Friday, May 8, 2009

Find a Niche

When I first came to L.A. back in the eighties, it seemed like everybody in this town was an aspiring shredder, complete with spandex, big hair, and Jackson guitar. I mean, there were more glam metal rockers here than there are Elvises in Vegas! It was a ridiculous overabundance of people all trying to get in on the pop culture fad of the moment. Of course, there wasn't nearly enough demand in the music business to accommodate the supply of rock bands in L.A. (still isn't, as a matter of fact), a state of affairs that led to the infamous "pay to play" phenomenon at Los Angeles nightclubs. We all know that when supply exceeds demand, prices fall, but did you know that when supply gets outrageously excessive, prices (i.e. musician's wages) can actually become negative? Don't let this happen to you!

How can you avoid such a fate? By finding a specialized niche. If you are trying to sound like the current Hip Hop chart toppers or American Idol winners, chances are that 1) that style will no longer be marketable by the time you master it, and 2) there are millions of other musicians aspiring to the same thing, so the competition for those gigs will be overwhelming. If, on the other hand, you devote yourself to mastering a less common or less currently popular genre of music, you may actually find it easier to get gigs and make money.

This seems ironic at first, but makes sense when one thinks about relative supply and demand. For example, when I lived in Washington, D.C., I was a member of a local Zydeco, make that the local Zydeco band! Certainly, Washington is not known as a hotbed of Cajun and Creole culture, but there were just enough Louisiana-style dancers there to generate steady demand for live Zydeco music. And when they needed a band, we were the only game in town! There was never any shortage of gigs for us.

Here in L.A., I know one band that plays Hawaiian music exclusively. To be honest, they are not the greatest master practitioners of that musical style, but they have their act all worked out, with hula dancers, leis and everything, and they work constantly making good money. I have another friend who specializes in early rock and R&B style drumming. He has deeply studied this style, owns plenty of authentic vintage drums, and has made a name for himself as the go-to guy in an often overlooked older style of music.

A geographical niche might also work for you. L.A. and New York are surfeited with professional musicians, but some smaller towns and rural areas are starving for entertainment. Once again, if you are the only game in town, you will get all the gigs! However, in smaller towns, there also is often a shortage of musicians to fill out your band, so watch out for that potential problem. Good luck, and I'd be curious to hear from you about any unusual niche gigs you have experienced.

By the way, there is yet another new free resource listing links of interest and benefit to independent musicians. Please check out Music Nomad.

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