Musicians: Who's Your Audience? How Do You Know?

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Who are You Targeting with Your Music Promotion?

By the time you’re done writing, arranging, recording, mixing, sequencing, and mastering your music– you’re probably a little too close to the art you’ve created; it’s tough to take a step back and get a feel for WHO your music will appeal to. In fact, from your central position deep inside the creative spiral, you may have the absolute worst promotional vantage point!

Most artists have a difficult time answering the following questions with any certainty:

* Who is my audience (age, gender, education, region, interests, etc.)?

* What do they want from my music?

* What do I offer this audience that is unique?

* How can I market my music to this audience in the most effective way?

* What did I want to achieve musically? Did I succeed with this particular recording, show, video, etc?

Mind the gap!

Oftentimes there is a gulf between your ambitions and your accomplishments. This distance is not always a bad thing. If every band that set out to sound like Radiohead succeeded, well… we’d no longer need Radiohead, would we? But in striving towards an inspiration and failing (because of our own limitations, talents, unique experience, etc.), plenty of bands are able to create something new and worthwhile; though emotionally speaking, they may still feel the weight of NOT being Radiohead more than they feel the joy of being THEMSELVES.

No matter who your heroes are (Tom Waits, Jay-Z, Pavement, John Prine, Prince, Yo-Yo Ma, Miles Davis, whoever), we all experience this at some point in our lives. Because of that creative disappointment, because of the tension between the original mission and the actual accomplishment, we can be bad judges of our potential audience. By paying attention to that gap, we’ll better understand who we are, who our audience is, and how we need to differentiate ourselves from the bands and artists we may emulate or associate ourselves with.

Some wise person once said, “As soon as you claim to know something, you don’t.”

Sure, it helps to have an outside perspective– a manager, friend, booking agent, critic, or fellow band– to help us see who our true audience is; but without the help of those outside eyes and ears, how can we (on our own) determine who we are as artists, who our intended audience is, who our actual audience is, and how to promote our music to them? And as we change as people and artists, and as our audience changes due to age or fashion, can we ever really answer these questions?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

No matter who your audience is, CD Baby can help you sell your music worldwide!

In this article

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  • This reminds me of a somewhat recent CD Baby blog post (I think it was CD Baby) "Proudly Exclude Some People." Even as an avowed indie artists, I have those moments where I forget that my job as a recording artist isn't to make my output all things to all people. Then I stop for a second and realize that trying to market myself as "the next big thing" only matters to those people who care about "the next big thing," In fact, I really care about finding better ways to reach that one-in-however-many people who really dig my music.

    • That is a great point: knowing upfront that more people will probably dislike or be completely indifferent to your music, and that you can still have thousands or millions of fans. But even if you're excluding THE MANY, how do you determine who THE FEW are?

      • Speaking only for myself, I relate to this thought, and while I have a slight idea who "the few" are, it is not a complete answer. So far my audience are either too far away or spread too thinly… sometimes there are no easy answers.

        • To both of you – this is the nut I'm still trying to fully crack! On one hand, I want to "proudly exclude some people." On the other hand, the only place you can start is with people you know – of whom many of them may be indifferent or not truly be all that into your music. They're your friends, you really want to please them! And when you're trying to build an audience base, you feel that "beggers" (for crowds) can't afford to be choosers.

          All I can say is that if you don't sell out your own artistic sense, your passion is going to shine. You may find you're bringing people in unexpectedly, as much through your genuine presence (both live & online) as with the music itself. At least, that's what I'm banking on. If at the end of the day I fall short of where I'd hope to go in terms of CD/download sales, and least I can rest knowing I went down making the art I wanted to make.

          • Indeed. Your advice seems somewhat related to that sentiment, "If you love what you're doing, other's will notice."

          • Wendi Maxwell

            Because I sing jazz, the music itself “proudly excludes” some audiences and some venues. The folks who come to my live shows (which charge a cover) are typically 55+. When I have gigs that don’t have a cover I get a slightly younger audience – 45 ish. I’d like to get more of those folks as “regular” audience, but they don’t like to pay, and there are very few venues in my area that actually pay musicians – a few festivals and fundraisers. Guess one of the things I should do is try to get an interview (and some airplay) on a local public radio station because that’s who my target audience listens to (35 – 65, college degree, disposable income). I’m more interested in live performances than in selling CDs. Since recording is not my main priority, I only ordered 100 CDs initially, but I sold all of them in the first two weeks! Now I’m partway through the second 100.

    • Or do you just put the music out there in as many ways as you have time, energy, budget for, and let them find you?

      • I'm hoping to be at least a little strategic about it. One way of looking at it is that the more people you exclude, the more you can target specific communities that might be VERY MUCH into what you're doing. A little higher R.O.I. I have a release coming up in late summer and the disc is going off for mastering in the next 2-3 weeks. As soon as it goes out the door, I'm hoping to seek out blogs & radio that are into my niche & some of my influences and spend the bulk of my advance promo time there.

        • Great. Best of luck with the blog promo. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • jimmy the weed

      i have found that the jango radio site is pretty good for getting your music heard all over the world. also, they have targeting to direct to places where you get response. the targeting includes- genre, artist, and geographic. it costs a few bucks but can bring you fans and there are only 55,000 some bands there at this point.

  • Oscarhundley

    Great article. People should first focus on building their own unique fanbase instead of trying to be the next big mainstream artist. Grassroot movements are aiways better long term wise. http://itsmyurls.com/djo10

  • Rob

    I always suggest people identify their audience as early as possible. There are significant snags if you can’t or don’t. First of all, if you don’t have any idea of who they might be you’ll have a problem matching effort to some kind of return. If you spend $100 is that too much? If you spend $1,000 is that too little? And you won’t know where to put your material… will they find you on Bandcamp? on CDBaby? on iTunes? And what media do they use? Blogs, zines, social networks, print media, radio (and which radio), etc?

    As you say, if you’re thinking you’ll attract Black Sabbath fans when your audience is more like Michael Buble you’re in trouble. Knowing your actual appeal is the difference between success and failure. Terry Pratchett started writing serious sci-fi before he discovered people loved his spoof fantasy fiction.

    You can’t cover every possibility and even trying to do that is incredibly inefficient. You don’t have time to even attempt it. And if you’re working in the dark it may all be for nothing.

    Even worse, for a new artist, the whole thing may be a wash-out. If you can’t identify an audience (even a potential audience) with reasonable certainty you’ll have no way of knowing what to do. Where should you gig locally? Where would people find out about you? And would they want CDs or downloads? Do they care about T-shirts? And how should you present yourself to maximise a response?

    Inevitably we all start out on guesswork and try a range of things but that phase must come to an end as soon as you start to get feedback. The problem most new artists will have is their fans will be too few to draw any conclusions from systematic web metrics or sale stats.

    There’s no easy answer. You can only start blind and talk to your fans: ask them where they read about you, heard your music, what else they like and what they think, etc. A lot will be word of mouth but where did it happen, on Twitter, at college, in the pub? I suggest that every hour you spend gathering information like this will save you days of futile just-in-case publicity and promotion. And talk to other local artists, what do they do and how do they plan what they do?

    And as you say, trust what you find out… not what you wish was true. There’s no silver bullet but there are many distractions. Don’t be tempted by short-cuts or marketing “secrets”. Just talk to audiences, other musicians at the same level and anyone in the local music business you can get hold of.

  • Concerned Artist

    ARTISTS/CUSTOMERS BEWARE: CD BABY sends out damaged products, and takes no responsibility for doing so. They’re professional response to me after sending a defected CD was, “We recommend that you order more than 1, as our products are susceptible to damage.” I will be removing my music from the CD Baby stores. I respect my fans and paying customers, and cannot in good faith direct them to a company/store who sells defected products.

  • I apologize if that response came from someone at CD Baby; the info they gave you is absolutely opposite of our actual defective/damaged-CD policy. Here's how it works:

    1) If a customer received a damaged or defective disc, we mail that customer a replacement at no cost. (Unless we're talking about a cracked jewel case– in which case we mail the customer a replacement empty jewel case at no cost.)

    2) For the artist whose CD was damaged during shipping, CD Baby pays that artist full amount for the initial sale, and an additional $5 for the replacement disc shipped in its place.

    Those are the details you should've received from our team. Again, apologies for the misinformation, and if you have further questions, please let us know or give a call.

  • Bob

    I am not a songwriter . I play mostly country blues and my market is a tough one . I play mostly in taverns , bars etc. Largely ignored to make a few bucks and occasional tips. Recordings, T shirts etc not really an option. We don't have fans . We play as background for whatever. I will say we live in a largely rural area and I am thankful for the opportunities I do have . I am getting to play the music I love and sometimes get a listen from a few folks

  • Krisrubil4

    I really was proud of all your blogs. It can benefit a lot of people who are into entertainment and Music. your blogs are entertaining itself. Keep it coming.

    Moreover, I hope you could feature my newly published youtube channel. http://www.youtube.com/user/krisrubil
    I want to boost my visibility in the music industry.
    Singing is my passion. Music is Life.
    Hope you could respond to my request
    This means a lot to me.

    I would also endorse your blog in my upcoming videos, if you want to.
    Here’s a song for you http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jbNkXiGt8w

  • Anne Allen

    Good questions Christopher. It would be ideal if everyone was our audience pertaining to music. I acknowledge that everything is not for everybody. I've heard somewhere that if you try to be everything to everybody. You may end up being nothing to nobody. I'm hoping that my music can touch people from all walks of life regardless of their ages or ethnic backgrounds. I think that dream can be accomplished whether you make boatloads of money or not. I know lots of people who listen to several styles of music. That may be the best audience to target. Those like myself who are not married to one style of music.

  • Nice work on selling through your first pressing. Also, if you're looking into some local community or public radio coverage, have you seen our radio guide? http://links.mkt1524.com/servlet/SignUpForm?f=717

    There's some info in there about approach program directors and hosts.

  • The X Factor

    As Gertrude Stein said, "I write for myself and strangers."

  • Hey Amie, best of luck with your album release. Have you hired a publicist? My one thought is that if you've spent that much time and money on the recording, you could/should spend a bit more if possible (2-6k) and hire a publicist who can get some serious coverage for your music. Maybe you've already done that, in which case– carry on!

  • Great point.

  • That's an interesting way to approach it, if you music clearly fits a need– think about how it fits into someone's life.

  • Are there any reputable music publicists in your area?

  • Bud Buckley

    I desperately need to answer this question for myself and I’m getting nowhere. Point me to the right person or agency who can tell me and it’s worth everything t me.

  • I suggest that one way to identify your audience is to think about how, where, and under what conditions they will listen to your music–in other words, what role will your music play in their lives? Will they listen to it while they’re relaxing with a book? Partying with friends? Dancing? Where will they be when they hear it–in their home, in a particular type of store, in a lounge or nightclub? How will they be dressed when they listen to it? Who will they be with? What will they talk about? What will they do before and after they hear your music?

    More and more often, music is an accompaniment to our lives, which means that the music is often not the center of our attention, but an enhancement to other activities. Thinking about where your music “fits” in someone’s life can help to identify the audience, the venues where that audience gathers, and how you make your music an essential part of what’s going on there.

    Think about Tiffany. Her first tour was a tour of shopping malls. That’s where the teenagers who were her audience hung out, so that’s where she went. Does your music fit in a mall? Perhaps the answer is “no, more like a bookstore.” Great. Who’s in that bookstore, what’s their personal style, what are they reading, and how does your music fit in that experience?

  • StevenCravisMusic

    Once your youtube video gets enough views, there are some audience statistics when you click the chart icon to the right of the total view number (near bottom right corner of video). For example one of mine gave me these statistics for a video that’s received 4,279 views so far:

    Audiences
    This video is most popular with:
    Gender Age
    Male 45-54
    Female 45-54
    Male 35-44

    There were many other kinds of statistics, but too comprehensive to copy and paste here.

  • The problem as I see it, because I am on both sides of the business (journalist and indie), is that a lot of indies do not think like entrepreneurs. They do not have a long-term plan. They just make music and think that the whole world will buy it. But the truth of the matter is that it takes much more than just an album and an audience to actually sell. It demands the building of a community, based on a solid marketing platform.

  • hanks for the question Chris. I am struggling with this very thing in the most frustratingly, predictable of ways. I am in the hallway so to speak- The shaded place in between. I have created the work, attracted an epic and expensive band, shot a killer video. I feel like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade when he is at what he thinks is the end of the road and some mysterious ground comes up to meet his foot. After spending 2 years and $40,000.00 out of pocket on an EP, (a mixture of Annie Lennox ,Peter Gabriel and splash of Pj Harvey) I am sitting here writing to you waiting for the master. I am afraid because I too, have a problem answering these very basic questions around who I am as an artist. I have no fucking clue how to reach that audience, and the pressure feels very isolating. This music trip is a very Jedi style path. Here is what I have written next to my desk. This morning it helped…

    1.Do things step by step
    2.Be open and flexible to what you may not have entertained.
    3.Follow what has heart and meaning.
    4. Stay authentic
    5. Organize the content and timing in alignment.
    6.Integrate synthesize

    This is where i’m at today. Tomorrow will be different…..
    Thank you,
    Amie Penwell
    http://www.amiepenwell.com

  • Street Level

    I appreciate this article as it poses questions rather than cookie-cutter solutions. Having released one project without having a grasp on how I would proceed after pressing, and preparing to release another album with a different band, sound, “genre” etc., I really want to have a clue about a lot of things.

    Another thought- purchasers of recordings and live music attendees often may not be the same people.

    A big thought/response here- don’t exclude anyone! If your 60 year old aunt enjoys your music, perfect! My friend’s (then) 7 year old daughter was nuts about one of my songs and now that she’s a teenager, she still likes it. I know black and white people from there teens through their 50s who enjoy that album.

    The thing that’s exciting is that someone out there will enjoy your music!

  • Wildcat

    After you figure out who your core audience is, don’t forget that you need to reach out to other audiences on a regular basis (Just don’t forget that it’s outreach and they may reject you!)

  • This has come as a great reminder at exactly the right time for me (about to release our 2nd album and first music video)… we got this advice about 12 months ago from a good friend in the industry but never hurts to go back over and check it’s still relevant! Thanks for this – another great blog!

  • Sure thing. Happy to help. Hopefully this discussion in the comments section answers some of the questions.

  • Stephen

    Distinguishing between 'intended' audience and 'actual' is an odd notion when you think of it. It can either mean that the artist has a kind of scorn for the people who are actually choosing to listen to them ("I'll play these songs for you because you're hear, but I don't expect you to get what I'm saying in any of them."), or they've been booked into the wrong gigs, like Spinal Tap. In either case, it's the artist who is doing their job wrong.

  • Following my muse in full, I never think about my audience when making music.

    Instead of thinking about how to directly find your audience (perhaps an impossible task), think about how you can make it more convenient for your audience (whomever they may be around the world) to find you!

    All Sines (my private label for the handful of projects I work on) posts all tracks at soundcloud.com/allsines (I even put that web address on my business cards), ensuring everyone knows that is the location of the music, and that it can be freely downloaded as high-quality MP3s (increasing the likelihood that my potential fans will hear it).

    Any ethical marketing expert will tell you that word-of-mouth is the best form of marketing. People need to hear your music, and if they like it, they need to conveniently be able to access it, and tell other people where to access it.

    Of course, largely for control reasons, it is necessary to have a website and an email list (e.g. allsines.com), so when new music becomes available, your hopefully growing audience will instantly know about it.

    Have the courage to stay true to your art (i.e. avoid the ‘me too’ effect in order to find an audience)! It can be enormously challenging, but you will be much happier with the music you are making, which I believe translates into better (e.g. more accurate) music, and that can only increase your odds of having a good audience.

    Finding your audience is all about marketing yourself. There is a lot of information out there about this subject. Find what works right for you. Host an event once a year to gain recognition. Sponsor a cause that somehow relates to your art. Do not be afraid to engage your community in a way that is in tune with who you are as an artist.

    It is okay to think big, but remember that the most successful large organizations started out as a “seed” and found a healthy way to grow (e.g. Apple started in a garage).

  • Anthony Holloway

    The services that sell our art should share the customer’s pertinent information with the artist who‘s art was purchased. Their customers are also our customers.

    If these services would solicit their customers for input about artists and their art, and share that with the artist. The artists could benefit from more truthful responses than they can get themselves.

    These services should also offer promotional services for their artists pro bono.

    Artists starve while a few pimp our life’s work and laugh all the way to the bank. If somebody likes to listen to one of my songs and I get paid a hundredth of a penny for all my investment, and somebody else is making millions just making the song available, I’m getting ripped off. They should show more appreciation for their artists because their business model could not exist without them.

    Anthony Holloway

  • jessie torrisi

    This article seems to be stuck in 1969. While it is good to THINK about these things, there are plenty of metrics & sites collecting data out there so you can KNOW these things.

    Check out Google, Topspin, and other programs that give you definitive answers to who your fans are demographically from their email address. No need to play the guessing game with who your market is if you have a Facebook following or email list. Take that energy & focus on making great music.

  • Steven

    I think your audience will end up being people like ourselves. When I write a song I'm thinking in a certain way with a certain passion that others like me probably share. Those people are my audience I think.

  • Wendi Maxwell

    Thank you Christopher. Everything I've found on CD Baby has been very helpful. The issue is always a teeter-tottering between knowledge and time available…

  • Rachel Magoola

    Interesting issues raised here. We tend to think if I produce music then everyone must listen and enjoy I am definitely taking time out to follow this up. Thanks cd baby.

  • Jeremy

    I understand the point to be before one has a fan base, where do we look to create one… If you already have an audience then of course there is no question who they are.

  • Daysun

    This is hard because I think that due to me not succeeding I have become more of me that being my Idols, Rakim, Nas, Guru, Large Professor, Biggie and KRS!

    www,youtube.com/civilillent

  • Peter Veillon

    This has been very helpful. My problem now is my limited funds for self promotion and where to find a target audience for an instrumental melodic metal band. It seems I have trouble getting people to take interest in a band without a front man. I believe our songs stand well enough alone and I myself enjoy instrumental bands or guitar vituosos. Anyone know where I should begin my search? 🙂

  • Jamar Mercer

    myself I have not thought about this until now. I feel knowing your audience is an important factor in your overall career. you have to know who your audience is with your music.
    for example if you make club music then your audience is going to be most likely people who are into the party life, drinking, having fun etc.
    if you make music talking about guns, killing, drugs etc. then your target audience will most likely be people who are into those type of things.
    what are the real reasons when we hear music or a song that we like it or don’t like it?
    to me I’ve come to certain conclusions that either
    1. it just sounds nice to the ear as in the instrumental or the sound. because some people listen to the instrumental and not even understand the words.
    2.its relatable as far as experience or what you have been through this is were they are actually listening, hearing feeling and understanding the song.
    I always feel that music no matter what genre should be felt and make you move.
    to me its best to make music that is relatable and be different in expressing writing to the point where people will full understand you and to do that you have to be honest within yourself and true to you.
    anyone have any insight or addition to this?