It’s not uncommon for musicians to be so focused on making a living that they neglect any processes involved in driving sales. Discussion here will be on online niche-based marketing/narrow-branding that, while can apply to business universally, will be applied here to the modern online music business - speaking from the standpoint that the call of today’s industries for necessary transparency and personal engagement/individual communication makes niche marketing potentially the most effective business strategy of our time. Research of who and where your audience is as a fundamental priority is more effective (and considerate) than endlessly bothering broadly targeted people with above-the-line advertising. In a nutshell, niche music marketing is endless research and engagement with the people who your niche-based product (your music, that’s narrowed down to a clear, distinct and unique style) resonates with most.
This tried and tested marketing concept trades quantity for quality of support. It focuses on obtaining one quality supporter at a time repeatedly and continuously on a more personal basis, as opposed to above-the-line general advertising where the individual sale itself is prioritised long before the long-term loyalty of recyclable customers. Creating a fanbase here means being genuinely engaged with a highly targeted audience, creating culture, value and community for your fanbase to be a part of and developing individual relationships with fans, understanding them and learning which aspects of your own culture you should enhance/develop and where else your music may resonate online.
So let’s assume you have everything in place. You have quality music, an established niche, an understanding of your market and audience and a firm direction. You’ve established your specific core values and characteristics as a brand/business that you’re now going to use to target likewise people.
But, no one is aware of you.
Note: This concept is niche based, so if you haven’t established the aspects just mentioned, understanding and developing these areas should be prioritised to apply this concept effectively.
Consider the exposure stage, the first stage of selling music where the priority is building awareness. To provide perspective, the stages are separate; exposure is the beginning stage of any business where you concentrate on raising awareness for you and your brand. Exposure should be prioritised with commitment and is expected to take time. Repeated exposure is needed where new and unfamiliar products are concerned and often people need to perceive you as what others use and endorse before there's enough trust to actually spend money on what you're selling (and often even to follow/subscribe). Most experienced businessmen/women will state that the hardest product any business will sell is it’s first.
The exposure stage is just the art of creative engagement, presentation and first impressions - how can you make someone aware of you in a way that entices them to engage further? Ultimately, it’s all about everyone else and what's in it for them - in this case, that’s culture and community. Think: your product (music) itself isn’t the most effective way to make a first impression that encourages genuine support, surer routes can be established with proper brand organisation. Even when posting online, music promotion should ideally be in the minority of uploads - the aim here is to build culture around your music, and community around your culture.
Culture & Core Values
What is culture? Culture is what your online brand will represent and be clearly associated with in the eyes of onlookers. Every culture has its own identity/character, origins, values, ideas, environments, fashion, gadgets (merch), themes (presentation), purpose (mission statement), concerns, tastes/interests (posting topics), etc. Use culture as your means of attracting supporters, that’s where your content online will inspire or entertain rather than mostly intrigue with plain music promotion. Social media is where people typically go when they’re bored, for example, so you’re competing with every piece of entertainment for attention (you should aim to stand out in contrast to the entertainment your audience engages with). The potential inspiration and entertainment that's in your culture is how you can attract support and create community, your music being the product in the center but not the only thing (nor necessarily the main thing) in the shop window.
Culture’s as important as the music when appealing to/attracting who your music will resonate with online (hence the focus on culture in the beginning/exposure stage) and can’t be stressed enough. Time spent practising exposure (which is to say, getting to understand yourself and others) before the later stages helps you understand your audience organically and free of charge. For example, you don’t want to get to know your audience by jumping straight to testing paid ads just to see who engages (paid, targeted ads are phenomenal tools but will inevitably take repeated trial and error before its effective) - practise obtaining free traffic to understand your audience and benefiting them long before the time comes for what’s essentially gambling your money with tools like paid advertising. The more you understand who it is you’re targeting online the better your odds are when running ads in any case - understanding your audience and building that connection with them is key.
Online Presence Organisation - Indirect Exposure
How do you practise obtaining free traffic? ‘Traffic’ is all the people who engage in some way with you or your brand online. There’s essentially two ways someone can become aware of you; directly (through communication with you personally) and/or indirectly (coming across your content online by chance, interest or word-of-mouth) - organisation of your online presence is necessary for effective indirect exposure. Ensure you and your brand are represented clearly and your concise about what it is you do and what’s in it for the subscriber/follower.
So, indirect exposure means your online presentation should be active, appealing and engaging so as to create a good first impression to those you attract naturally online. Prepare the indirect end of your exposure process, this could involve:
- ensuring a good presentation; what trademark elements could you incorporate into your culture that can be used as themes, feel and content for online posting? What would represent you best? This is where branding yourself as a business and establishing your principles, mission statement and core values is effective.
- topics that relate to your music’s culture when posting on social media have a lot to do with your values and inspirations as a business that your potential supporters has in common with you - ensure what your posting is relevant, quality and interesting to the traffic you target.
- create your free opt in gifts, which is free value to offer in exchange for engaging with you. Endlessly produce value that can benefit your potential support, be it insightful blogs, inspiring/entertaining posts, podcasts, useful ebooks, relevant education, etc.
Daily activity might consist of market research and online posting/engagement. Traffic doesn’t mean random followers. Research and engage with those already embracing your culture elsewhere and watch the interactions. And remember; the broader you're targeting, the less organic the traffic. Free traffic can be drawn in magnetically through consistent brand nurturing and culture promotion - representing your narrow, unique identity - that draws strictly like-minded individuals to find value and engage with you, effectively improving the way you engage and present yourself online.
All musicians, at some point or another, find themselves where they just can’t get people to feel as enthusiastic about their music as they are. This is what niche marketing acknowledges. Rather than itching for your big break, you acknowledge the time it’d take, given the struggle of making people share your enthusiasm, to build a fanbase through genuine concern and communication with individuals who you look to provide value for. How many hours a day should be spent on research and engagement? For how long? These are necessary areas to consider to give yourself goals and an understanding of your endgame.
The aim isn’t to burden people, your core mission is to continuously get to understand your audience and industry. To do that, it takes engaging with your industry in some way. It's hard to communicate this idea of communication with predetermined intentions without seeming to imply at least some degree of deception. Except the predetermined intentions themselves have nothing to do with deceit at all, the sole focus is on how to earn support through benefiting like minded individuals to you, not on scheming your way to profit. That takes engagement and communication, which can be done genuinely and sincerely. There is nothing that will give you immense advantage in your market like a solid understanding of your audience/demographic and how you can benefit them - hence to endlessly increase that understanding is the primary mission here.
Note: If you don’t understand yourself or have a solid idea of who you are as an artist and what you represent (what culture, values, etc), you’ll have a hard time understanding your audience. How could you understand an audience when you have no idea what it is about you or your music that hooks people of a particular demographic in? For those still searching for their niche/strategy, knowing your strength(s) is key, building your business/brand around your strengths having proved effective (don't forget today's access to different industries - innovative musicians today are cultivating their music specifically for professional brands, film & theatre, commercials, etc, which industry sector might you be suited to?). The early stages of niche marketing/narrow branding is, in essence, the typical practise of understanding yourself to better understand others.
Here are some quick points on online communication and engagement;
- build your email/contact list and therefore your network through continued communication with your culture’s online community.
- engage with people as if through mutual benefit - make it more about the culture you share than your music.
- be yourself; you’re not looking to advertise yourself. You’re looking to build community and make friends through communication with like minded individuals, be sincere to be understood.
- interact with people who’ve engaged with content relevant to you - search for existing groups of your demographic.
- the majority of people you communicate with won’t be interested in the value you create - try not to take yourself too seriously.
- documentaries/media; storytelling content can be effective, be it from inspiration/motivation to personal stories.
- don't be self absorbed. Concern yourself with others to better understand your industry.
- “Your network is your net-worth”. Consider your circles and the company you keep - being surrounded by positive encouragement goes a long way.
- Don’t be scared to get creative - you’re building community; be out of the box to demonstrate why you're unique.
So, endless research and communication throughout; that’s all this is. That means social media is for research and social networking, not for social status or vanity metrics. Continuously engage with individuals in your end of the industry on a daily basis and maintain relationships with those relevant to your business.
The nurture stage is the bridge between exposure and profit - focus, consistency and dedication are essential for bridging the gap effectively. Awareness is only awareness, it doesn’t mean support. Niche marketing stresses the importance of continued communication, first impressions being just the beginning of contact with each individual; maintaining relationships with those you’ve made aware is equally as important as making them aware in the first place and is an aspect surprisingly easy to neglect. Your relationship with your audience both as a whole and with individuals is a defining element in your career as an artist and progress as a business.
Contact List Building & Nurturing
Keeping a contact list and communicating with your contacts through your chosen channels of communication (be it through email, text, etc.) is a fundamental aspect of this marketing concept. Said to be highly neglected by artists, your contact list will keep you engaged with your support/demographic and will improve your understanding of the common characteristics that stretch across your fanbase as a whole. When a contact list is small, interact with the individuals on it one at a time, don’t send blanket emails to multiple people at once, for example, unless it’s genuinely relevant to them in particular or you’re reaching tens and tens of people at a time, avoid looking like a promotion or advert. If social networking is to network and build awareness, it’s your content and communication with those you’ve networked to (made aware, i.e. exposure) that can build and maintain relationships (hence, the nurture stage).
Consider your relationships with individuals. Your contact list should be nurtured and kept up to date. Email marketing is a practise well worth the exercise. Send out quality content at a consistent rate (daily, weekly, monthly?) and keep an eye on the behavioural responses. What content can you produce that makes people want to stay subscribed and receive your content? That’s pretty much the game. If emailing content to a contact list, for example, your email headline/subject heading is a tool for nothing other than getting the recipient to simply open the email - what can you put in the headline that entices the reader to open? Once opened, the content you produce should be valuable, relevant and worth recieving for your contacts. What content can you, as a brand and culture, offer your demographic?
In the nurture process, activity consists of continued personal engagement with individuals and adding value/content through your contact list and online platforms. Whichever you choose (social media platforms, chosen channels of communication like email, text, etc), stick to the one you’ll make your support familiar with - it’s no use trying to prioritise the following of five to six social media platforms, rather on two or three, say. Keep a close eye on the communicative processes that get results and nurture your online content and presence accordingly - continuously update and nurture your online business, it is never finished!
Social media continues to be a gamechanger for audience-interaction and as such is important for the online nurturing process so it's worth going into. Maintaining quality in what you post online will increase the inclination of visitors to stay when exploring your content, which is the potential to extend that engagement to personal communication with you. Ensure you’re always producing ammo for your uploads/posting.
Here’s a list of potential ammo for online content to provide perspective and stoke ideas:
- ask or answer questions relevant to your industry
- promote those you work with for culture promotion
- share a trending/popular post
- interview industry contacts and post the blog or video
- storytelling is effective (your story?)
- share content from elsewhere
- throwback Thursdays (historical pictures of relevant topics)
- share inspiration
- a relevant, surprising statistic
- recent activities/events you’re involved in
- share books or music playlists
- correct relevant, common misconceptions
- posts directly aligned with your culture
- occasional music/product promotion
Using social media to interact online and network with members of your industry (from fans to artists), prioritise those who engage with your business and build genuine relationships and support. Concern yourself with the affairs of those you communicate with and understand what it is you can offer. Adding value doesn’t mean bombardment of posts or emails multiple times on a daily basis. However often you choose to engage, stick to it and avoid looking inconsistent.
Here are some methods of adding value;
- emailing marketing; regularly emailing your ever-growing contact list with quality, relevant content.
- ensure that how often you send emails to supporters is in proportion to the relevance/value/quality of the content in the emails.
- social media posting; regular social media updates and culture-promotion ensuring your always appearing busy and active.
- improvisation uploads; videos of a live session or a song that you whipped up in a week or so just for fun.
- blogging; insightful articles of use or interest to your demographic stoke continuous/repeated engagement.
- podcasts; episodes of your conversations is more personal and can increase the quality of the customer journey.
- ask for input and opinion; involve your audience in your compositions - your fans listening to music they could contribute to can provoke engagement.
- webinars; using online video chats for different ideas, i.e, online community chats, educational presentations, videoing a studio session or an event, etc.
- creative methods of involving your supporters in your affairs, undertakings, etc, or to entice them to engage with each other - building a sense of community.
- postcard announcements; occasionally sending postcards to your fanbase is surprisingly effective and can keep you in their mind.
- immediate response; promptly replying to messages of any form and having real-time conversations.
- network online to bloggers, podcasters, etc, in your industry and build relationships with them over time.
Much of this marketing concept is just steady relationship building - the relationship between fan and artist could possibly be one of the most neglected and unrealised necessities in the industry. In fact, thanks to the internet and the digital revolution, more and more artists are starting to realise how much more power there is in the connection to be had with their fans than there is in major labels, some claim that labels are often a hindrance where engaging and understanding your audience is concerned. Nurture/develop your relationships with your supporters both individually and as a whole to get to understand them and yourself (you and your business). The more you understand you and your audience, the more you'll know which characteristics of your audience resonate with you best when it comes to promoting/introducing yourself elsewhere.
Nurture is the stage that you have to have confidence in for a while. Rather than itching for people to buy your music, focus first on brand building/awareness and building a community that supports your culture until enough support has been made that your music’s/product’s perceived as what it is: worth spending money on. Consider that your ultimate aims will take years worth of nurturing and development - make your steps forward your way of living - never breaking faith in your mission, not in profiting from people, but in building your community that can be of value to people in your small corner of the industry prior to being able to make your living from it.
However you choose to nurture your fanbase, creative and innovative ideas of doing so are never ending. While much of what’s written here provides a general understanding for moving forward, your methods will develop throughout your progress and you’ll tailor what works best for you and your support - becoming effective businessmen/women in time. Experimentation is your keyword.
3. Profit Generation (or Conversion)
Profit is equally as important to your niche based business as exposure and nurture. But without the first two, the third’s moot. That’s the point of niche marketing; rather than prioritising a sale, support-building through culture creation is prioritised to attain a loyal and like-minded community who gladly become recyclable customers.
A Quick Word: Sincerely living to serve and engage your demographic justifies your desire to profit from them. One of the most neglected questions struggling musicians ask themselves is this; you want people to support you - why should they? Assume that as far as the world is concerned, there’s nothing special about you. Acknowledging your unimportance is discouraging, but understanding how small you are creates enormous room for self-development and makes the value of others more apparent. This is not unconditional support you’re after - you want them to fund your living as an artist, live for them, then.
Investing time into building your support through providing value will give you worth - you need to be worth spending money on if you’re to make a living. Furthermore, many artists don’t like to ask for the sale in the same way some shy away from marketing and advertising “evils” in an attempt to protect their reputation. Where they believe they’re maintaining integrity they’re actually hindering their ability to share their product with who it would benefit most - this subject (marketing) is a profession that all musicians are encouraged to learn as much as possible.
Once they're ready, the profit stage has begun. Establish the platforms through which you’ll sell to customers. Don’t forget, your music isn’t the only possible source of income. Multiple sources of income is important if you’re to make a living; luckily enough you have endless options thanks to today’s online world. From online shops to promotional ads, creative deals/bundles to innovative products - with the right mindset, money can be made from sheer organisation alone. As an online brand, you can hustle just about anything.
Most artists are familiar with having their music available for download and purchase on leading platforms and distribution services (i.e. Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, etc.). Consider creating your own online shop that you can display a link to on all your online platforms - this is where fans can browse your music through you specifically without you sharing attention with an Amazon logo or Spotify ad. Selling online can be as simple as displaying your phone number for someone to text whereupon you order their product to the address they provide you with following a transaction. But there’s a big gap between that basic method of selling online and the more professional way of selling via your own online shop or with your own website. Your own shop, designed according to what’s pleasing to the eye of your customers demographic, can be a link to the page where you can promote the hell out of your products in ways that you shouldn’t burden people with on general social media and also where you decide your prices. It should be emphasised that you don't necessarily need to rely entirely on leading streaming platforms to generate revenue. You're looking to have a direct connection with your fans who think you're worth spending money on - running yourself as a business and having your own shop is where you as the artist have much more control over the revenue that your music brings in.
So, your aim to make a living is to first use your brand to build awareness through endless communication (exposure), and use content, culture and communication to build relationships with your community (nurture) in order to drive fans to the eventual third stage (profit) that enables you to do music full time.
This isn’t something you force, it’s simply a process that enables you to run like a business should. What we’re doing here is creating ourselves a slipstream - exposure and nurture are literally tools to draw people into your slipstream; the game is to keep them there with your (ever-increasing) value until they’re ready to take action. Another way of putting it is that we want to develop our slipstream and nurture it to a quality that draws like minded individuals into our slipstream BY CHOICE, in which case they come in, explore and decide for themselves whether our slipstream is worth their time or money at which point it's all about genuine communication of what it is about your brand that benefits them. For example, if I’m a potential fan on your social media pages, your content should indicate to me in some way whether your music will interest me personally. Ensure you make clear what you're selling (hence occasional music/product promotion on social media), but your way of pitching yourself isn’t the question to purchase, rather to convince onlookers with your content and culture that your music is worth checking out or that your shop is worth visiting.
Of course, much of the ability to sell involves general sales knowledge. Just as you’d use themes relevant to your culture in your presentation - use appealing descriptions of the music you're selling according to what captures the interest of those you’re targeting. Word of advice for advertising; never talk about yourself. The harsh truth; no one cares for you or your business - all they care about is what’s in it for them. Only speak of how the product benefits them, then, and only why it’s what they want to buy.
Also, decide which/how many formats your music will be sold in. While music available digitally for smart-devices is a given, make no mistake, tapes and CD’s are alive and well. Not that tapes and CD’s are necessarily popular, but the online capability to reach the few who buy physical music is worth considering - you could produce and sell expensive vinyls if you wanted to (many still crave that original crackle and crunch), you could even make vinyl-creation your music-brand trademark. The options are endless.
Here are some additional methods of profit generation to get you thinking:
- Create bundles/deals and be creative with how you pitch them to people. Some sell a song/album with products/merch at a special price, for example.
- Be creative with how your products are presented - do they look appealing to the eye? Is browsing them an amusing experience?
- Eagerly obtain fan reviews and display positive feedback on your products and your website/online profiles.
- Use lyrics from a song of yours to print on merchandise - enquire to your support as to which words/lines they’d buy if on a t-shirt for example.
- Use the traditional sense of urgency (i.e, a time limit/bonuses for immediate buyers/why action should be taken now) and scarcity (‘out-of-stock’, ‘only 2 left’ is often perceived as popular/lack of availability can provoke desire) in your promotions.
- Ensure your music’s available on leading platforms, i.e, for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, etc, and for download on streaming platforms.
Note: When starting out, have your music everywhere so as to test which platforms you find the best results on over time - many musicians will cut ties with even the biggest platforms if they simply don’t have much progress there. Hence the platforms you use are not necessarily based on what’s popular, rather on which is most effective for you.
Merchandise & Culture Products
Merchandise has everything to do with what your culture can produce. Typical merchandise displaying your brand logo, i.e, clothes, mugs, phone cases, etc, is standard. Consider the time of year; you invest in some branded neck warmers come winter and advertise them to your support (or globally). The point is to test and experiment. Not to worry if you buy a bulk of merch and can’t sell it; it may be more popular down the line and what you’ve bought with that money is legitimate appearances - it looks professional to have available merch.
Then there’s merchandise that’s characteristic of your culture. If you’re a hip hop artist embracing original hip hop culture, for instance, graffiti spray-paint cans representative of your brand could serve as trademark-recognition in the eyes of onlookers - every culture has potential gadgets/products that can benefit the cultures supporters - just as the music can. Methods of profit-generation stretch further than typical merch and can stem as much from being out-of-the-ordinary as from what’s standard or conventional. From creative variations of your own package deals or utilising your support for crowd funding campaigns - the online industry is rampant with opportunities to generate much needed revenue.
You’ll remember how I said that profit can be generated from organisation alone - organisation that is boring old metrics and accounting. Careful, detailed and calculative monitoring of money-spent vs money-made ratios with analytic tools can dramatically increase your ability to strategically increase revenue. Here’s the technical, mechanical and necessary details of your business. Metrics are how you will measure all of your progress; the cost of creating your product (COGS: cost of goods sold), your gross margins (profit minus COGS), conversion rate (how much traffic/many leads became customers/supporters?), AOV: average order value (average amount of money spent by a customer per month), customer acquisition cost (how much spent to gain one customer; on ads, for example), abandoned cart rate (what’s interrupting the sales process?) and more. Simply put, metrics is the mathematical representation of your progress as a business - decision-making based on technical calculations to raise or reduce the numbers accordingly.
First of all, you know the quality of your art, maintain confidence in the value your work is worth and name your price - it’s more important to identify those who agree with the worth you place on it than to sell music for the sake of it - finding those who are willing to pay your price is a surer way to doing music full time and at the heart of this whole concept. Many artists follow the standard and name a popular price (£7.99 an album, etc), or follow marketing techniques of overpricing for adding perceived value, or for cheap as a way of making instant sales, etc. Take into account how much money was spent on the product's creation - how much will you have to sell in order to turn a profit?
Note: Keep in mind, the point made here is that actual purchase of music isn't dead in the digital download era. You're relying much more on the connection with your audience to make a living than on profit as a priority. Music consumption in the digital era is much more to do with resonance than access - access is a given nowadays where listener demand is for whatever music whenever and wherever and the modern artist is required to offer value that stretches beyond just their music to truly build support. So don't get too caught up on prices and profit; wide, efficient and easy access to your music is important.
The key here is to keep your cool and not be overwhelmed by the seeming mass amount of work ahead. You’re not looking to build your business overnight but tailor it throughout your days as part of your life - continuous effort is key. Being patient and content with what you have while working for what you want - don’t epitomise your worth by how well your music sells but on your ability to modestly engage with people - just one move at a time for a long time. Times have changed beyond recognition and it’s vital that musicians educate themselves about the business and understand where we are as artists and as an industry. The internet has changed everything in the music industry and has resulted in an unprecedented power shift, particularly in the recorded industry, from major labels and licensing companies to artists/musicians and music consumers (for example, a major labels biggest strengths were their track record and their international distribution systems that many artists perceived as all that was needed, both strengths of course rendered obsolete by untracked mass streaming and todays international accessibility for all brought on by the digital age) - there’s never been a better time to be a musician due to the phenomenal tools of the internet providing direct access to audiences with the ways in which you can engage, offer content and create community. The digital age has transformed industries, not to mention the world, and there’s enormous room for pioneering new concepts that many musicians seem not to suspect. As the recorded industry remains a shadow of its former self, those of us niche-based and independent artists truly believe that this marketing concept of a quality-over-quantity support base that emphasises a genuine, loving connection between artist and audience is what can save the recorded industry’s music sales that have been on the decline since the digital revolution began. Licensing companies, record labels and distribution services are quibbling about how to manage the consumption of music in the digital age and desperately trying to figure out how they can generate the profits they once did before the recorded industry went from CD/tape sales to untracked digital download - its the belief of us niche based marketing businessmen/women that it is us as the product creators, not the product distributors, that can save the recorded business and use our digital revolution to become truly independent of the powers that be in the music industry that have exploited musicians for more than a hundred years.
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to learn more or would like to immerse yourself in this network of like minded, interactive musicians, producers, media brands, podcasters, bloggers, niche marketers, music entrepreneurs and more, you’re more than welcome - hit us up!