SWOT analysis sounds like a big fancy term that marketing folks use in order to talk down to us little guys, and in many ways it is. However after continuing my marketing research and finding it being brought up in just about every music industry marketing book I came to realize that I can’t ignore it anymore. For the uninitiated, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. By breaking down each of these elements you are going to have a better understanding of where you are at in the music industry and what you need to do in order to keep on growing. From what I’ve come to understand reading in the past few weeks this is a crucial step in better understanding how to develop your band as a brand. So let’s delve into the weird world of SWOT analysis (Or as some call it, OSWT analysis) together in order to better understand how to get a leg up together.
So right off the bat – strengths. This one is fairly obvious, you need to look at what makes your band a unique product and what makes you viable for growth several years down the line. Strengths for an independent band could include big things like having large financial resources, a unique concept that people respond to or being able to easily access a lot of big markets. They can also be little things like, gas being cheap in your region, having a single van that can easily fit everyone in the band and their gear, or having a dude in the band who is really connected with the scene. However, try to make sure that you don’t fall into the easy trap of having non-quantifiable ‘strengths’. For example don’t try and claim you have “Great songs” unless you have a professional songwriter in the band or have already charted. Similarly, something like “Dedicated fans” isn’t a great strength either unless you CAN quantify it. You get what I’m trying to say.
Now it’s time for weaknesses, no ones favorite thing to talk about. The weaknesses your band faces are not just the inverse of your strengths, although many of them can be. Very often the problems a band will have to deal with are just a result of the bitter nihilism of the music scene on the independent level. That is to say, a legitimate weakness is “No one cares about our band” or alternatively, “No big blogs have written about our band”. The lack of attention on the underground scene is perhaps the biggest weakness that any band needs to overcome and you need to appreciate that “not knowing anyone who books big bands” is a legitimate struggle that you are going to have to overcome if you want to find any real success in this industry. I know that sounds bitter and nihilistic, but such is life. Keep a realistic vision of where you are at, and use that to fuel the fire in your belly to keep on driving for new successes.
Opportunities are the exciting part about the music industry, though it’s sometimes hard to see how valuable they may or may not be. Your opportunities need to be concrete – they can’t just be pipe dreams offered by a random website, you need to be able to turn them into strenghts. You need to invest your energy into looking for opportunities that mean something, like opening for a bigger band, playing a show in a new market and all that good stuff. Opportunities can be things like “A new venue with a promoter interested in our genre is opening” or “Our genre is selling like never before”. They can also be based in demographic information. For example if you are a political band, with youth interest in politics rising an opportunity you could find would be “Individuals in the 18-24 demographic that we are targeting are also increasingly interested in politics” At the same time the death of a genre can be an important opportunity, IE: “Stoner rock is dying out and our genre looks like it could be the logical successor” It is crucial to understand that opportunities are all around you, but you need to view them in a healthy and logical way.
Finally we have to face what is often an enigma for bands, threats. Threats include things like “Streaming seems like it will be increasingly non viable as more services develop” or “There are similar bands in the scene with more cash to burn and time to spend on their music.” Hell, it can also be big things like, “The scene in our area is weakening with a lot of the cool clubs closing down every month.” Sometimes things can be specific to you band, and some things you need to sort of keep close to the vest, like the potential threat that a band members girlfriend could have, or the inherent struggle of drug addiction in America. You need to be realistic when assessing threats, the things that impact you are not going to be the things that Lady Gaga complains about, you are operating in different worlds. So keep your ear to the ground and try to see what the scene is worried about and incorporate that into your plans.
At the end of the day you need to look at each of the elements in the SWOT analysis and figure out how you can handle them individually. Turn your weaknesses into strengths by funneling time and energy into them and try to get sufficiently far ahead of the game on your threats so that we can mutually handle the struggle of this industry. At the same time, be sure to emphasize your strengths and focus them in on your opportunities. It’s things like this that help to make you band into a viable company and not just a passion project, though that’s cool too. Sometimes you need to appreciate the business mentality behind this whole thing and at the end of the day, keeping in line with the SWOT principles is what is gonna get you there.