want this or do you want that? It's the same thing with adults. I mean giving us a bit of a choice lets us have a bit of Kind of control over what what information we're ready to absorb.

[00:23:59] Rosalyn: That's great. So Um I just want to go over maybe, maybe we can just do like the high level, points, you know, just go over a little bit of what, what we talked about before, before we wrap up. I'll try to summarize and then you interject and let me know if I'm getting it wrong here.

So, step one, do your research, research the person that you're talking to, maybe bring some notes with you into the meeting so you know, who you're speaking with

step two, come prepared. to share something interesting about yourself. something a little out of the ordinary. that, that the other person is going to come away with, as a, as a little, little something extra to remember you by.

Number three, prepare your... materials, links, your showcase times, contact material, et cetera, have a good conversation and remember to, to be interested in the other person and, and listen, maybe take notes while you're, you're having that conversation.

[00:24:56] Val: not pushing materials right in front of them because as human nature we look down and we begin It's almost like a nervous habit you someone pushes something in front of you and you begin to look at it And you don't want to lose you don't want to break the one on one connection they can look at it later and you can even say hey, here's like my one sheet and it has a link for Where I'm at and any one of the things that's great to put in there is a link of where you're playing live Like a live performance link because that's especially for festivals.

They want to see what you look like playing live

[00:25:30] Rosalyn: Making conversation I think is maybe the next part, right?

[00:25:33] Val: or throughout the conference is just sort of pop in just say, Hey, by the way, my meeting with you was so informative. I really appreciate your time. And thanks for coming. Thanking people. Because many of us are going to be traveling, especially if you have international delegates coming a long way and just thanking them for coming, it goes a long way.

It just shows like, I thank you so much for taking the time to come here. I really appreciate it. I know how much it takes to get here. And then I know how busy you are. it's a way of doing business without having to be in your face doing business.

[00:26:08] Rosalyn: And then, number five, and then number six, no doesn't mean no forever. And keeping in contact could mean that, you know, as things change, there's still opportunities that could present themselves down the road.

[00:26:28] Val: I think the biggest takeaway, for me, is that no does not mean no ever. all I hear when I hear no is not now.

And it can be something as simple as the timing is just off. They've already booked something or the agent's roster is completely full. They're just trying to book what they have.

So, no, I'm not signing right now. it doesn't mean no. It just means not now, but keep that contact going. And or when you have a new record coming out, Hey, I know when we had our meeting, I know you're not signing or you said you weren't signing right now, but I wanted to keep you. up to date with what's going on.

Here's a link to my new record. I hope that you enjoy it. and sometimes it takes, I mean, I've had it where it can take three years to get to a festival, but I just stayed in touch. yeah, and you can think that someone's talented, but they just aren't what you can do right now. So, but I think the biggest takeaway is when you hear no, don't hear no. Just hear not now.

[00:27:23] Rosalyn: That's great. Thank you so much, Val. This

[00:27:25] Val: My pleasure!

[00:27:26] Rosalyn: So helpful, and I know that folks are going to really take a lot out of this conversation and all your expertise. and we look forward to, to seeing you at the conference.

[00:27:35] Val: I am looking forward to it and looking forward to hearing new music. And, uh, that's what we're all looking for is to find that, that music that you just go, wow, we're all junkies for that. So anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing the new music and to see old friends, and I appreciate you having me.

Thank you so much.

[00:27:53] Rosalyn: Yeah, thank you so much, Val.

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