There’s been a lot of buzz lately around words like ‘subgenrefication’ and ‘niche markets’ lately, but what does that mean for your band? In a world that has an increasingly diverse music scene, we find ourselves increasingly able to listen to only one type of music if we so choose – but we also find that artists are having a harder time than ever in really making any sort of money off the industry. Simply put – when you allow the market to be fragmented you’re setting up so that even if a similar amount of money is coming in to the industry as a whole, everyone will be making less.
That’s not to say that by finding your own niche won’t be successful. If you can effectively start up a scene with your band and maybe a few others then yes, you probably have a decent shot at making a good living off your music. Countless musical movements over the centuries have proven that. It’s more a question of figuring out how to start up a scene like that – it’s a challenge and is the kind of thing that entire generations cultures are based off of. If you can start a movement – color me impressed. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, you just need to be aware of how hard it is to actually create your own genre.
We live in a world where the bands who partake in a niche market are by default going to be choked out. The choice paralysis that we all feel is something that new bands are going to need to reckon with if they want to keep pushing forward. Now more than ever there is almost no reason for anyone to listen to your specific unsigned band. Instead you need to look around and figure out what you can do to cross niches and create art that can fall into multiple categories. This doesn’t mean selling out – look at a band like Refused for example, they were able to use their classic record The Shape Of Punk To Come not just to heavily impact the punk world but also to forever change the future of rock music. The question is not ‘What is the exact type of person we want to target?” Nor is it “How can I make my music appeal to the most people possible?” But rather “What general demographic would be interested in what I have to say?”
So what do you need to do in order to survive in this world of niche artistry that appeals to ever more specific consumer bases? Well – the strategy that seems to be working best is transcending all of that bullshit and instead creating music that can speak across those boundaries. Instead of creating an album that is specifically “South American Brutal Thrash Metal” whatever that means (And yes, I’ve seen that as an actual genre tag) then just bill your record as thrash metal. That doesn’t take from the validity of the art, it merely sees you repurposing your creative energies in order to help create something greater.
The band Dreadnought is a perfect example of this. While they play something that could loosely be categorized as ‘doom metal,’ their work also fits into a jazz and classical polemic. Their sound is thus very specific (And perhaps only shared with only two or three other bands in the world, if that) but they are not trying to create a movement. Instead, their distinct sound, which proudly borrows from everything from Dissection to Faith No More and Miles Davis to Bach gives them a massive appeal and huge breakout potential. Dreadnought are just one example of this too – but they prove that you can be a great songwriter and craft truly distinct music that can get to anyone, from jazz nerds to black metal freaks – and that’s really the point of music right? To bring people together.
Of course – you don’t need to have an incredibly diverse sound to break niche barriers either. Part of what makes any band special is how they choose to interact with the music as a whole and how they specifically seek to appeal to people. (Which I’m assuming you’re trying to do since you’re reading this article) Beyond that – there is an undercurrent to an artist like Michael Jackson that makes him universally praised by crust punks to 13 year old Nicki Minaj fans, they speak to the human condition and give us something to relate to in a world where we far too often just feel left out and alone. It provides a sense of guidance in the perpetual struggle that find ourselves wading through, day after day, and night after night.
So what does this mean for you really? Basically – look around you, look at the bands you’re playing with and the scne your associated with and see if you’re finding yourself in too much of a box. If you are – feel free to break it – that’s part of what makes music exciting. When Pig Destroyer put out their Mass & Volume EP it totally revolutionized what we thought the band was capable of. It’s these moments of genre breaking, of pure inspiration, and of proving a willingness to break the rules that get people really excited about music – and once you start to buil that buzz you know that things are only going to improve from there.
The point I’m trying to get at is that there’s a lot left to be said in music – but you already knew that. What you need to do though is figure out what needs to be said and fucking say it. There is a dearth of people in this world who actually care about anything, and if you can be one of those people and use your art to share your passion then people will respond. Niche’s are just a marketing tool and transcending them is simply a mater of figuring out what is TRULY important to the human experience and what really can guide this whole thing forward. And while this is definitely easier said than done, I know that with some hard work and dedication – you too can create that resonates with mankind.