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Find your niche
If you want to become successful, then you will need to be relevant. And if you really want to have an impact, then you’ll need to stand out of the masses.
You’ll need to be special, unique, and unlike anything else before. This, of course, is the exact opposite of what the music industry is after.
Record companies are producing more of the same, they are trying to promote artists that are similar to what’s in the singles charts already. As seen before, that’s a really bad strategy. But let’s return to our own strategy for a moment. If you will be special and unique, then you will be acting in a niche, and you’ll be the only player in that niche, which means that 100% of all fans who like the sound of that niche will be your fans. If you’re playing satanic disco-metal with samba influences, then only you will be doing that kind of music, you will be absolutely unique. If there are people who will like that kind of music, then you will be the only option for them, and all of them will be your fans.
Finding a niche means becoming more interesting, while eliminating competition at the same time.
If you’re doing the same music everyone else is doing, then you will have to compete with all of those other artists, and people will have to choose which artist’s record they will buy. If too many people are doing the same thing, then everyone and everything becomes irrelevant, and nobody will be special. That’s the problem chart pop, R&B, and hip hop are currently facing. While your music will have to be unique, it cannot be too strange either. If your music is too weird, then you’ll only find a handful of potential fans and buyers on this planet, which means that you will never have a chance to become successful.
You will have to find the sweet spot between complete craziness and mass-compatibility.
You will have to make music that will render you very special and outstanding, while there will still be a wide audience that may be turned into potential fans and buyers. This sweet spot will be much closer to craziness than to mass-compatibility however, so maybe moderate craziness should be your goal, at least when it comes to your hit or signature songs. We’ll soon talk about those by the way. Always remember that you should absolutely avoid mass-compatibility, no matter what your friends or any music experts will tell you.
Following trends is the number one mistake most amateur (and professional) artists are making nowadays.
Mass-compatibility will not only render you irrelevant and take away your artistic freedom, but it will also put you in a situation of high competition.
A high number of potential fans may seem very tempting, but it is a very bad plan to take that road, as they will always only remain potential fans you’ll have to share with thousands of similar artists, and some of those artists will even be pushed by record companies. And, most importantly, those fans are not the people that will actually buy music. The following image illustrates the relationships:
A good start will be to play around with subgenres. Try to create something new by combining subgenres in a way nobody ever tried before. Add elements from various subgenres to your main genre, things people usually wouldn’t expect. Some combinations may be subtle, others may be extreme. Try to find things you are comfortable with. Don’t do something you don’t like or something you don’t know anything about.
Try to create a new sound, something that never existed before.
The more extreme your choices are, the more risky the game will become. You may create something so shockingly new that millions of people will be after your new record, but you may also end up with zero fans. Be wise, and trust your feelings. A very important point:
Don’t overdo it.
Select one, two, or maybe even three genres, and then mix them up with two or three important but unexpected elements from other subgenres. Don’t add ten or even twenty elements, as it will be important to have those few main elements in the spotlight. If you’re a band, then things may become much more complicated, as it won’t be easy to find combinations everyone will be happy with. You may also add influences that have nothing to do with music in a first place, by adding ingredients found in movie genres such as horror (think of Black Sabbath) or science fiction (think of the early Gary Numan) for example. Think of all the stuff that keeps you interested and that doesn’t have to do with music, and try to use those influences in your art.
On some very rare occasions, artists have managed to create a completely new genre by combining existing ideas.
Black Sabbath did this with heavy metal, by combining the blues with horror movie themes. Even if Nirvana and Pearl Jam didn’t invent grunge, they made the Seattle sound popular by taking it onto a new level. You may also try this, it can be done, even it will not be easy.
If you succeed, then you’ll be remembered forever, and you will have some god-like status.
During the past few years it has become quite popular to add retro elements to music. Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Lana Del Rey are good examples of this trend. Their records gained critical acclaim and they have been very successful, which clearly shows that there still is a huge market for music that’s not complete crap. While the music those artists have been making is clearly retro oriented, it’s not really new or innovative.
Maybe it would be interesting to see some artists taking the retro trend to a new level, as if the 80s, 90s, and 2000s would never had happened.
Try to create an “alternate music history” if you want.
There are tons of options, just try to find something new that nobody ever tried before, and that’s completely different from anything you will find in the charts.