Up until recently, an artist could stand out on the merits of the uniqueness of their style of music.
When making niche music, you still had to stay within the constraints of what sounded good, even if there were only a thousand people that would ever like it. But you’d be surprised by how far those boundaries can be stretched – just look at Primus.
Still, when the good people from CD Baby are talking about the fact that even the most niche genres now have major contenders (and they are), you know that times have changed. We’ve entered a new era.
The niche wars are officially over. Here’s what you need to do in 2020.
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Keep The Lines Of Communication Open With Your Fans
If you have any kind of following, it’s because your fans like your music. While you don’t have to be like AC/DC and release the same album over and over, it would be wise to stick to your guns and continue to make music that delights your fans.
Again, this does not mean you can’t evolve and change as inspiration strikes and life circumstances dictate (there’s nothing like hardship for inspiring great music, don’t you think?).
But you’ll want to stay in touch with your fans – they’re the ones that make your career possible. If you’ve been making the music you love all along, it means you get to make more of that music – tough life.
If you haven’t been expressing yourself how you would like to or you've been knee-deep in the niche wars, you can try a few experiments and see if your fans like your new direction. For instance, you could release a few singles or maybe an EP of different music and gauge reactions.
Either way, tell your fans what you’re up to, what you’re thinking, and what you have planned for the future. This will help you sustain the career and fan base you’ve worked so hard to build.
Make The Music You Want To Make
If you don’t have much of a following, or they aren’t very engaged, just start making the music you want to make. It may sound scary, but people are attracted to authenticity more than ever, and writing the music you love could awaken people to your greatness, or even revive a dying fan base.
“But David,” I can hear you saying, “don’t you think I need to appeal to a specific target audience?”
Well, yes. But what you may be missing is that you can find more people like the ones that already enjoy what you’re doing. In advertising, it’s called a lookalike audience. And yes, I would suggest using ads to grow your following if it’s within your budget.
Appealing to a target audience does not mean compromising everything about your musical style or image – it means honing it, digging deeper into it.
Plus, being less calculated and more spontaneous makes you edgy. If you feel like your passion has been under fire, you may be able to reclaim what you’ve lost by reconnecting with the truth of who you are.
If every niche is saturated, there’s no easy path to success anyway. If you pursue your passion, there’s a greater chance you’ll stick to it, and if you keep at it over the long haul, there’s a better chance your music will catch on.
Collaborate & Cross-Promote
If nothing is novel, then collaborating with other artists isn’t going to catch too many people off guard, even if you’re in a metal band and your collaborator is an EDM and dubstep producer.
So, what’s stopping you from getting together with other artists and making music together?
The reason I suggest you do this is because it gets you in front of a new audience and vice versa. You have the opportunity to reach more people when you work with others that appeal to a different fan base. You can see collaborations like these happening on YouTube all the time.
Cross-promotion is a strategy largely underutilized by musicians, and that’s because we have a tendency to see each other as direct competitors, which is rarely the case. If you’ve thought about putting together a Spotify playlist before, you could talk to the artists you know and promote it together.
When you work closely with another artist or band, you can accomplish double what you’d be able to do on your own with half the effort. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Think of what you could accomplish working with many bands (and not just one) in your scene.
Make Great Music
Genre or no genre, people still like great music, and that’s not about to change.
What is great music? That depends on who you ask. But your fans, if you have any, will tell you that your music is great.
Be prolific, be creative, and be great. You never know what people are going to connect with. Embrace Thomas Edison’s approach. If you fail, you haven’t really failed – you’ve just found ways that don’t work. If you keep at it, and keep adjusting your strategy, you’ll find ways that do work.
But I can tell you from personal experience that you also must pay attention to what works. Even after discovering a winning formula, if you don’t course-correct and move in the new direction, you won’t reap the rewards of all your hard work.
Experimenting and iterating is how Jack Conte and Pomplamoose found an audience. So, start experimenting.
If for some reason you’re thinking that your unique brand of reggae punk-step breakbeat country is going to be your ticket to stardom, think twice. It already exists. And if it doesn’t, it’s probably for a perfectly good reason.
There is room for innovation, but not another niche. So I would encourage you to do what you do best, which is being you. There has never been, nor will there ever be another you.
Competitive advantages are hard to come by in today’s music business, but that doesn’t need to affect your enjoyment of – and passion for – music, and nor should it.