In our efforts to make available as much music business information as possible for Alabama music artists, Alabama Music Office.com has asked music business professionals from all over the world to share their knowledge and experiences.
To be successful, you need to master social media marketing and be ruthlessly proactive when cultivating a fan base and a musical niche
It may sound discouraging, but to be successful you need to compete with the several million musicians worldwide who are online vying for the attention, loyalty, and money of music fans. And I do mean millions – right now, Reverbnation alone has a community of over three million musicians registered to their platform.
To make it more complicated, you need to attract the right kind of fans: Super Fans. Fans fall into three categories: Passive Fans, Active Fans, and Super Fan – and most fall into the first two. The Super Fans, those dedicated nearly to the point of evangelism; those willing to spend money on your CDs, product releases, web streams, ticket sales, and merch; the ones who want to stay connected to you; these are the minority. They are also the fans you want to nurture so that they continue to support you over the long-term.
Your challenge is to consistently connect with these fans with compelling content that provokes an emotional response. Delivering music to fans is a great first step toward building Super Fans, but you can only create so much new music for release, and you need to be delivering these content-hungry folks something new on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
This is where finding and nurturing your musical niche comes in. By focusing on your niche – your unique sub-section of a market – you have the opportunity to explore and create content beyond your music by incorporating your passions and interests into your daily conversation with your fans. You can give your fans compelling content more frequently, and perhaps evoke the same (or similar) emotional response they get from your music.
It starts with asking yourself some questions:
1) Which of your passions matter to your fans?
2) How do you find the fans that share your passion?
3) How do you nurture your musical niche through digital content?
Which of your passions matter to your fans?
You may have several passions that are responsible for your creative drive, so you’ll want to explore each possibility to determine: a) which of the passions that fuel your music are shared by your fans, and b) which passions have the most opportunity, in terms of an existing community, that you can explore and so connect with new fans.
Step 1: Make a list of your passions
Take time to do a brain dump. Think about all of the things you are passionate about and any and all things that are a source of artistic inspiration to you. These could include, but of course are in no way limited to:
- Your lifestyle (LGBT, green, vegan, politically active, religious, hobbies)
- Humanitarianism (anti-bullying, support the troops, homeless or hunger aid)
- DIY expertise (marketing, recording, touring, web development)
- Health and fitness/ Self-improvement
- Music theory
- Tech/video games
The list could go on and on.
Step 2: Break down the list and determine which topics you can explore as an expert
A large part of what is to come with nurturing your niche is reading about a subject, staying on top of important related topics, writing about it, and sharing your ideas with your fans. In other words, you’ll eventually be incorporating your niche into all aspects of your digital content strategy, so it better be something you are comfortable with.
Step 3: Ask your fans what they are passionate about
Once you’ve scaled down your list a bit, a good step is to ask your existing fans what they are passionate about. If you already have a blog or newsletter, use this opportunity to create a survey and ask several questions regarding your passions to help you to narrow down the list even further.
If you don’t have any existing fans, that is totally fine! Step 4 will help you to determine which of your passions are most likely to actually connect you to new fans and your musical niche.
Step 4: How much opportunity exists for your niche?
This can be tricky. Some will say that the best niche you can find is one where you stand alone – a low competition and a tight-knit community is a great thing! However, you need to also be sure that enough interest in your niche actually exists for your efforts to be worthwhile.
Once you’ve identified some possible topics to explore as a niche, it’s time to find the one you plan to target with your social media marketing efforts. Note that while this is technically the final step in identifying which passion(s) can become your musical niche, this process will also help you answer the second question, “How do you find fans that share your passion?”
There are several easy, free ways to do this research:
With the introduction of hashtags and the open graph search function on Facebook, you can now search for people, pages and companies connected to your passions on a global scale.
Possibly the greatest function of Twitter is the ability to track conversations on a global scale. Using the often overlooked advanced search feature, you can search for hashtags, people, and specific tweets that are connected to your passions from anywhere in the world.
YouTube is the biggest video platform on the Internet, and it is the second biggest search engine in the world. Use this to your advantage by seeking out video content creators who connect to your passions.
Google blog search
Google has a function that specifically searches through the 280 million or so indexed blogs available on the Internet. Use this to seek out other thought leaders, taste makers, and gatekeepers who are connected to the industries surrounding your passions. Readers of these niche blogs all have the potential to be your fans.
How do you find the fans who share your passion?
Through the steps listed above, you’ve identified a passion that combines your own willingness to read, write, and share with potential high-level involvement from a local, national, or even global community.
Congratulations, you’ve identified your musical niche!
It’s time to engage the communities that share your interests, and all of the platforms mentioned above can help you communicate with fans who share your passion. But there are several other platforms for you to use as well.
Comprised mostly of women (key if you’re fan base includes more women than men), Pinterest recently surpassed Twitter in traffic. A great opportunity to seek out fans who are actively curating content related to your niche.
The most active photo-sharing social network on the Internet, Instagram has recently developed their search function to include a full “explore” section that allows you to search for specific keywords, hashtags, names, and locations. Those documenting your niche with photos have the potential to become fans.
A highly active and dedicated user base, with strong ties to the blogosphere (many bloggers also have a Tumblr blog as well), Tumblr readers following blogs in your niche are all potential fans.
Ning is a social network of social networks. It allows users to create their own social networking platforms (think of this as a more fleshed out version of a Facebook fan page) with blogs, message boards, and more. Searching through Ning could be a great opportunity to seek out entire communities of people of potential fans, bloggers, and industry resources specific to your niche.
iOS App Store/ Google Play marketplace
With app development now so accessible, both the iOS App Store as well as the Google Play (Android) marketplace are great directories to seek out those who are involved in your niche.
A news feed app available for both iOS and Android, Flipboard allows you to search for user-generated “magazines” (news feeds). A great way to seek out fans, news, and important trends.
LinkedIn has an immense number of groups dedicated to unique niches. By simply using the search function on LinkedIn, you have access to opened and closed (requires acceptance from the group organizers) groups that are relevant to your niche.
Determine which platforms your niche community is most active on
From the exercises listed above, you should now have a good idea of where your niche community is most active. These should be your target platforms for establishing, growing, and nurturing your own community of fans. If your community is most active on Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest, go there! If your niche spends more time on YouTube and Twitter, then spend your time on those platforms.
Note: Don’t spread yourself too thin. You don’t need to be on all platforms at once. If your niche community is on several platforms, pick the ones you feel most comfortable and confident in and start your social media marketing with those. It’s always easier to start with a targeted strategy and expand than it is to start with a wide range of efforts only to scale them back later.
Determine how often you need to be creating content for each platform
Every platform has different rules for how frequently you should be publishing content. Facebook is generally one to two time per day. Twitter can be far more if you’d like. YouTube should be once per week if you can manage it. Your blog should be the same. Do some research. A simple Google search for “Platform Name + How Often Should I Publish Content?” will tell you all you need to know, and then you can map out a content schedule for yourself that you can keep up with over the long-term.
Seek out other media makers in your niche
These can be bloggers, podcasters, Iradio stations, YouTube channels, etc. Get yourself set up with a Feedly account and start subscribing to as many of these media makers as you can. This is not only a great source of new content, and a way to keep up with important topics and trends within your niche, but it’s a great opportunity for you to engage with others directly who are also involved in your niche.
Create content opportunities for yourself and your community
Remember that your fan base is a community, and so is your niche. By blogging, posting to Twitter, and creating YouTube videos, you are not only creating content specific to your niche, you are creating unique opportunities to allow others to share their content with you (and as etiquette dictates, this will open up doors to allow you to share your content with their community as well). Staying on top of important trends and niche news will allow you to find new ways to create content that connects the passions of you and your fans.
What is your Niche, and how have you nurtured your community?
We want to hear from all of you! Share your stories, be them successful or otherwise in the form of comment below as to how you established your musical niche and nurtured your fan community.
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for the year ahead is to create a budget for your musical activities. Having a budget will give you a much clearer look at where you want to go financially, how you’ll get there, and what your progress is along the way.
We’ve broken down the process into 4 simple steps to help you create a budget:
1. Ask Questions
To help determine what your financial goals for the year will be, first ask yourself some questions:
- Will you be releasing new music this year?
- How will you raise money to pay for the production?
- How will you distribute your music to digital stores?
Try to get as clear as you can about everything you would like to do this year, and be sure towrite it all down. Writing down your goals will help give you some direction and focus.
2. Determine Expenses
Once you know your goals, write down all of the expenses that you’ll need to keep track of:
Cost of Music & Merch
Recording/Mixing/Mastering: Many musicians now record at home rather than go into a studio, so expenses with recording can vary greatly depending on your approach.
CD Duplication / Vinyl pressing / Download Cards: Research how much it will cost to manufacture any physical versions of your album.
Digital distribution: Although minimal, depending on which service you use, there is either an upfront cost or annual recurring cost to distribute your music to iTunes, Amazon, etc.
Merch: How much will it cost to make t-shirts and other merch items?
Rehearsal space: Will you need to rent rehearsal space?
Equipment: Do you need any new instruments/amps/pedals/accessories this upcoming year?
Posters/flyers/postage: Although not as much as in the past, posters are still useful for putting up in the venues you’ll be performing at.
Food & Gas: Whether you’re touring or not, getting to gigs and eating before/after costs money.
Lodging: If you’re touring, will you be staying at hotels? Using Airbnb? Hopefully you’ll be able to stay with friends/family/fans, but that’s not always possible.
Conference/Festival fees: Are you applying to perform at conferences or festivals? There is often a fee to apply, and for some conferences, even if you’re accepted to showcase, it still costs money to attend.
Graphic Design: Some bands are fortunate to have a member that is a skilled graphic designer. If not, hire a professional graphic designer to handle your album artwork, as well as images you’ll need for your website and social media profiles.
Publicist: Will you be hiring a publicist to help with the initial launch and promotion of your new music? How about to help with online PR? Our friends over at Cyber PR Music is a good place to start.
Website:Well,we honestly believe you shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a new website. With Bandzoogle, our Pro plan is just $200/year, where you can design a totally custom site, and sell music and merch directly to your fans, commission-free.
Videos: YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world, so chances are people will be trying to find your music on there. Making an official video is a good idea, but you should also upload simple lyric videos and other low budget videos. Here are some ideas to help with your videos strategy: Musicians: 8 Killer, Cost-Effective Videos To Add To Your YouTube Strategy
Ads: Will you be buying any ads online to help promote your music, live shows, or latest video? Facebook ads can be highly targeted, and now services like Topspin offer targeted onlineadvertising for musicians.
This may not be the most fun part of the process, but it’s important to have tangible numbers so you can realistically assess what it’s going to take financially to achieve your goals.
Also, these shouldn’t represent the entirety of your actual marketing plan. You should be using mostly free promotional tactics to engage your fans like using your website, blogging, email newsletters, as well as social media like Facebook and Twitter to create awareness about your music.
3. Project Income
Now the fun part: projecting your income. Do your best to estimate how much income you’ll be bringing in over the course of the next year. Here are some areas where you can earn income:
CD Sales: If you’re going to be playing live shows, having CDs on hand is still a good idea. They make great takeaway souvenirs that can easily be signed by band members.
Vinyl Sales: Vinyl sales surged 30% in 2013. Again, if you’ll be playing live shows, printing a small batch to have at your merch table can help generate extra income.
Digital Sales: You should be selling digital music through your own website to make the most money, but also through online retailers. Keep in mind for your budget that online retailers take a percentage of sales (ex. iTunes takes 30%, Bandcamp takes 15%), and some digital distributors that get your music into places like iTunes and Amazon will take a cut on top of that.
Streaming: Although per-stream payouts from streaming services can be rather small, they can add up over time, and these services can also help new fans discover your music.
Publishing Royalties: You should be signed up to a performing rights organization so you can collect royalties on your music, including public performance royalties (radio, TV, live venues), mechanical royalties (sales through retailers, streaming, etc.), and sync royalties (commercials, film, TV).
Digital Royalties: Whenever your music is played on services like SiriusXM radio, Pandora and webcasters, they must pay royalties. You should sign up for a free SoundExchange account to make sure you’re getting those royalties.
Licensing: If you get your song placed in a film, commercial, or TV show, chances are they’re going to pay you a licensing fee. These fees depend on the budget for the project, and how badly they want your song.
YouTube: On YouTube, whenever your music is used in videos that are running ads, YouTube pays a portion of that advertising money to the rights holders of the song. Audiam is one company that can help you collect this money.
Money made from live shows can vary greatly. But the bottom line is that performing live is a great way to earn income, sell merch, build your mailing list, and connect with your fans. Be sure to read our blog series The 4 P’s of Playing Live to make sure you’re getting the most out of your gigs.
Merch: Income from merch can really depend on the amount of live shows you play. Just be sure to have some t-shirts, as well as smaller items like buttons and stickers that you can sell to fans after the show. For more tips about merch, read: Get Your Merch On: Generating Revenue from Merchandise
Crowdfunding: A crowdfunding campaign can help generate enough money to offset the cost of producing your album.
Day Job / Teaching: Many musicians either teach or work some kind of day job on the side. The disposable income can then be used to help pay for expenses related to producing and marketing your album.
4. Track Progress
Finally, you’ll want to track your progress. Create a spreadsheet that lists all of your expenses and income projections. You can use Google Docs, Apple Numbers, OpenOffice, or Microsoft Excel to do this.
Make sure to have 2 columns for the numbers, one for Projections, and one for your Actual results. That way you can see if things are costing above or below your projections and you can adjust accordingly throughout the year.