Discussion here will be on online niche-based marketing and personal 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 along with the necessity to stand out in the age of abundance makes niche marketing potentially the most effective business strategy of our time.
This tried and tested career concept trades quantity for quality of support. It focuses on individual relationship building and cultivating your strengths to produce and serve content/value to a like-minded demographic. Creating a fanbase here means being genuinely engaged with a specific audience who resonate with your own clear and concise artist/personal identity that can be developed through self awareness - creating culture, value and community for your fanbase to be a part of and developing individual relationships, mutual/conceptual understanding and learning which aspects of your own culture to enhance/develop accordingly.
Let’s assume you have everything in place. You know yourself well enough to represent yourself clearly, you have quality music, an established niche, a fair idea and understanding of your audience and a firm direction. You know your core values and characteristics as a brand/business that you’re now going to use to resonate with 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 this beginning stage; the priority is building awareness. To provide perspective, the stages are separate; typically, all people, when interacting with a brand (or people) of any kind, naturally go through a process of first becoming aware of a brand, before becoming familiar with a brand (at which point, your interaction with an individual who is only aware of you should be based on increasing familiarity through shared values, not on selling a product) until becoming familiar enough that they see what you have to offer as valuable and worth supporting. The awareness stage 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. Hence, building awareness and creating familiarity through authentic personal communication with who may appreciate your value is a practise that far outweighs the importance of making sales. Here the idea is to identify the potential value you can produce by means of self awareness, and undertake the endless practise of communicating who you are effectively enough to resonate with who share your values, interests, culture, lifestyle, concerns, tastes, preferences, hobbies, etc, maintaining faith in yourself as a personal brand to build a support base and earn a living in the long run.
The awareness stage is just the art of creative engagement, presentation and first impressions - how can you create a first impression that represents you clearly to like minded individuals? How you resonate with your audience stretches way beyond just your music and into how you communicate yourself through content creation and interaction (music promotion ideally being the minority of the content you produce) - 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. Culture is a large part of what you share with others and is how you can build awareness and familiarity effectively. 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, education 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 and can’t be stressed enough. Time spent understanding yourself, the content/value you can produce and how to communicate yourself 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) - prioritise producing/serving content/value to build and understand your audience long before the time comes for what’s essentially gambling your money with tools like paid advertising. The more you understand your audience (who to direct your ads at) 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 Awareness
‘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 awareness. Ensure you (your brand) are represented clearly and your concise about what it is you do and the values, culture and lifestyle you represent.
So, indirect awareness 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 awareness processes, 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 is effective.
- you're not looking to come up with a business idea; you're looking to pinpoint what you already have through self awareness to incorporate into a personal brand - if there was a digital representation of you as a person, what would it look like?
- everyone's immersed in their own lifestyles, interests or cultures that they represent demographically - that's how you know what your personal brand may look like. The values you have as an individual determining your core values as a business, your personal concerns aligned with your business mission statement, etc, hence self awareness as the core principle of this concept.
- topics that relate to your music’s culture when posting on social media have a lot to do with the values and inspirations as a business that your potential supporters have in common with you - ensure what your posting is relevant, quality and interesting to the demographic you aim at.
Research and engage with those already embracing your culture elsewhere and learn from the interactions. And remember; the broader you're targeting, the less organic the traffic. Theoretically, the narrower your identity the more you’ll resonate with fewer people - sacrificing quantity for quality of support. Free traffic can be drawn in magnetically through consistent brand nurturing and culture promotion - representing your narrow, unique identity - that draws like-minded individuals to engage with what they find value in, effectively improving the way you communicate 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 communicate yourself (your culture, values, etc) to individuals well enough to build a fanbase who you serve value to - value that is the content you can produce based on the potential education, inspiration and entertainment inside the culture you share that with others. What cultures/lifestyles could your content surround? These are necessary areas to consider to give yourself goals and a sense of direction, which is crucial.
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) (self awareness) 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 in the context of mutual appreciation - make it more about the culture/values you share than your music.
- be yourself; you’re not looking to advertise yourself. You’re looking to build community through communicating yourself to those of similar values, 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; 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. In fact, the worldwide impact that social media has on mental health could be reduced were people to use it for what it was originally designed for - connecting with individuals - not for social judgement, looking good or comparing yourself to others. Continuously engage with individuals in your end of the industry to build connection by using shared culture for mutual and conceptual understanding.
The nurture stage is the bridge between being aware and being a supporter - focus, consistency and dedication are essential for bridging the gap effectively. Awareness is only awareness, it doesn’t mean support. Continuous communication is important (from personal/individual communication to communicating your content to a whole audience), first impressions being just the beginning of contact with each individual who sees you online; creating familiarity with personal communication and entertaining/educational/inspirational content is equally as important as just being aware of you in the first place. 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 who signs up through email, text, etc, is a highly significant practise in this concept. Said to be commonly neglected by artists, your contact list will keep you engaged with your support/demographic and can improve your understanding of the common characteristics that stretch across your fanbase as a whole. This is email marketing - sending out quality content at a consistent rate (daily, weekly, monthly?) and keeping 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 often looked at as a tool for getting the recipient to simply open the email - what can you put in the headline that would make you want to open it? 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?
Throughout the stages of building connection and creating familiarity, activity involves continued personal engagement with individuals and adding value/content through your contact list, online platforms, etc. 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 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 and 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. Content creation epitomises modern industries and the value that musicians can offer their audience evidently needs to stretch beyond just the music itself - it’s necessary to improve your abilities in content production, personal communication and creative interaction.
Here’s a list of potential ammo for casual posting/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 content
- 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), share anything you’re doing that might be relatable or of interest to who you share culture/lifestyle/interests with. Adding value doesn’t mean bombardment of posts or emails. However you choose to engage, stick to it and avoid looking inconsistent.
Here are some tips for 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 are more personal and can increase the quality of the brand experience.
- 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 undertakings, etc, or connect 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 concept is just mutual relationship building - the relationship between fan and artist could 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.
Conversion doesn’t mean a sale or download. It can be anything from a follow to a sign up - in this case, it when a person reaches a point of regularly consuming the value (which is all from your music to your online content or personal interactions) you produce. Here, conversion is when enough familiarity has been created through experiencing (and appreciating) your brand for long enough that the person can be considered a genuine supporter. Traditionally, the term ‘conversion’ means that someone has taken the action you aimed for them to take throughout a campaign of some sort. Here ‘conversion’ is used on a general basis that represents who supports you by repeatedly exploring your value as a brand/individual.
This is a completely separate stage whereas the awareness and nurture stages work hand in hand with each other. The core principle of this concept is self awareness to communicate yourself effectively as an artist - the widespread struggle of artists to clearly define and develop a concise artist identity is the problem that this concept looks to solve during what is arguably an identity crisis happening in the digital age of information overload. This era of abundance means that having a clear and concise identity centered around your strengths can give a sense of direction as a drop in the oceans that are modern industries. Creating awareness and familiarity as a practise to build an audience before the conversion stage becomes the primary line of work - until you’ve built a strong and active support base, creative awareness and building connection with your audience is the only priority. In essence, the ‘conversion’ stage as referred to here is for when the previous stages have been implemented effectively enough that you’re now established and ready to prioritise this stage for advanced brand development, management and organisation to turn your brand into a means of earning a living. As is mentioned, this concept doesn’t prioritise a sale but focuses on support-building through shared culture/values/lifestyle promotion and maintaining confidence that your efforts will see long term supporters gladly become recyclable customers who fund your living as an artist in the long run.
It should be noted that 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. 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 (or other potential products you could think of) through you specifically without you sharing attention with an Amazon/Apple logo or Spotify ad. Your own shop, designed according to what’s pleasing to the eye of your customers demographic, can be where you can promote music, merch, etc, in ways that you shouldn’t burden people with on general social media. 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. 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. By all means make sure 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 but to convince onlookers with your content and culture that your music is worth checking out or that your shop is worth visiting.
Decide which/how many formats your music will be sold in. While music available digitally for smart-devices is a given, 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 aligned with your demographic (many still crave that original crackle and crunch), you could even make vinyl-creation your music-brand trademark. The options are endless.
Some tips on generating revenue to get you thinking:
- Create bundles/deals and be creative with how they’re pitched. Some sell a song/album with products/merch at a special price, for example.
- Be creative with how you present any products. Is browsing them an amusing experience?
- Eagerly obtain fan reviews and display positive feedback in your shop and on your online platforms.
- 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.
- Ensure your music’s available on leading platforms, i.e, for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, etc, and for download on streaming platforms.
Note: Until you have a good idea of where your music should be available, be open to having your music anywhere 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 don’t have much progress there. The platforms you use are not necessarily based on what’s popular but 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 with more room to be creative. If you’re a hip hop artist embracing original hip hop culture, for instance, graffiti spray-paint cans could serve as trademark-recognition if it suited you - 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.
The key is to keep your cool and not be overwhelmed. You’re not looking to build your business overnight but develop it long term - continuous effort is key. 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 disrupted industries internationally and has resulted in an unprecedented power shift in the recorded industry, from major labels and licensing companies to artists/musicians - 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 interact with people in the thousands (even millions) - hence the digital revolution’s people power is key to artist independence. As the recorded industry remains a shadow of its former self, more and more niche-based and independent artists believe that this concept of a quality-over-quantity support base that emphasises a genuine 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.
And finally, the grand unifying concept to pull all this together: experience. Experience is the product. The internet did away with content scarcity. Now the challenge that must be met is to create scarce, sought after experiences that give people reasons to spend money on the artists and music they love. (Mulligan, 2014)
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to learn more or want to become part of this network of like minded, interactive musicians, producers, media brands, podcasters and more, be in touch.