How do I find my niche?
Whenever I am asked the question ‘so what sort of music are you into?’ I always find myself coming up a little blank. I could look at my music library, at my Spotify playlists or even my piles of disorganised cds and I’d still struggle to pick out a specific genre I could pin myself under.
The main reason being that a vast majority of music that I listen to has been amassed from movie soundtracks; a common side effect of studying film. If I didn’t hear it accompanied by a movie, short film or programme, I probably heard it somewhere else and picked it up because it evoked a specific feeling in me. I collect music for various moods, usually because I listen to most of my music when I’m writing, and I think music creates atmosphere very effectively.
As a potential fan, I think I might be one of the worst types a musician can think of; a collector of single tracks from different places who only has a handful of bands and musicians to whom I’m really dedicated. The truth is that a consumer doesn’t have to think about the livelihood of a creator; we can pick and choose tracks to whichever ends we like- and we can needle down our tastes to their most specific.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have a niche, however, that will absolutely guarantee that I can become a loyal fan. After all, now that every consumer has a world of music at our fingertips just by having an internet connection, a musician doesn’t need to have a monster hit to have a loyal following.
Identifying your niche and marketing to it doesn’t have to be difficult, and it can save you a world of trouble presenting your work to deaf ears. There’s no need to compromise your music for the sake of broadening its appeal if you know who to appeal to, after all.
So how does a musician identify their niche? As a potential fan, I would start by picking out the most distinct aspect of your music. What do you have that sets you apart from other musicians within your genre? Your niche is your music at its most specific and it’s most alienating, but that’s not a problem. Got a Kazoo player in your reggae band? Excellent news! If you are a singer/songwriter what is the focus of your lyrics? Perhaps your work tends to focus on literary references, in which case it might be very appealing to English students. If you’re in a band, do any of your members have other talents in animating, dancing or costuming?
We’re not talking about adding gimmickry or unique selling points, only capitalising on an element that will turn a casual listener into a part of your core fan group.
A niche comes when you find something that pulls together peripheral demographics that you don’t expect to share the same Venn diagram. To use myself as an example once more; if your music contains a healthy selection of strings then I’m already paying attention, regardless of genre. Movie scores are usually consisted of sweeping strings and sorrowful harps; so it’s no wonder that I find myself drawn to music that utilises that same drama.
For most consumers a musician really only has thirty seconds to make a first impression, and when they do so, they need to hit the right buttons to engage with them. However, when the music appeals to fans on more than one level, you’re on your way to developing a fan base that actively engages in your career. The kind of fan base that loyally buys your album, your merchandise and tickets for your shows.
If you’ve decided to market to your niche then it should be a central focus of all aspects of your music; reflect it in your website, in your music videos and in your look. A well crafted, quirky website goes a long way to endearing a fan to your music. A music video that appeals to a niche audience will be something fans can talk about and share to others with the same interests.
So how do you find your niche to market to? Or, how do I as a potential fan, find your music?
Consumers are bombarded with advertisements every day, and generally most diehard fans prefer the music they come across organically. Most people are far more likely to check out a track sent over by a friend then click a banner on a website. It seems unfair, but to an extent it’s true, fans are proud of discovering new music and sharing it with their peers. This is especially true if there is something particularly unique about that music.
If you’re an acoustic guitar player who prides themselves in particularly complex rearrangements of popular songs or music based on mathematic equations; your music is going to appeal to other musicians who are looking for something difficult to master. If that’s the case then it’s worth your time to make up some tutorials on YouTube or your own website to show others how they can replicate the music for themselves. This way you’ve got an invested core group that feels though it’s giving back to you and receiving more than just music, whilst simultaneously giving you an easy space to engage your fandom.
Fans will vote with their likes on Facebook, with their comments on Twitter or Youtube, with their presence at your shows. Many people list interests and other favoured musicians on their Facebook page; is there something that your fans seem to have in common like a particular brand, style or club?
If you have friends in other creative industries such as fashion, filmmaking etc, then those contacts can be utilised to put your music in places that match your niche. Short films, advertisements or even just background playlists on particular websites will reinforce your niche market and give fans a strong first impression. Once you’ve got that initial hook, your niche can help you to maintain a good relationship with your fans now that a smaller, more loyal fan base is a potential alternative to mainstream success.
Equally, I think few creators produce work that they themselves would not enjoy; so where did you find your music? Who influenced you, and why? Those same forums and websites might hold an audience who would listen to your music if they’re looking for something that recaptures a similar inspiration.
As a potential fan I already know the niche markets that I occupy, and like most people, I can occupy more than one. If your music appeals to something unique and particular then I’m going to be invested and get your music on my playlists. More than that, I’m going to be interested in finding out more about you. Why this particular style or interest? Why this particular music video? I will be moving from casual listener to a loyal fan soon enough.