12 Apr '21

Nick Edwards

Understanding your target audience

Not everyone is going to like your music - a home truth.

This applies whatever kind of business you are in, particularly when you are first getting established. The author of ‘This is Marketing’ Seth Godin talks about finding your ‘minimum viable audience’, Kevin Kelly talks about finding your 1,000 True Fans, and plenty of others describe finding your niche.

Believe it or not, realising this is actually pretty empowering. It’s natural to want lots of people to listen to your music, but trying to appeal to everyone can often be counterproductive. In this article, I'll explain why it makes sense to put in the work to understand who your target audience is.

This article is part of our series on putting together a music marketing plan. We'll be publishing more articles in the coming weeks, so subscribe to our mailing list below and we'll let you know when they’re published!

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Understand yourself.

Everything starts with you and your music. If you like to think about yourself as a creative business, your music is a central part of your ‘product’, along with your personality and ‘brand’ (branding will be a future part of this series).

This requires really understanding what your music is, which can be hard given how close you are to it. How would someone else describe it if they heard it? What adjectives would they use? What are you trying to convey with your music? Listen critically and honestly.

If you don’t like buzzwords or strict genres as concepts, a starting point could be thinking about how you would describe your music to a 5 year old or your grandparents!

Another helpful exercise might be looking at artists who inspire you or make similar music. How do their fans and music journalists describe their music and them personally?

I am not saying you need to change your music to fit your audience - the opposite, actually! Take time to understand the music you make, and then think about the likely audience for it.

Research your audience (be open minded)

You may have a preconceived idea of who you think your audience should be. That’s great! But try to remain open minded and not dogmatic about this. It may turn out that your biggest supporters (who enable you to make a living from your music) aren’t who you expected them to be.

So do the research. Dive into the genres and sub-genres that seem relevant, and take a look at artists that are similar to you musically or stylistically. Who are their fans? Which blogs and magazines are writing about them? On which platforms are they trending? Which venues do they play? Are there any obvious ‘ancillary’ interests?

Use your own social media insights too - there’s a wealth of information available on your audience breakdown. If you don’t have a Facebook Page or an Instagram creator/business profile we would definitely recommend switching to them as the insights are much more powerful.

Streaming platforms are another valuable source of information. Take a look at your related artists on Spotify (“fans also like”), which playlists are relevant (“discovered on”) and where people listen. Do the same for similar artists.

Identify your niche

You’ve done the research. Now you can identify which niche(s) you think are the best fit for you.

This makes the ‘execution’ part way easier. How and where you should talk to your target audience suddenly becomes a lot clearer because:

  • People tend to organise themselves into like-minded groups and finding spaces where niche communities operate has never been easier. Google and social media make it pretty straightforward.
  • It’s easier to understand what people resonate with, how they think and to pick up on trends within a specific culture versus across a broader set of people. This will help you to connect with your fans and build stronger relationships.
  • You’re more likely to go viral, as news within a specific community can spread pretty quickly. ‘Going viral’ doesn’t have to mean ‘break the internet’ - it’s incredibly valuable to have 1,000 people in a niche community talking about you.
  • It’s a better use of your time and money. Marketing to a broad, mainstream audience is expensive and it’s very hard to make an impact.

The idea of moving fans through a ‘marketing funnel’ is not new - I’ve written about it before - but with a well-identified niche the process of moving a person from discovery through to superfan should be much easier, as they are more likely to connect emotionally with you and your music. These are the people who will listen to your music on repeat and support you financially by buying tickets, merch and records.

It’s important to realise that most artists, brands and products start in a niche and grow from there. Facebook started out as a networking tool for Harvard University students. Billie Eilish released her first track Ocean Eyes only on Soundcloud. Starting out in a niche doesn’t mean you won’t have wider appeal down the line.

Some ideas for what comes next

Now you’ve identified your target audience and niche(s)... what comes next? There are a few ideas in Joshua’s 21 music marketing strategies for 2021 article, and below I’ve given a few practical examples of how you can use your newfound knowledge.

It’s never too early to start engaging with the community. There are probably loads of Facebook groups, blogs, Discord communities, reddits and subreddits organised around genres and subcultures important to you. It’s not just online but irl too - festivals, venues, bars. Get involved! As well as integrating yourself into the community and sharing your own music, you can also support other artists in the same boat.

Start chatting to the most relevant blogs and magazines. Some will definitely be more relevant than others for your target audience. If (like most people) you don’t have the budget for PR support, there are an increasing number of self-pitching tools available like Submithub, Groover, Musosoup and unpause.

Work with similar artists. Get in touch with similar artists and see if you can work together. Collaborate on a track, talk about each other online, get a support slot at one of their gigs - there are loads of possibilities here, and a nice way of tapping into a really relevant audience.

Think about related interests. Do people who like your music also share similar passions, interests or hobbies? They can play a role in how you find and reach people, and also operate as signals for your branding.

Use (organic) social media to your advantage. Be as active as you can be on the platforms that are most important for your audience. The platforms most used by teenage singer-songwriter fans are likely going to be quite different to an older audience of classical music fans. Music journalist and marketing whizz Amber Horsburgh created a cool tool that might give you some insight.

Use (paid) social media to your advantage. You can reach more people within your niche through accessible digital marketing tools like Facebook & Instagram ads. Lookalike audiences to find more people who ‘look’ similar to your existing fans based on demographics and interests (Joshua has written about this), or experiment your own interest targeting. At Feed, we see lookalike audiences working pretty well across the spectrum of artists.

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