This issue comes up frequently with independent artists. They know their art is good, but they have a hard time getting it out there. When asked who their audience is, they either don't know at all or can't articulate it with much detail. Finding your tribe requires a shift in focus from what you do to who you're in a conversation with...because if you don't know what your target is, how can you hit it more effectively?
While speaking with the musician, I noticed recurring themes between her narrative and the narrative of other musicians who have trouble targeting their audience. She had no idea who her audience was, what they wanted, or where they spent their time. These types of oversights can be deadly, as they are fatiguing to artists and annoying to fans. The following are some strategies that artists use to reach their audiences effectively and sustain over time.
1. They let their audience pick them. Art of all kinds has a frequency all its own. We may create our work with a particular audience in mind (or no audience in mind at all), but when we put it out there, we may find that those we thought would love our work aren't that interested. If the audience you wanted to reach isn't the audience that supports you, try getting your art in as many different media as possible. Allow your fans to come to you. You will discover who they are by publishing your work and then seeing where it lands, who's listening to it, and who's commenting. Tools like Google Analytics can help to track information about who is really engaging with your music. Use an open social media platform like facebook or YouTube that allows people to interact with your work on their own accord. Also, if you perform frequently, carry an email list and stay in constant contact with the people who sign it. Create a squeeze page on your website that will allow potential supporters to get and stay connected with you every time they visit your site. It may take a little leg work and research, but finding your tribe is the first step toward targeting them effectively. And the more creepy details you can discover about your tribe (which are really just the creepy details you reveal about your artistic self), the more likely you will engage them with your creativity. As you grow and change, a loyal tribe will grow and change with you...instead of drop you like a bad habit when you put out a song they don't like.
2. They're unique. I think the word "universal" is overused. Universal implies that anyone outside of the "universe" is odd or doesn't count. However, most of us would identify as "outsiders." People feel and like to feel exclusive, unique, and special. "Quirky" artists tend to have more success reaching audiences and keeping audiences engaged over time than those who just seem like another version of something that's been done before. Additionally, they find niches and create cult followings that carry them throughout their career. Their uniqueness keeps them from being easily replaced in the eyes of their fans.
3. They don't take themselves too seriously. Artists who have a sense of humor are easier to stomach, more fun to watch, and more likely to be talked about and have their material shared. Having a sense of humor doesn't mean cooning. It just means that people want to feel good and connect to the artist when they listen to music. Levity helps that happen. Furthermore, people want to be able to make your music their own. Folks wanna be able to scream "That's MY SONG!" and mean it. When audience targeting, it's important to remember, it's not always about you.
4. They're published. I remember being told over and over again through my life, whether working as a lab tech for the USDA or working on my PhD in grad school that the way to keep my professional reputation and earning potential high is to publish: publish or parish. Music industry professionals know that music publishing is quite lucrative. Why else do you think non-creative opportunists are so gung ho about getting artists to publish on their labels? I'm always astounded by how many veteran musicians have either never published their music or have only published 1 solo project or 1 single. It's natural to want to produce a hit, but don't let the hope for a hit prevent you from publishing great music that will still increase in value over time, and have significant potential to generate income. The song at the #145 slot on the charts still sells somewhere. But besides the money, publishing is the most effective way to get art placed and heard throughout the world. I mean, you can rely on the "it's all about who you know" model, but I don't have time to be picking mercurial gatekeepers' locks.
5. They're professional. From communicating effectively to looking the part to fan maintenance to showing up on time to simply being nice to people, professionalism is often the missing piece in many an artist's career. If you're really trying to reach people, sell music, and target an audience, you have to treat your music career like a business. Study business, get a good team together, manage legalities and financials, and be strategic. There's no short cut and there's no way around it. Find mentors, study business plans, and read everything you can about music business. Sure, it may not all be fun, but it beats getting a job and asking "What if?" for the rest of your life, in my opinion.
6. They have a SMART measure for success. What exactly does it mean to "target your audience effectively?" Are you happy with being talked about in your local newspaper? Are you more interested in getting your music on blogs? Do you want national or international exposure? What countries? Do you want your work transcribed and sold as sheet music? Do you want your music in movies? Do you just want to get chicks or make your daughter proud? How would you know you reached your goal? Unless you have a SMART measure of success (meaning that your goals are Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Reachable, and Time specific), you will never know whether or not you reached your goal and you may be reaching for something that either doesn't exist, or that you've achieved many times over that simply isn't a good goal. Every time you reach a SMART goal, set a new one!
7. They are generous with their art. I totally get it. The music industry is fucked up and people are full of shit. However, if you are too protective of your art, you may miss opportunities to reach the people who want what you have to offer and are willing to pay for it. Consider giving music away for free to fans on a regular basis, sharing music on YouTube, encouraging others to remix your music, and most certainly, never penalize or fight with a fan for sharing your music. These days, pirating is really just free advertising. With tools like the YouTube content ID program, SoundExchange, and the PROs (like ASCAP or BMI), along with recent amendments to the Copyright Act that apply to file sharing in the Internet age, it's almost impossible for anyone to exploit your music without you getting paid for it...unless it's their goal to do so, which you can choose to fight or not. Many artists fight with organizations claiming that they should receive more money for their distribution, but I have found that these organizations help more than harm artists by exposing them to more audiences and collecting on their behalf. Despite the differing opinions on this matter, I find it important to remember how incredibly gatekeeperish, selective, and exploitative the music industry was just a few years ago. Every artist has a different philosophy, but personally, I'm more interested in making and sharing my art than policing. The more proactive I am about getting my music out there, the more people are likely to find it. I've discovered that most art lovers enjoy making sure their favorite artist is compensated for their work.
8. They use the right hooks and the right bait. Hollywood movies have many artists believing that they're going to be discovered at a coffee shop or a karaoke bar. So they go everywhere and present their art without discretion...because this just might be their "big break"...and they "never know who's in the audience." Truth is that the majority of successful working musicians were never discovered in some lucky chance. They worked hard, perfected their craft, found their medium, practiced, recorded, published and surrounded themselves with a competent team of people they trust. It was their hard work and focused strategy that paid off, despite what it looks like on the cameras. Using the right hook and the right bait for the right catch leads to more catchin' days.
The musician mentioned earlier probably can reach everyone with her music, but a focused strategy for reaching a specific target can make all the difference in the world. You can always capture the universe later.
What are some methods you've used to target your audience?