Something that I think is really hard to appreciate about the world of music is the market penetration. This is something I think about a lot in terms of trying to get smaller bands access to larger markets ad then simultaneously trying to sort why certain people aren’t diving into the music that is pretty much tailor made to their interests. It’s one of those things that’s really hard to properly communicate because when it comes down to it, anyone who would bother to write about this sort of thing and its impact on the music industry is probably somehow involved in the industry, so obviously their perception is going to be a little bit skewed. So bear with me through this article as we try and hash through what market penetration means for you and how you can take advantage of it in order to properly develop your brand on a higher and more developed level. There’s a ton of people out there – why do so few of them care.
The issue of course is that music on an independent level is a hobby, even if you are just a fan. There are tons of people who don’t play instruments who still attend countless shows and who invest thousands of dollars into the scene in the form of tickets and merch and find that the majority of their social interaction outside of work is driven by music. That’s pretty much the definition of a hobby right? When it comes down to it, underground music is like cooking a fine meal. It’s not that hard or expensive to actually get into, and there’s a lot of very tangible benefits both socially and personally but it comes down to the time investment. This is a conversation I have a lot with one of my best friends who happens to be a chef. Just as he doesn’t understand why I don’t make my own mustard or tomato sauce because it’s cheap and easy, people like us don’t understand why he isn’t spending a little bit of money to go see one of his favorite artists.
What I think makes this especially interesting and also especially frustrating is that we live in the age of discovery of small name musicians. If you get picked up by Spotify Discover Weekly it doesn’t matter if you only play 3–4 shows a year. People are going to be digging into what you have to say and that’s kind of a huge deal. The thing is – so many of these artists who get featured on relevant playlists then try and act on it and go out and play shows only to find that people aren’t actively out there attending, and that when it comes down to it, getting 100,000 spins on Spotify doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot about whether or not people are going to be legitimately interested in you guys coming out to do something. That’s where you have to sit back and evaluate the technographics of the people using music discovery software. I mean yes it allows people who weren’t music nerds before to get to dig into the good stuff, but the folks really capitalizing on this and making an effort with the new bands they discovered were probably really into music before music discovery apps dominated the marketi. Those people are out there, but there aren’t a ton of them, and they are getting drowned in stuff – and this leads to the next big problem.
I manage metal bands for a living. One thing I find myself explaining the smaller ones is why people don’t turn up at shows, even in big markets. Here’s how it breaks down. A huge metal fan would be someone who attends five shows a month and buys a piece of merch at every show. So you’d be looking at someone spending $150-200 at shows monthly before drinks. Which is cool, we need those people for the metal scene to survive. But how many of those people do you think a city can hold? And if you are a pretty minor band you’re probably mainly catering to those superfans of the genre and they can only financially support so many shows. It’s a shitty situation I know and I’m not trying to diminish what bands or fans are doing – I’m merely forcing us to look at some of the raw numbers that are quite unpleasant when you have to really sit down and think about their implications over the long term.
Reaching out and figuring out how to get market penetration in a world where people seem to routinely discover new music but never act upon it. This is where we start to find serious issues. Sure you occasionally have people like Lorde who rose to prominence after she got featured on a few major playlists and that’s a really cool thing, but her model isn’t really one that you can hope to regularly reproduce. I think the key right now is to tie your music into other things, other brands, other ways of being, and of course to tour your ass off. If you get on someones music discovery radar they are going to remember your name, and if you’re busting your ass on the road then they WILL turn up. Sure there might not be a lot of them, remember 100,000 people listening to your song one time isn’t a huge win, but it’s a win nevertheless. It means that somewhere down the line you will be able to expand, transcend and hopefully take over the world.
This isn’t a fun industry to be in a lot of the time and I think that the sheer taunting of market penetration is a huge part of it. We all listen to music and it’s constantly in our lives, but the thing is that we so rarely notice it and it’s always the same set of 100 or so artists who get all the attention, making it ridiculously frustrating when you’re out on the road and not getting any love. This industry is a circle jerk and while there is huge market potential breaking through to the other side can feel impossible. Sit down and think about penetration within your genre though, and try to develop in a realistic and meaningful way. Slow and steady wins the race, day by day and struggle by struggle.