This is an article I wrote a few years ago, but we continue to have this ever-relevant conversation with our clients, bloggers and beyond, so I felt now would be a good time to update it.
The internet has done a lot of wonderful things for musicians. By somewhat leveling the playing field on a global scale, musicians can now market their music and expand their brands further than ever before, quicker than ever before. Day after day we are inspired by the success stories of others who came out of nowhere, only to be the next trending topic on Twitter or the most viewed and shared video on Youtube… but there is a big piece of their stories that is typically left out:
How exactly these artists got to where they are.
Every time we hear of yet another artist who has broken through from obscurity to being reported by mainstream mass media, the success stories are typically coupled with ‘overnight sensation’, ‘viral star’ or some other similarly ambiguous (and unrealistic) term.
The latest and greatest ‘overnight sensation’ is Macklemore who in the past year has conquered not only the LGBT/ Hip-Hop Alliance niche (among others), but the Billboard charts with his debut album The Heist as well. Of course, this story completely ignores the 8 years of hardcore dedication to growing his fan base, several mix tapes and even a music video that was funded through a Kickstarter campaign. Macklemore’s success story is amazing, but he is no overnight sensation.
Believe it or not, almost every single artist who has found success online, virally or not, has had something in common. They targeted, and subsequently conquered a niche.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a niche is simply a specific or ‘specialized’ market. In other words, it is not ‘the whole world’ or ‘rock fans’. A niche is a very detailed, smaller sub-section of a bigger market, but most importantly those who are characterized within the niche are far more likely to be loyalists than fans of a more generalized market. Not to get too ‘marketing-jargen’ on you all, but typically speaking, the more specific a niche, the more dedicated those within it will be, and visa versa, the more broad a market becomes, the less dedicated the fans will be.
Plain and simple, if you really want the internet and social networks to become the success drivers of your career that you hope they will become, you MUST target and conquer your niche. Below are four very simple things that you will need to consider and map out in order to get yourself on track to conquering YOUR niche:
Understand That a Niche Typically Starts Very Small
The internet is and always has been about BIG ideas. By giving us a further reach than ever before, it has become second nature for us to always think on a global scale.
This is a mistake!
Remember that a niche can and usually does start very small, as in so small that it can be targeted locally. By working with your niche locally first, you can build up buzz in your area, making it easier to connect with all of the influencers in your area, opening up doors to connections with influencers outside of your area on a regional, then national and then even global level.
An example that I always like to use when discussing Niche Marketing is Phish. Everyone has heard of them and they are widely considered to be one of the greatest touring bands of all time, but it is far less understood that by the time they were signed to a label and started touring the country, they were already local heroes, selling out some of the biggest venues in the area on their own. In fact, Phish didn’t even tour outside of the northeast until years after they had formed the band, because they found it better to target the local scene and conquer it first before moving on. By the time they left the northeast, they already had fans waiting for them in other parts of the country, because as we discussed, niche fans are more loyal. Their local fans loved the music and helped make sure the word got out.
Know EXACTLY What Your Niche Is
The more detailed an understanding you have of your niche, the better of you will be. As mentioned above, as your niche becomes a more specific section of a market, the more loyal the fans will be within!
Now, your niche can really be whatever you want it to be (within reason – more on this below), so deciding which niche you fit into best is really up to you. But no matter what that niche is, you absolutely need to have a full understanding of the niche you’re targeting. Here are a few things for you to consider so that you can better define and locate your niche:
- Demographic (age, gender location)
- Similar / influential artists (remember to start locally, then branch out to the regional, national and global scale)
- What are the influential promotional outlets?
- Where do the fans exist online?
- What blogs do they read?
- How do they find out about new music?
- Are they into fashion? If so, what brands?
- What are their favorite hobbies?
Now that you have the proper understanding of your niche, you need to seek it out and see if it is truly worthy. Some niches won’t exist online or at all in the way you hope and so the demand for your music just isn’t enough to get you on the map. Some of you will be lucky to decide upon a great niche on your first attempt, but some of you may need to test the waters until you find one that really works.
Cater To The Needs of the Loyal
I think it has been said enough times by now, but one more time for good measure: the more specific a market (niche), the more dedicated the fans within will be.
So with this said, you need to cater your online presence, live shows, studio recordings and official releases, merch, etc. to the needs of the loyal, so that they will continue to support at a diehard level, evangelizing your brand and increasing the overall strength and influence of your brand. This is a critical part to successfully conquering your niche.
Nail the Perfect Pitch
Believe me, I am well aware that you probably dread having to compare your music to that of someone else’s. I’ve been there and I know it can feel demeaning to say that your baby, your creation, only just ‘sounds like someone else’.
So trust me when I say that when targeting and attempting to conquer a niche, making a comparison to another band similar in sound or style to your own is a VERY good thing!
By making sure that you’ve targeted a meaningful comparison, you will have an easier time building interested from perspective fans. Relevance here is key. As much as you may want to avoid the comparisons of sounding just like someone else, if you can compare your sound to an artist from the same niche, you will have an easier time attracting the RIGHT fans rather than avoiding strong comparisons, only to impress fans of the wrong genre or scene.
Maintain a Consistent Presence
In a way, niche marketing is quite similar to advertising.
Most people are unlikely to become a fan of yours on the first sighting of your music, video or guest post. This is precisely the reason why you often see or hear the same advertisements over and over again. In advertising, this is called ‘touchpoints’. The number of touch points could be different for everyone, so unfortunately there is no hard and fast science that would allow us to say you need to be heard or seen 5 times per week in your niche for you to effectively conquer it…
It is more important that you simply understand that one time won’t cut it. Most people are so overwhelmed by the number of ads, guest posts, music videos, songs, etc. that they are exposed to on a daily basis that it really takes several attempts for any single brand to break through.
Within your niche, you need to be consistently present enough that people start to notice you, pay attention to you and buy into your vision. This ‘break-through’ point can take several months or even possibly years, so don’t expect immediate results. This was most certainly the case of Darius Lux, who we helped connect to the Gluten Free community through guest posting, and now 18-months later, has become a musician/ thought-leader being asked to take part in conferences, blogs and beyond!
What Have YOU Done to Conquer Your Niche?
My ideas above only scratch the surface… there are TONS of different ideas, strategies and techniques available to you to help you to truly conquer your niche! If you’ve done anything else than what Ive listed above, or have some feedback or questions about my ideas, please leave a comment below!