Using Music Niches To Expand Your Fanbase
In order to grow your following as a musician, it’s important to target specific niches. In order to pull this off however, you need to first identify what your niches are, and what sort of culture and entertainment they most identify with.
Guest post by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan of the Disc Makers Blog
To build or grow your following and help others discover your music, you should target niches. To market this effectively, you need to know your target niche’s culture and the type of entertainment they love.
One of the most effective ways to build or grow your fan base is to target people who already like your style and genre of music. While this was extremely costly and time-consuming in the past, today, you are a laptop away from introducing your music to thousands or hundreds of thousands of people all across the world. How? Through the clever use of the Internet and marketing techniques. Read on to learn why niches are a crucial way to grow your following and how to conquer niches for you and your music.
Understanding niches for your music
In the past, before the Internet, indie musicians could only really build a fan base by focusing on their local area. They were limited by geography: they would slowly build an audience one show at a time by playing their area and then growing it in concentric circles to (hopefully) play to others who may be into their music and expand their fan base. This took time, energy, planning, and money to pull off.
Today’s Internet-powered music world is organized around niches. A niche is simply something of interest that a group of people share. It can be a television series, a movie, a genre, an activity, a philosophy, a sport, an experience — you name it. Each niche has a community supporting it and they’re not limited by their physical location or even in just one location on the Internet. People meet and discuss their interests and passions on social networks, websites, Discord servers, forums, and more. They also rally around music and videos that fit what they love and make references that they understand. If you can target a niche, this gives you a great opportunity to get your music discovered and grow your fanbase.
A recent example is the New Zealand artist, Benee, and her song “Supalonely.” This danceable song was purposely promoted to a niche: those people who love dancing and showing off their moves with one another on TikTok. By March 2020, Benee’s song reached more than 6.9 billion plays for the month as people danced to her song, many becoming fans of Benee in the meantime.
Which speaks to an important point: niches aren’t necessarily small. For example, there are millions of soccer fans all over the world, but that represents just one niche in the world of sports (which is another niche)! But, the more focused the niche, the more dedicated the fan base and the easier it is to target them because you can identify the specific places they congregate online. For example, it’s easier to reach soccer fans of a particular team as they are more likely to have their own online forums as well as strong preferences and dislikes (such as rival teams).
Because the Internet allows people to congregate so easily, and because it’s so simple to share media and music, it’s much easier to target a narrower niche when introducing your music to them. And, if your music matches their interest in any way — such as having lyrics on the topic, or a music style that is associated with the niche — you can authentically target them by introducing your music to them.
Although music genres can also be niches, targeting these is one of the hardest ways to get your music exposed to new fans. Most genre-based media are crowded and have a lot of music already saturating them. Plus, the “gatekeepers” that decide which music to play sometimes charge money to expose your music because they know musicians are desperate to get their music heard. It’s much easier to target a non-music niche because a new song that fits what they love stands out. And, more importantly, the places you can send your songs with already-developed audiences don’t usually get music submissions, so it’s not only easier to get you music featured, they are not likely to charge you for it because they’re just happy to get the content.
Here’s how to conquer niches for your music and grow your following.
1. Determine the niches you want to target
If you’re just starting out, begin with the niches that you, personally, are interested in and are already a part of. You will have the best idea of the kinds of songs, media, and entertainment they’ll want to see because you’re already a part of their community. These can be your first audiences to target.
If you’re already established with songs and a fan base, then there are two techniques you can use. The first is to explore your existing fans using social media tools and find out what interests and niches already might like your music and target them. The second is to go through your own music catalog and see if you’ve already written songs that a niche might like.
For example, our band wrote a story song called “The Bong Song” about losing a bong and trying to find it again. After releasing it, we had no trouble finding pot-related media, such as podcasts, and they ended up commenting and loving it. Also, note that it’s not only lyrics that can help fit a niche, but also the style of music that a niche might like. Instrumentals might be good for concentration or meditation, for example. And certain other songs might be great for fitness training even if they don’t have a lyric related to it.
Finally, if you truly love a niche, you can use it as inspiration to write new songs that are directly related.
2. Learn the ins and outs of the niche’s culture
Niches have their own culture, so you’ll want to get to know the details of the ones you want to target. You can handle this much more easily when you’re already a member of it but you can also join and learn about it to discover the information you need to authentically target them and expose your music to the community.
Here are just a few areas that you’ll want to understand about niches so you can target them:
- Identity words. Each member of a niche usually has a name that they call themselves and you can use that name to get their attention. For example, fans of K-pop call themselves “K-pop stans” and anime fans call themselves “otaku.” Identity words catch people’s attention if they consider themselves part of the group. For example, most of the people reading this blog are musicians and start to pay attention when you read “Hey musicians! Check this out…” It becomes a powerful attention-grabber.
- Language, in-jokes, acronyms, history. Many larger niches end up with their own language, culture, and history. These may not make sense to people outside the in-group. For example, the term “jabroni” to fans of pro-wrestling means “a loser” or someone who is set up to lose against the main talent. Your marketing can and should use these words — or, if you get inspired by things like this for your own music, you can weave these Easter eggs into your music and media. Just make sure you do your research and use the terms correctly.
- Influencers and personalities. Each niche has “star” personalities who are either opinionated or are creators. Get to know who these personalities are so you can target their social media channels. Also, make sure to get to know who the group has ostracized, as some personalities can be divisive and you might want to avoid them.
- Dislikes and out-groups. Most niches have strong dislikes, just as much as they have things the group loves. You’ll want to learn what these are so you can avoid turning people off. You don’t want to mistakenly offend people considering how prevalent “cancel culture” can be.
- Memes. Memes are part of nearly every group now, and getting to know which ones are associated with the niche is a quick way of picking up the culture.
- Entertainment and media. Spend time discovering what entertainment and media the niche already likes and pays attention to. You’ll especially want to research the music and music videos that the niche already shares with one another and likes.
3. Find out where the niche fans hang out on and offline
Do a deep study of where the niche members hang out on and offline. Online, this includes YouTube channels, Subreddits, website discussion boards, social media groups, and blogs. It also includes major media like magazines and media channels if there are any. Also, get to know any conferences and conventions they go to. By exploring this, you’ll find out hashtags that the niche pays attention to, the types of posts they react to and like most often, and the kinds of discussions they have.
The most surprising and useful bit of research that you can do to get your music heard includes knowing which popular companies produce products specific to that niche. Our own band has had success getting a popular boardgame company to share one of our songs, which then got tens of thousands of views. This was simply because the song was related to a game they sold. The company did the hard work of growing a huge audience, spending money on marketing and PR, and we were able to leverage that hard work to reach a large audience because they wanted content.
4. Create a campaign based on your research
Now that you know the niche you’re targeting, the culture, and where those fans hang out, it’s time to get your music in front of them. This might be as simple as replying to a Twitter post by an influencer with a relevant video or audio and using the right hashtags. Or you might want to directly contact the more popular personalities, blogs, and channels that the niche likes to see if they want to highlight your music because it fits what they like. If the niche fans enjoy your music or media, you’ll find they will want to follow you and share your work with others even more quickly and easily than if you got highlighted by a music channel, since it can stand out.
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Niche audiences are excited to see music, media, and entertainment related to the hobbies, interests, and causes they love. Fortunately, it’s surprisingly easy to reach them if you take the time to understand them, their culture, and get to know what they like and dislike. Through this clever marketing method, you can expose your music to many potential fans who might want to share your music once they discover it.
Unlike music blogs that ignore your track in a huge pile of submissions, niche influencers love seeing new music related to what they already love if you share it with them. You can still meet your goal of reaching tens or even hundreds of thousands of potential fans and walk through an open door rather than the music media door which usually has a long line in front of it as well as a cover charge. The influencers are usually delighted to share your submission with their followers when it’s related to their obsession. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when you can trigger one key thought: “That artist understands me.”
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.