If you look at the career of pretty much any musical artist who has found success (DIY or otherwise)—and you should be studying such artists if you are serious about this thing yourself—you will find a common thread among all of them: they found a niche. That is, they found something within their music, their persona, their talent or their identity that was just a little bit different from everything else that was out on the market. They found a way to stand out from the crowd.
Between the dominance of the market by major industry players and the slew of indie artists now flying just under the radar, finding a niche for yourself is more critical than ever. Many up-and-coming artists start off believing that they will get noticed simply by being a good singer, or a good songwriter, or whatever. It’s the assumption that being talented results in being discovered. It doesn’t take long for that illusion to get dashed. The problem is that for every “good” musician or performer that shows up on the scene, there are now hundreds of others who are just as good as you are, if not better. You don’t just have to be “good”; you have to be different. You have to bring something to the table that no one else is currently bringing.
It’s not good enough that you can sing like Adele, because Adele sings like Adele, and there are plenty of others who are trying to make a name for themselves by mimicking her style. You need to present something that other people will want to mimic. You need to think more like the trend-setter than the trend-follower. Does that make sense?
There are some artists who try to create a niche for themselves, not through doing something different musically, but by doing other things, sometimes outrageous things, in order to grab media attention. They will compensate for their lack of musical originality by wearing outrageous clothes (or the opposite—as few clothes as possible). They will try to create buzz even by creating negative attention by the way they behave in public. Or they will create some sort of alter ego, a persona that is not based on who they are as a person. These gimmicks only work to a point, and they are very difficult to maintain for long periods of time if they aren’t based in reality. You have to realize that the CeeLos and the Lady Gagas of the music industry, those who are perceived as eccentric in one way or another, aren’t actually famous because of their feathers, meat dresses or whatever. They actually have some substance behind their style, and that’s what keeps their career going. It may appear they’ve formed a niche by being dramatically different, but usually the niche goes much deeper. Hype never lasts on its own merit.
What I’m saying by this is that you need a niche, but a niche is not the same as a gimmick. Your niche needs to ring with authenticity; it needs to be part of who you actually are as a person, so that it does not require a lot of extra effort to maintain it. What this means is that to find a niche for yourself as a DIY musician, you need to get to know yourself, and you need to discover what you offer, creatively, artistically, musically, and emotionally, that no one else around you does.
It stands to reason that finding a true niche usually takes time. Time and patience, and lots of self-awareness. One reason that this takes time is that most of us are not actually that self-aware. We generally like to focus on the practical things—the do’s and don’t’s and formulas that we need to put in place in order to make our careers take off; we don’t want to focus on the more human, spiritual/emotional development side of our talent.
But the thing is, your niche—the thing that can make you a success—doesn’t lie in the social networking, the self-promotion or the technical skills. It lies within your artistry, which is within yourself. So finding your niche really is a journey of self-discovery more than it is a marketing strategy.
Like I said, your niche is that thing that sets you apart, that makes you different from everyone else out there. The good news is, you are different from everyone else. Your gifts are unique. Artistic niches aren’t created; they already exist. They just have to be discovered. In the second part of this series, we’ll talk about some practical things you can do to help you find your own niche.