Last week, I talked about the very vague question “How can I make it in the music industry?” I gave a long case on what that could look like, and it’s not what most people might think. If you haven’t listened to it, make sure to check it out at musicroad.co/20 after this episode. In that episode, I also talked about a framework that helps many musicians succeed in this ever changing music industry. To re-cap, first you need to define your niche, build a fanbase with super fans and then monetize your craft. Today, we’ll be chatting about 7 ways to profitably identify your niche and why it matters.
But why does defining your niche matter? A lot of musicians are intuitive and jump into what they might feel is best. And this definitely works. So, why bother defining anything? Well, this defining process is what helps you with your branding and marketing process. Understanding your “brand” will help you streamline your marketing efforts. As a musician, this might make you run away and completely turn off. But in order to be a profitable and successful DIY musician, you’ll need to understand these concepts.
I’ll explain. Your brand is essentially your overall image that differentiates you from other musicians. For musicians, brand is specifically related to your music style, how you might dress, the lifestyle you might have, the fan’s tour experience, the packaging of your CDs, the content in your social media, identify the type of march to sell – anything that essentially represents you as a musician.
For example, Adele’s brand hinges on a raw, soulful and personal vibe. Her concerts are very intimate, with limited stage props and tricks. She interacts frequently with her crowd, having casual conversations. Almost all her albums are close-ups of her face with dim or harsh lighting, with no color to give a film noir effect. This connects with the raw, soulful vibe that’s also very melancholic and reflective. All of her albums (19, 21, 25) have little to no color, and her attire for performances are usually minimal and classic, while her sound is also very close to natural with very limited to no synth usage. These elements are consistent throughout her brand. While she’s an international pop sensation, her brand is still very specific and over the years it hasn’t strayed away too much from it.
That’s an example in a nutshell. I could probably yack on for 20 minutes about Adele’s brand, but let’s talk about how this is relevant to you specifically. Identifying your niche will play a huge role in your branding and marketing. Believe it or not, your niche fits in specific subcultures and demographics of people. Knowing your niche helps you identify these things. A black and white example would be a “Children’s pop cover artist”. On YouTube, you might do covers of music that are mostly clean. And if they’re not, you’ll change the lyrics. And this isn’t just for foul language. For example, for Andy Grammer’s song “Honey I’m Good” there’s a lyric that goes, “You look good, I will not lie.” Kids Bop changes it to, “You seem nice, I will not lie.” As a Children’s pop cover artist, you’ll need to understand what exactly what parents are looking for and not looking for in a “safe” song. If you don’t, you might run into some disappointed parents. So, understanding your demographics is important for not only shaping your marketing, but also your music.
As an artist, this might be challenging to hear, because you don’t want to have any sort of “creative limitations”. But the reality is that you can’t be everything to everyone. And when you try to be, you fail. You fail in focus, and you fail in catering to the fans that value you the most. In fact, there actually have been studies done to show that limitations actually allow for more creativity. Think of different sized canvases or only having 5 paint colors. Boundaries make room for creativity, because you’re forced to be creative with what you have. It also makes you masters in what you’re focusing on, whereas being a jack of all trade and master of none results in no focus, productivity or meaningful result.
Next, we’re going to identify your niche. And while we identify it, we’re also going to investigate how to do it profitably.
1.) Start by identifying your main genre.
Broad genres include pop, rock, dance, singer-songwriter, rap, hip/hop, etcetera. As you hear these genres, you might even come up with what’s next, which is the subgenre. Subgenres are usually another subdivision of the main genre or even a crossover. For example, there’s pop country, progressive house, alternative rock, dream pop. These days, these sorts of genres are almost becoming more common place because listening palettes continue to change and expand.
And what makes you different from genres within that subgenre? This will be your niche. So, for example, let’s say you’re an alternative rock artist with a dream pop emphasis. Your niche might be “female solo dream pop alternative rock artist”. If you’re not entirely solo, you might be a “female-fronted dream pop alternative rock band”.
Why is this profitable? This helps you stand out amidst a sea of competition. In marketing terms, this is considered a “competitive advantage”. Because instead of getting lost in a general, vague, indistinguishable space – you’re standing out and reaching out a specific demographic that’s looking for your type of music.
Think about this in terms of everyday products, like chocolate. A sub-category would be organic dark chocolate. A niche chocolate would be an gluten-free organic 86% cacao chocolate with non-gmo almonds. There is a specific need there that needs to be satisfied, and this helps to position you as a big fish in a small pond. Just make sure that your genre isn’t so specific
2.) If you’re having trouble figuring out your niche, ask some friends and family what artists you sound similar to.
Next, research these artists and understand how platforms identify their music. You can use iTunes, Spotify, Amazon to start. But also make sure to check places like Wikipedia, because it does list sub-genre of the artist.
After you do that, you want to use this information to build Spotify and YouTube playlists. To leverage your niche in a profitable way, you need to draw traffic. To do that, you can create playlists with artists that are similar to you and include your music within the playlist. This way fans that look up the similar artists music will also happen to stumble upon your music.
You don’t want to get spammy with your playlists and include big name artists for attention. You want to genuinely choose artists that are similar to you so that fans that love those similar artists will also likely listen to you.
3.) Explore your niche’s activities.
Knowing this is important because it’ll help you create content for your social media that’s not just about your music, help you streamline your Facebook paid marketing, and genuinely connect with your fans. You’ll be surprised by how much you might have in common with them!
So, how do you find this out? You could start by looking at an artist similar to you and check out their followers. What do they enjoy posting? What brands and celebrities are they following? Write down at least 10 activities and then brainstorm ideas.
4.) Identify what merch-related products your fans might enjoy.
Nothing’s worse than getting a bunch of printed products or custom made items and you’re stuck at home with a bunch of non-purchased, undesirable merch.
Instead, make research important! You want to understand your fans well, and you start by understanding your niche. After you’ve done that, identify merchandise they might most be interested in. For example, if you’re a dance/electronic musician, you may not consider vinyl, because your genre sells the fewest in vinyl. On the other hand, rock genres tend to sell the most vinyl out of the other genres.
So, before hopping on trends, make sure to do your research!
5.) Build your networks by researching other small, DIY artists that share your niche.
There’s a common economic aphorism that goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” which means improvements happening to the general economy will generally help those involved. For musicians, what benefits the musicians as a whole will benefit every musician involved. While sonic competition is fierce on the internet, that doesn’t mean that you operate in isolating ways. You can establish a community that helps build each other up. You could do this by creating a Facebook group, doing a collaboration, or leveraging each others networks by doing a contest or giveaway. Building a network is one of the most effective ways to grow your fan base. Plus, you develop invaluable comradery!
6.) As you define your niche, continue developing your brand.
This includes what sort of color scheme, artistic direction or imagery draws your fanbase. This also includes how you can use that throughout your packaging and social. This might change from album cycle to album cycle. But generally you do need some kind of consistency. Fans (and consumers in general) are drawn to consistency.
7.) Create a list of words or keywords.
You can play with different arrangements of your niche to start with. These words are words your fans might be using to search for new artists to listen to. So, on your website, you want to make sure that your website is optimized for these search keywords. If you don’t have a website, you want to make sure that these keywords are in your social descriptions, especially in YouTube because it functions like a search engine.
These are just 7 ways identifying your niche works profitably in your favor. For more and free updates on ways to improve your music marketing strategies, make sure to subscribe below!