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b)Finding Your Niche Career in the Big, Crazy World of Music/b)

By: Peter Spellman (Music Business Solutions)
2004-01-06

Imagine for a moment that you're attending a music conference and you meet several individuals for the first time. Each one tells you what he or she does as follows:

Person A: "I've started a business offering private music instruction, selling guitars, and repairing amplifiers."

Person B: "I do a variety of things: notation, sound design, performing and some music therapy, when time allows. I also just released my first CD."

Person C: "I'm running a web site for jazz musicians, performing in an 80s rock band, and studying for my real estate license."

What's your reaction to these individuals? Are you impressed? Would you be interested in doing business with them? A month from now, if you were to find their business cards lying on your desk, do you think you'd remember who they were? Would you even keep their cards?

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Chances are, based on these introductions alone, you would not. And you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that these individuals are all having difficulty getting enough business. They, however, are baffled. They don't understand why they're not generating enough work to sustain them.

Coming to the Point

Why do you think these people are having trouble achieving the success they're seeking? It is because they are making one of the most common, but least talked about, marketing mistakes: they haven't decided what business they're in.

Actually, they're trying to run a variety of different businesses in hopes of being versatile and picking up as much work as possible. Musicians, in particular, are prone to this and often it is necessary to offer a variety of services in order to bring in the cash you need to live, especially in the early stages of one's career.

But if you are going to survive in this business you need to establish and maintain a competitive position, a focused niche, one that differentiates you from everything else that is out there.

Yet, I'll venture to say most musicians are having a hard time getting business because in order to spread the word about you, people must be crystal clear about what business you're in. And this clarity is lacking.

People must perceive that you know what you're doing, that you're fully committed to it, and that you take it seriously.

Whether you're performing, songwriting, designing sound, producing, selling CDs or starting your own micro-business, it is crucial to zero in on what you're doing. It's easy to squander energy on distractions that keep us from what we know we can achieve.

The Challenge of Focusing

In study after study of successful individuals, one trait found to be common among them all is this: they were all highly focused. At some point along the way, they had each realized that they had to make a commitment to one business idea. And, in fact, many of them had to make difficult choices and let go of some possibilities that seemed appealing.

People don't focus for a number of reasons: Perhaps they fear that by focusing on one thing they risk not having enough business; or, maybe they don't want to miss an opportunity; or perhaps they just plain have multiple interests.

Whatever the reason, you need to become attuned to the fact that the times call for focus. Mass customization and a segmenting marketplace allow for the development of products and services of a "niche" nature.

Since few of us have the time, money or energy to mount national marketing campaigns, it is in our best interest to discover and concentrate on a niche that we can develop towards successful enterprise.

What is a "niche"? Niche is an architectural term referring to a special place that's designed to display or show off an object of some kind, like an ornament, that's placed in a recess of a wall or an arched area of a room. And that's just what a niche can be for you. Finding your niche will set you off from others who do something similar and draw the best possible attention to you and what you can offer.

Examples of niche marketing abound in the world of music:

* Chris Silvers used to take out every Latin music recording from the Dallas Public Library and play along with them, until he mastered the horn lines. As a result, he became a first-call musician and horn arranger for all Latin bands passing through the Southwest and beyond.

* Austin native Joyce Mennihan was always drawn to music's power to heal. She took this interest and turned it into "Sound Health," a company providing workshops, seminars and books about music therapy and its health benefits.

* Lee Jason Kibler (aka DJ Logic) turned an interest in sampling and a love of multiple music styles, into a unique production sound so that his chops are some of the most in-demand from top recording artists.

* Boston's Rosie Cohen, took a love of singer songwriters, a passion for adult literacy, and tireless devotion, and turned it into Big Girl Records' first release, "Can You Read This Boston?," a compilation album of singer-songwriters, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Boston Adult Literacy Fund.

Exercise - The niche you decide to focus on will be a reflection of your interests, values, personality and skills, as well as the times your living in. Your goal should be to define what you do by depth, not by breadth.

To help you decide on the one niche you want to become known for in music, or to just bring clearer focus to the music niche you already identify with, weigh your options by asking yourself:

Which things do I do best in music?

Which activities do I enjoy most in music?

What do I do that people need and appreciate most?

In what areas do I have the greatest expertise and experience?

What am I already best known for?

What do I have the best contacts to do?

What will people most readily pay me for?

What involves the least risk?

What fits best with my lifestyle and personal goals?

What comes most naturally to me?

What am I most eager to promote?

If you notice the same activity showing up as an answer over and over again, you're getting close to understanding what your niche is.

Discovering Your Niche

Finding a niche means clearly identifying a group of people who need a particular product or service you're distinctively able to provide. Your niche needs to be small enough that you don't have much competition and reach most of your potential customers within the limits of your time and budget, yet large enough to include ample customers you can support yourself by serving.

Here is a sampling of strategies for scoping out a niche that is right for you:

1) Select a growth area. When a market is growing, there is more room for everybody. Therefore, your chances of winning are highest when you pick a market that is on the upswing. This can apply to musical styles as well as to entire industries. For example, the technology explosion in media and entertainment is creating and will continue to create new jobs for musicians.

2) Don't automatically follow the crowd, and don't necessarily pick the obvious. It's always a good idea to select a market with as few competitors as possible. Do you want to be one of 400 bands trying out for the same gig? Me neither. Always look for opportunities that everyone else is overlooking.

3) Attempt to put a lock on a specific market niche. This is one of the most important competitive strategies. A market niche is a specialization within a market. For example, a studio musician in the L.A area who primarily plays piano on country sessions has created a personal niche as did the previously-mentioned Chris Silvers of Dallas. Select a market niche that is large enough to pay you well, one that you believe you can dominate. Then take charge of it. Meet all the important people, develop an excellent reputation, maintain the highest standards -- whatever you need to do.

4) Be memorable. This is a stylistic version of items 2 and 3. If you want to go far in the music industry, you need to give others a reason to remember you. Whether you have a unique appearance, sound, stage presence, packaging or whatever, you must stand out from the crowd. Apply your creativity in everything, from note choice to envelopes.

5) Excel at what you do. While technical skill and polish don't guarantee you success, there is never a penalty for being too good at what you do. And there are plenty of situations where the better player or the more confident performer wins.

Your ideal niche will lie at the crossroads where your interests and assets intersect with opportunities you have to meet real-life needs around you.

Sometimes one's niche is revealed like a bolt of lightning, but most of the time it comes to us like the gradual unfolding of a flower. My belief is if you've figured it out by the time you're 35, you're doing fine. Patience is key.

What will your unique contribution to the world of music be?