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Don’t Niche Yourself to Death
Friday, February 08, 2008

I was having a conversation the other day with a very good friend of mine who is a recording artist and the topic of developing an audience came up. He had thought of a fantastic idea for himself (which I won’t reveal because that would be really unfair to him) in regards to reaching a niche audience with his work. I told him that it was great, but he should also remember to focus on creating some more far reaching ideas that would be more inclusive because while it’s nice to have a niche audience the goal is to reach and affect as many people as possible with your work, not just people with certain similar interests. This is when I realized something, a lot of artists I speak with that are trying to get known, especially in Hip-Hop, niche themselves to death. Don’t worry, though, there are cures for this ailment.

For some folks expanding their audience is a time related issue, they feel there just aren’t enough hours in the day. In truth, there aren’t, but if you can’t work around that you can’t really reach people and if you’re not interested in reaching people what are you doing talking about developing an audience in the first place? If you’re a painter you want as many people as possible to see your work, and if you’re an MC you want as many people as possible to hear your album. Here’s my thought, start taking ten minutes a day to investigate pop culture, be it via TV, the radio or the web (or all three!).

A lot of artists tend to brush off pop culture as something artistically beneath them, and those that do usually don’t end up reaching their full potential audience because they have no idea what is making people excited and what groups of people pop culture is being geared toward at any given moment. The first key to creating a bigger audience is to learn about everything that’s popular. Once an artist has done that they need to figure out why those things are popular and not be elitist about it, “they’re dumb” is not an answer. Finally, once an artist has figured out the what and the why their final mission is to figure out how they can reach and relate to that gigantic fan base because they will be running into them, even if it’s just on the street. Hint – Although each case is different it probably won’t be in the same way as the pop star.

Everyone is a potential listener and everyone is a multilayered individual. At one point boy bands were selling a million copies of their albums in their opening weeks. An artist needs to take a look at the huge audience that clearly has money to spend and say “what am I doing that can relate to them?” Think your rapping doesn’t relate? A lot of those some boy band buyers also own Eminem CDs. And could you imagine if Eazy-E had only marketed NWA to other street cats? They would have missed out on 75% of their fan base! This is not about changing your style in any way, shape, or form. It’s about taking a look at the body of work that you have and like any good advertiser, because in this case you are advertising yourself, hitting your target audience. And don’t under any circumstances underestimate your target audience. Think pop culture fans aren’t educated? Then you’re forgetting how well Gnarls Barkley did.

As an independent artist a person has to wear many hats, market research is one of them. Imagine this scene; someone sees you hawking CDs, or hears you singing / rhyming with some friends and approaches you to tell you you’re dope. The potential fan then asks who you listen to. It’s fine to list as many obscure artists as you want, but when they give you the screwface look they’re gonna ask “what about (fill in name of popular artist here)?” if you say “never heard of them,” or the always inappropriate answer of “they’re garbage,” you will instantly lose a potential fan, a potential sale, and a potential network into more potential fans and sales. It’s not that hard to say “Miley Cyrus, yeah, she had a huge movie opening.” The potential fan will smile and at the very least THINK you might relate to them in some way and suddenly all those doors that would have been closed are wide open.

In the indie world being able to reach a number of different audiences at once is one distinct advantage artists have over those working in the commercial world. Instead of going after the big hit single they can go after everybody with a variety of songs. There’s nothing preventing someone from sending out one song to Hip-Hop radio stations, blogs, websites, etc. and a totally different one to pop stations, blog and sites. An artist that chooses to ignore all of his or her potential audiences is like a runner putting weights on his ankles before a marathon. They’re just slowing themselves down for no reason.

So in the end, while it’s great to create niche marketing campaigns to develop an audience in a specific area, and I think my friend’s idea (which, again, I won’t reveal) is brilliant, artists shouldn’t neglect the biggest potential audience of all – everyone. It doesn’t take that much effort to get to know the masses, and it would most definitely be time well spent.

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posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:57 AM  
8 Comments:
  • At 10:05 AM, Blogger Abel said…

    Another suddle but untapped topic that can make all the difference in the career of artists.
    In hip hop especially, artists tend to age themselves very quickly.
    Hip hop fans in their early 20's have a completely different view than the fans 25 and older.
    I think it is just natural but the problem is artists who are over 25 are coming off "old" doing things like you said Adam.
    I see it everyday, artists telling potential fans how "garbage" they think Lil Wayne is and the fan coming back with "He is the best".
    Sometimes you just have to save how you truly feel....especially if you plan on having a legitimate career.
    Good topic man

     
  • At 1:31 PM, Blogger Sketch Tha Cataclysm said…

    I have no idea how to reach people dude to be honest. . .

    I am really just counting on word of mouth at the moment and good folks like yourself

    I do disagree with Abel though about saving how you truly feel. . . I think part of finding your target audience is letting people know how you are. . . in performance, on record, in your promotion, etc.

     
  • At 2:28 PM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    I don't think (and he can correct me if I'm wrong) Abel meant that artists should hide their true feelings, I think what he was saying is that sometimes it's more advantageous to work around them. If a potential fan says they like Soulja Boy you don't have to say you like him, too, but you probably shouldn't say "he freakin sucks!" There's nothing wrong with saying "OK, cool. Who else do you dig?"

    And I definitely agree that word of mouth is ALWAYS great promotion. Slow, but great since it always goes from friend to friend meaning the recommendation is always coming from a trusted source.

     
  • At 9:34 AM, Blogger I Sort Glass said…

    If you visit Last.fm you'll notice that one of the greatest things independent artists may have is a direct connection to fans. I find this site is very helpful in communicating with your current audience and gaining new fans based on being tagged and linked to related artists. The site has a number of great tools and should be considered an essential part of any independent artists promo push online. I won't give a full detailed rundown. You've gottah go check it out for yourself. This site reaches people in the hundreds of thousands. A very large network of music lovers. You may find that people in this massive network are already listening to you.

     
  • At 4:05 PM, Blogger Claudia Alick said…

    Audience development is an issue right now with all live performing arts. This is a conversation being held by theatre producers as well as hip-hop producers. Today’s audience is split by region (it's expensive and difficult to travel) genre (folks feel unwelcome or uninterested in genres they are unfamiliar with such as classical theatre or underground hip-hop) and format (audiences tend to go to movies or watch tv cause it's easier). That final example has the spillover effect of creating audience members whose taste is based on the oversaturated bland offerings given by media conglomerates. So what can do to break through? Get your work out there on multiple platforms video, radio and live. Get the videos on youtube or eq.tv. Blog about the shit and invite audience members to participate in the conversation (ask them direct questions). Make friends with reviewers and writers and get them to write about what you are doing. Keep the specificity of your performance (it's what makes you special) but find the universal in it. Collaborate with other artists that access different audiences. Produce events in alternative spaces that access different audiences. Above all keep it real, keep it excellent, and do you. Trying to warp your image or dilute your art in order to please all audiences will only end up with mediocre crap no one wants to support. The main goal is to make great work and the audience will follow.

     
  • At 9:29 PM, Blogger Nervous said…

    This is Nervous and I have decided to stop being a "silent reader".

    Good article. I see it all the time. I work with artists, giving them ideas on how they can "break the wall" without cannibalizing their integrity or transforming their style. Often, what I run across is that artists believe that they can detect their fan base based off of a quick visual assessment.

    I try and use my personal experience as a way to inform them that, though you may believe you have an idea of who your potential fan is, there is no harm in venturing outside of your comfort area to see if others may dig what you have to offer.

    Anyone who has ever attended a Kool Keith show can attest to the mind-boggling demographics represented within that small gathering of a fan base alone. You see every conceivable combination of race, age, ethnic and affinity and most of them will know every twisted lyric by heart.

    I so agree with your assessment that you should keep your negative opinions and speak kindly of other artists. I love Ghost, but he comes across as a curmudgeon when he is performing a show in Atlanta to a packed room and openly criticizing the artists who make up the bulk of the most visible part of the local music industry. How many people in that audience actually owns a copy of both "Big Doe Rehab" and "T.I. vs. T.I.P."? You are essentially coming and town and telling someone that you only respect their choices when they reflect what you find favorable. That's offensive and could backfire on an artist in the short and long-term...

     
  • At 11:18 PM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Claudia, you are fantastic as always.

    Nervous, thank you for breaking your silence! Great read!

     
  • At 4:22 PM, Blogger I Sort Glass said…

    Man oh man do I love that Claudia Alick!

     
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