No More Genres: Making Your Musical Niche Work For You

1Yesterday, top music industry analyst Mark Mulligan wrote that  Niche Is Music's New Mainstream. But how do you find your own unique niche and connect with what Mulligan calls "a passionate cluster of fans?"Tarryn Meyers says that it is by building a brand that is uniquely you, but can also successfully bridge genres.


Guest post by Tarryn Meyers of the Symphonic Blog

How do you define yourself?

Success in today’s music industry is no longer about being the ruler of a given genre. More and more artists are finding success by appealing to listeners across multiple genres.

A lot of people in the industry will tell you focusing on your niche is the only key to success. While it’s true that building a reputation with smaller audiences can help you stand out as you establish your career, we propose a slightly different take on this concept. Instead of appealing to one genre, break the mold and let the absence of labels work in your favor. Build a brand that is YOU and use every niche associated with your music to your advantage.

We’re going to explain what it means to market your individuality and how your niche can help you out.

Music Data — What is it?

Most streaming services today rely on algorithms to decipher the best song recommendations. These algorithms collect and synthesize listener data to tailor everyone’s listening experience to their unique taste. Different algorithms will sort data in different ways and adjust according. Pandora, a pioneer in utilizing music data, is powered by the Music Genome, a system by which recordings are each manually sorted using 450 describing factors.

Spotify, on the other hand, uses a combination of three data-driven algorithms: collaborative filtering, which takes from users’ listening patterns, natural language processing, which tracks the mention of artists or songs in “clusters” with others, and audio models, which maps clusters of songs based on characteristics like the key and tempo of a song.

As different as these seem, these models have one main thing in common. They all focus on the unique elements that songs possess. Because of this, what a song’s genre is classified as seems way less important now, right? For so long, a song’s self-chosen genre has always been what sets it into their specific category. In an age of unlimited streaming and extensive metadata, experts are changing that mindset and accepting that music taste is less linear and more of an intertwined web. Sorting music is no longer so black and white, and the power to decide placement has entirely shifted to the audience.

So what should an artist do with this information? What role do you play? Think about one of your songs. Break down its individual elements and consider how these elements translate to your audience’s expansive array of music choices. How will they influence movement through these platforms? By being aware of your music’s appeal to different genres and sub-genres, you can pick up fans from virtually any genre and wind up on all kinds of playlists.

Knowing The Scene

As we’ve learned throughout this article, music genres are a constantly evolving landscape. The best way to find your place on that horizon is to pay attention to how it changes. Start by identifying niche genres and try to trace their history. You’ll need to do your research, so try to find niche publications and take note of how they and their readers categorize music. Ask yourself what key elements tie songs together in a given sub-genre. Being able to trace the birth and development of a sub-genre will help you better understand how to pitch your music to these niche publications.

Tag Wisely

One of the primary ways your niche identity can help you is through playlisting. Getting your songs on niche playlists is the first step to propel you through the ranks on platforms like Spotify. However, getting on these playlists comes down to how you pitch and, more importantly, how you tag.

2When pitching a song to Spotify for playlisting, you’ll be asked to tag it according to genre, sub-genre, mood, style and more. This is where knowing the niche landscape will pay off. Becoming familiar with a niche allows you to tag more specifically. Elements of a song that may seem insignificant can be the key to landing a playlist. The more specific your tags are, the more you will stand out to curators looking for music in that subgenre.

Want to dig deeper into all this? Check this out: Types of Algorithmic Spotify Playlists and How to Get on Them

You’re also given a space to include notes in your Spotify pitch. Use this space to emphasize aspects of the song that align with certain subgenres. You can even include which playlists you want to be in. In fact, telling Spotify which playlists you think your release is best for will increase your chances of it getting placed.

Remember that recommendation models on Spotify are data-driven, so the way you tag any music you upload will affect which audiences it’s exposed to. That’s not to say that using every tag will get you in front of every listener… Instead, focusing on the niche of individual songs and using as much specificity as possible when tagging will get those songs to the right audiences.

Tying it Together

You might think being identified with a single major genre is a necessary part of building your brand, but I urge you to opt out of being labeled. Embrace crossover and ambiguity; make music that is true to YOU regardless of genre.

When it comes time to upload and pitch, do your research, tag with specificity, and let your niche identity speak for itself.

You could wind up creating an entirely new sub-genre all your own!

Tarryn Meyers: Voracious music consumer & mac 'n' cheese connoisseur

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