Markets are an interesting thing, and I’ve only ever gotten to learn about them through direct experience in the music industry, which I think gives me a very different perspective on the whole thing. That being said – I think there’s a lot to be said about market saturation that can only be properly derived from observation. Market saturation is something that we all need to be aware of and we need to be careful when approaching touring, working with record labels, and our general dalliances in the music industry. Some people don’t take kindly to this whole market saturation thing and have a hard time accepting the freedom of it all, but we need to embrace it and realize how we can take advantage of it.
For the uninitiated, market saturation happens when too many bands start trying to do the same thing and keep hitting the same markets time and time again. We are seeing this happen right now with stoner rock – there is simply too much. Sure, the fans have kept supporting it, but the cracks are already showing. Market saturation can also happen from a single band who cover the same territory time and time again. If you’re on the level where you can tour fairly regularly then it’s probably not advisable to hit any one market more than twice a year. This might seem like common sense, but unfortunately a lot of bands apparently have no problem spending the whole year on the road, only to wonder why they aren’t pulling as many people in Tusla after playing their for the fourth time that year.
What you need to keep in mind is that your average fan only has so many dollars to spend on music. You can’t expect your fans to be willing to pay for tickets to see you more than twice a year or so – and of course, if people are used to seeing you play live all the time, well you can say goodbye to merch sales too. If you keep pushing people and expecting more from them you are never going to get anywhere. Remember that crucial 80/20 rule, that twenty percent of the fans are responsible for eighty percent of the money going into the music industry. These people though can only attend so many shows, they get tired out, and hey want to spread their dollars around because, well, after you’ve seen Flotsam & Jetsam for the 9th time, is it really worth spending the twenty bucks to go out and see them play the same songs yet again?
So how do you avoid market saturation and make sure that your band makes money time and time again? Asides from the aforementioned playing markets but twice a year (If that) one also needs to try and have music that is truly unique. Obviously that’s a hard thing to do, we can’t all be super niche like Mongolian folk metallers Tengger Cavalry. But you should still be aware that you are creating your own void. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your music clearly come from somewhere, but you need to be aware of your place in the scene. Being a part of a niche market is a key part of what moves your career forward. It makes people want to spend money on you, especially if you are the only place where they can get that hyper specific kind of music.
If you’re killing it though and starting to make money off a niche band like that, you are going to get imitators, I guarantee it. Just look at the history of the music industry and how trends have a tendency to blow up and see every band in a certain market get signed (Again, circle back to our stoner rock example) You have two options when your music starts to blow up like this – you can either rise to the top of the pack or just become another boring member of the scene. For example, Nirvana was the first grunge band and rather than falter they certainly were able to take the sound to the next level and maintain their claim to the throne.
So how do you make market saturation work for you? Well – you need to view market saturation as a chance to diversify your interests. Have you hit the US and Europe five times apiece over the last three years? Well maybe it’s time to take a break from that and try your luck in Australia and then move into a developing market like Southeastern Asia. I’m not guaranteeing that this will always be a huge success, but it actively contributes to the narrative of your band. If everyone has seen you play a dozen times because you’ve opened for every band you possibly could, people just aren’t going to care after a while. You need to be extremely careful with how often you play live because no matter how much your fans love you they can only support so much of your music before their wallets are going to need a break.
At the end of the day, market saturation is ultimately a sign of success. If you’re doing well enough that this is something that you have to worry about then clearly you had people who cared in the first place. It’s also one of those things where, when you are at the level where you need to worry about it, you kind of start to figure it out. But the thing is, after a certain point you see so many bands screwing this up that I felt like an article had to be done. Just keep in mind, you can only expect so much from the music scene, they want to give you money and support you but you can’t expect too much. Draw the line and work from there – or face a lifetime of disappointment.