The #1 Target-Marketing Tip for Musicians: Be Exclusive!

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Carefully Choose Your Audience

Sounds counter-intuitive, right? How could the #1 marketing tip for musicians be to exclude people? Isn’t it all about getting your music out to the widest audience possible?

But that is kinda like hanging a strip of sticky tape from the kitchen ceiling in hopes of catching flies.

If you want to conquer the world, you can’t start by trying to conquer the WHOLE world at once.

One of the most important steps in hitting your target is to know precisely what you’re NOT aiming at.

How to establish a loyal base of fans

I believe it was Bob Dylan who was quoting Abe Lincoln who was probably quoting some ancient Greek philosopher when he said, “You can’t please everyone all the time!”

Or in the words of Derek Sivers, instead of throwing out as wide a net as possible, your band should:

Recklessly exclude people. 

Almost like you’re the doorman at an exclusive club that plays only your music. Maybe you wouldn’t let in anyone wearing a suit. Maybe you wouldn’t let in anyone without a suit!

But know who you are, and have the confidence that somewhere out there, there’s a little niche of people that would like your kind of music. They may only be 1% of the population. But 1% of the world is 65 million people!

Loudly leave out 99% of the world. When someone in your target 1% hears you excluding the part of the population they already feel alienated from, they’ll be drawn to you.

Write down a list of artists who you don’t like, and whose fans probably wouldn’t like you. Use that.

How’ve you targeted your audience? How did you exclude people? Has it worked? Let us know in the comments section below.

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[Target marketing image from Shutterstock.]

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  • Diana Stimmler Winkler

    It is a little bit of a challenge right now for me to find my market. I am going through a transition. Before, I did exclusively choral music, classical and traditional Christian music. After changing churches and going through a divorce, I lost my fans. I am now writing my own music, learning new styles of music, like jazz, country, and blues. I still like to sing my old stuff, but I don’t know if the new fans will like it either. My new platform is targeting my music to domestic violence victims. Maybe the large audience will need a variety of styles. We shall see.

    • Hey Diana!, we have some similar history. I sing possitive message music and do it through christian people and organizations. I ve started as a christian singer but I have found some places where I can sing too. Well I do it in spanish but I think you can see it´s possible the change trying to mantain your old fans. Cheer up!


  • I am a believer in the concept of niche marketing. Trying to appeal to everyone is impossible. It's really about knowing your music and who you are.

  • I'm going for the "bohemian hobo acoustic folk rock" scene… dunno if it exists just yet but there's bound to be a market for it somewhere 😉

  • I will cruelly exclude everybody who doesn't like my music.

  • Tom Hauck

    All true. And it's also worth mentioning is that if you develop a niche market or following, make sure that you continue to give them what they already want from you. Make sure that if they liked your last track they will like your new one too. The Rolling Stones are proving it after fifty years – "Doom and Gloom" is everything a Stones fan wants. It's got the crunchy guitars, the swagger, and the solid midrange punch. If you want to change your sound on your next release, be very careful that you don't lose the fans you already have. Music fans are sensitive to change and are very fickle. Even something like a change in production approach or values can turn them off.

    • All these ideas are well-intentioned in a way, CdBaby, but I'm not down with the instruction to cut people off my list. I never did like dress codes or bouncers (who does?); My kind of music at least, speaks to all people, and I don't want to try and be too cool for school and only appeal to people who think they are too cool for school, even if that means success, because that is not success by my definition.

      School is open, all kinds of kids go to it, and while you're there, absolutely anyone can be your best friend. It begins with SOUL, and a smile. Believe in the human race, love everyone, make music because you love what you do, then buy my album.

  • Griffin Avid

    @Diana Stimmler Winkler: You should consider getting help from the various organizations- partnering up with them to help share your music. It could be as simple as leaving samples of your music with counselors. If you have songs about the subject, it could build a swell among those with similar experiences. If you hosted a blog that told stories from people who have gone though this- it could be a hub for important information.

  • for me it's pretty easy since i'm producing lullabies for baby sleep! 🙂

  • Hey there. Ahhh, sweet Sweetwater. As far as targeting and excluding, I think it begins with a mindset that then drives actions. Like, really narrow your focus on a particular group of potential fans, and let that focus determine all your more concrete musical, booking, marketing actions for the next few months and see how it goes. A specific example would be—if you're a band who makes hipster-ish electro-dance music with lyrics that draw influence from English poetry of the Romantic period… you might think that you want attention from all the usual sources who like hipster-ish electro dance music (the Pitchforks of the world). But instead of worrying about them, hang out on forums for poetry geeks who love the 1800's. Publicize your music to literary critics instead of music critics. Etc. Etc. Just a weird example of the top of my head.

  • frankietgman

    Chris, I am a total newbie. Just got a song on CDbaby last month and am working on completing an album, trying to follow advice you wrote in a column for Sweetwater last year.
    How do I go about excluding people and targeting my audience? Sounds like a good idea,

  • GoWithMe

    Great advice but with out a plan to execute it; it leaves us in the camp of trying to attract the ‘whole’ instead of the ‘few’.
    Would love to hear advice on how to implement margeting to a target audience.

  • 19560312

    I am in the Mystic-Pop catagory…and as you all know, a catagory is a cat that got sucked into a wood-chipper…

  • ShrinktheGiant

    Chris, I love the counsel you gave to frankietgman. It’s got my wheels spinning already. I’m just wondering if you could give me some help specific to my band. We are also very new to the music scene. We recorded a 12 song album and went through CD Baby for distribution. Our problem is we don’t know what other people would call our genre. We know what we want our music to sound like when we make it, but we don’t know how to classify it. If you, and/or anybody reading this could listen to a sample of our music and tell us what we are, that would really help!!! Our band is called SHRINK THE GIANT. Here’s a link: Please give us your input. Who are we? Thank you.

  • Guest

    As with any Industry there are a lot of “hangers on” out there who not only don’t listen to what it is YOU are trying achieve, their own agendas seem to stun them into the silence of “not giving out” with anything. CD Baby at least does encourage musos and give out useful guides and info which leaves those I have met with “in the real world”, dead in the dust as regards support.
    I spent months visiting recording studios and chasing after people with whom I wanted to SHARE my talents and potential. Not once did I get any encouragement beyond them trying to get me to pay use their facilities or their own concept of what they regarded as “Information Services”.
    So I went home and researched everything I could about what I should do for myself and to increase my own skill set both about writing music and what gear I should have to be able to produce a final product. Now I could not be happier with the results I have achieved. I am getting close to finishing my first album and have done everything from music composition concept to Artwork and the CD itself. All done in my 3 x 2 metre workspace using my cheap-as-chips D.A.W.
    Frankly I wont be at all upset if I never sell any of my music, as first and foremost it is my hobby which I do for the love of it. Instead of smoking and drinking and gambling it away, I use any discretional spare cash to fund my hobby habit.
    If I do ever make any money from it… will be going into the bank account of the person who did all the donkey work. ……….ME !

  • miamiheatradio

    I really Like your Article it is short and Very Informative. I am a Hip Hop Artist and I have decided as of Last week to do exactly what is said in the Article. It is working very well, I am Marketing to Miami Heat Fans because I have the Only Station on Pandora Radio Named Miami Heat Radio. If you are interested in finding out who I am add Miami Heat Radio on Pandora and become a Fan.

  • Thanks for the interesting article. My work is classical and 30s-60s standards so that does the job of excluding 95% of the download market. As it's vocally based there goes another half of the 5%. But if the vocals and backing are good enough one can get by, even if it's not enough to give up the day job.

  • Yeah, I need to get this exclusion thing down. My music is pretty exclusive – heck, I'm a pretty exclusive person generally, not just in regards to music – but it's landing on that audience that thinks that just piano and voice and moody/haunting/emotional/slightly confrontational/with Christian overtones music is just the ticket. I know it's out there. I WILL find it.

  • Daysun

    This is great because I believe my audience is those who like 90's and early 2000 hiphop, neosoul, jazz and old school R&B. Some People want a throwback!

  • Write down a list of artists who you don’t like, and whose fans probably wouldn’t like you. Use that.

    jajajaja that was good

    • broffmarsh

      I'm changing my name to "I Don't Like Coldplay" LOL

      • But everyone doesn't like Coldplay now! To be REALLY niche, you'd have to change your name to "I Sound Just Like Coldplay."

  • Great perspective. Thanks for sharing. I like that you're considering the educational component of your music as well. As a tangent—I've been working on my charango chords all Autumn.

  • Hmm. Tough one. Pretty diverse in terms of modern pop rock influences. Brash young female vocals. Energetic, yet confessional. Kinda like a cross between Avril and Metric. The soundtrack to a broken-hearted video game romance sponsored by Red Bull.

    • ShrinktheGiant

      Wow. That's probably the best description anybody has given us…and I think we agree! Thanks, man!

  • David Mortara

    There is a view that marketing is “the application of common sense”. If that is the case, then why is it that some DIY musicians don’t apply the principle of ‘segmentation’ to marketing their music, as this article implies?

    Well, let’s say if one were in the business of producing underwear for young women (see how my mind works!), you would not target your marketing spend on appealing to young men, right?

    Or would you?

    In fact, one of the most famous (some say notorious) billboard campaigns for young women’s underwear in the British Isles displayed a naked young woman looking down and smiling at her accentuated bust displayed in the product – a push-up bra – under the tagline Hello Boys!

    Is music marketing always a case of “start with the whole world and whittle down”?

    I want to offer you an alternate view…

    I am a member of MALAMBO, our group performing Afro-Peruvian music and Criolla Songs based in London, England. I would say that we are a group that prefers to perform far more than record. None of the members of the group were born in Peru, although I and the piano player in the group have a strong connection and interest in Peruvian music going back many years. So, if anything, we have the opposite dilemma, which is “Who, on Earth, would our music appeal to?”, or perhaps more to the point “Which venues, if any, will give us gigs?” In other words, we are starting with the premise that our music is so narrow in its appeal that we need to broaden our scope to embrace other market segments rather than discount them. We look at elements of our music that are similar to other musical styles – Latin, African, Folk, Funk, Jazz – and target fans listening on the periphery of those styles, by accentuating those styles in our own music and inviting in guest musicians with a solid reputation in those styles to collaborate with us.

    We see education as important in reaching out to new fans, who may have never heard of our style of music before. It is important that they can feel some familiarity with music they already like and get to know what is “good” about our music; that is what to listen for and where the “art” is. For this reason, social networking and being able to tell our story online is a very important part of what we do.

    Rather than starting with larger venues and being faced with how to fill them, we concentrate on smaller venues and pack these out by offering added value to our audience, such as food and drink — adding up to a full cultural experience. We are very aware of putting “bums on seats”, and work very hard with concert promoters to ensure a “full-house” at every venue we play. See:

    Consequently, our gigs have earned a reputation for being buzzing “standing room only” events, where people clamour at the door to get in.

    Also, we are lucky to have a very able, charming and charismatic female lead singer. So, our appeal is male oriented you might think? Actually, almost all the comments under Facebook photos featuring our lead singer are from women, remarking on how fabulous she looks and her stage presence — it’s as if they are saying, “Way to go sister!” Actually, going by our Facebook metrics, total ‘likes’ are distributed evenly between male and female, and a majority of fans are grouped in the 20 to 35 years old categories.

    The funny thing is that most concert-goers at our gigs are not Peruvian, because there are relatively few Peruvians living in England. That said, some Peruvians are our most ardent fans, coming to every gig, and we get a lot of hits from Peruvians living around the world and, of course, from Peru and its capital city, Lima!

    So, starting from a point of such uniqueness that our music appeals to “no-one”, we have managed to turn that around such that we do get a nice stream of gig offers from venues who may have otherwise said “no”…

  • I was raised on disco music. I feel it, I breathe it, I love it! And I’ve even created my own radio show Boogie dedicated to 70s disco 80s pop…and guess what? I remixed my 2011 pop track “I Could Never Live (Without Your Love)” into a SHALAMAR disco vibe and air that regularly on my show. I’m now about to release an all out disco track “Color Me Beautiful” in December 2012. Need I say more about niche marketing?

  • Works for us 90% of listeners are not intelligent enough to handle our music.

  • Ha! I love this article… I haven’t read anything quite like it. THANKS!

  • Intentionally excluding people just because I THINK they might not like my music? Nonsense! You never know, musical taste is very individual.

  • Cliff Stepp

    Any experienced retailer knows the "80/20 rule:" 80% of your biz comes from 20% of your customers.
    How wide an audience you can market to is a function of budget and time. For retail, new customers are the most expensive to acquire (survey sez: $250 – $275 in media per person who walks through your door). Sending postcards to people who don't know you (or your band or business) for instance, you can expect a .5 – 1% response rate. Whether we're talking shoe store or reggae band, internet or radio/tv/print, the basic marketing practices still apply. Soooo …. in short; focus on your fanbase, communicate regularly with them, spiff them with swag, encourage their participation in guiding your career, keep building on your existing relationships. Biggest return for the time/dollars invested.

  • Yes, Chris. You are correct.
    In the world of marketing consumer products, the best known brand making story is that of the Marlborough Man.
    Yes, it's cigarettes and I hate them, but check this out. They chose one audience to go after: young, hip, independent men with a cowboy/wild west sensibility. And even today, this cigarette brand isn't just number one with that demographic; it's still the best selling brand WORLDWIDE — and get this — among women as well as men, among all ages of smokers.
    Yes, there are Capris and Virginia Slims that are targetted specifically to women, however Marlborough gets more chicks.
    Here's why: when you capture the loyalty (and if being willing to jump off the cancer cliff for someone isn't loyalty, what is?) of your P1s — the audience that you're hoping to seduce with your marketing — the rest of the populace follows.
    I used to abhor marketing, PR, etc. I felt that I was above it as an artist. I thought it was disgusting. Jim Morrison was reportedly furious when the band allowed one of his songs to be used to pimp tires back in the day, and I was of that mindset.
    But the fact is, if you want to make a living (or even your $20 a year from Spotify $.008 downloads) you kinda gotta suck it up and join the slogan slingers. And who better and more creative than a musician to infiltrate that world?

  • Amen

  • I think its more about creating a niche then it is finding one. There are many music platforms and crossovers yet to be explored find a void and fill it.