Finding Your Niche Career in the Big, Crazy
World of Music
By Peter Spellman, MusicDish.com
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
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?
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.
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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
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
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
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
* 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
* 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
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
Spellman is director of career development at Berklee College
of Music and author of the new book, "Indie
Power." This article on finding your niche is adapted
from his online course, "The
Self-Promoting Musician" which he offers through Berkleemusic.com.
by the MusicDish
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