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I came across The History of Future Folk on Netflix a little while ago and I decided to watch it. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the movie, and I think every musician should consider watching it, because there are some great takeaways for independent artists.
A Brief Discourse on Niche Marketing
It seems as though many musicians shy away from niche marketing. I think this might be because artists equate niche markets with small-time.
In a broader sense, a niche market is defined as a subset of a bigger market, where products and services are developed to satisfy specific consumer needs.
From that perspective, we could call every musical genre a niche market, because they are each smaller pieces of the bigger music consumption pie. However, for some, that definition might be a little too loose. After all, if you are in a rock band, you’re one among many. Rock may be a subset of music, but it’s a pretty massive subset.
What if you had circus clowns playing hard rock on a stage rigged with pyrotechnics and a light show? Yes, I am referring to KISS. Most people probably wouldn’t refer to them as a niche band anymore. However, we do have to consider the possibility that they wouldn’t be as recognized as they are if not for their brilliant branding and the fact that they were a little different from any other rock band that came before them.
Does everybody like KISS? No.
Were they always as popular as they are today? Of course not.
So, in essence, they started as a niche band. Based on the previous definition, KISS exists in a subset of the rock market. Some people might call it glam metal. Still, they had to build their fan base from scratch, just like every other musical act out there.
In short, if you are skeptical of niche markets, relax. Creating a niche could be as simple as taking a pre-existing genre and presenting it in a new way that’s uniquely you.
The reason I bring up niche marketing is because I believe Future Folk is a great example of a niche band.
What sort of music do they play? Bluegrass and folk. That’s it? Why yes, except they adopt alien personas onstage, and they tell jokes about taking over the planet. They also wear funny-looking black and red alien costumes. They essentially wear red buckets on their heads too. Brilliant!
Why is that brilliant, you may ask? Because it’s duplicable.
In other words, they’ve created a movement that their fans can easily follow. Anybody can wear a red bucket on their head and identify themselves as a Future Folk fan. Anybody can yell out “Hondo!” By the way, planet Hondo is where the Future Folk are from, and they often use it as a catchphrase (and it is usually met by an enthusiastic “Hondo!” from the audience).
Would this work as well for a duo that didn’t actually play great songs? Maybe not. However, it’s the combination of the humor, the music, the costumes and the catchphrase that really makes it all work.
You may have heard Derek Sivers talk about how to start a movement. That is essentially what the Future Folk have done.
The Profitability of Niche Markets
No one would really be interested in niche markets if they weren’t actually profitable, right? Well, that depends.
Some people might be in it for the money. For those people, maybe mainstream success is appealing. Maybe pleasing everyone should be their prerogative. I don’t believe pleasing everyone is even a remote possibility, but it is possible to create a massive fan base and gain mainstream recognition. If that’s what you want to do, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Some people might want to play for the sake of the art and the enjoyment that comes from creating. Maybe they could care less about how much money they would make. There’s nothing wrong with that either.
Either way, let’s put to rest the idea that niche markets aren’t profitable. That’s a ridiculous notion. If you see an opening that should be filled, fill it. There’s no telling where that could lead you. It may work, and it may not. How is that any different from not creating a niche?
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