Here’s a harsh truth that not a lot of people want to hear and which will drive us all crazy if we really think about it. No matter what you do with your music, if you are not catering to what the market wants at a given point then you are screwed. The market is the market is the market. This is one that a lot of people don’t like to hear because it’s a really harsh and unfortunate truth. No one wants to be told that despite their best efforts and the fact that the music they make is legitimately great and well marketed people aren’t really looking for that right now. This ties into the most important rule of music marketing, the market straight up doesn’t care what you’re doing or how much time you commit. They only care about what they want. If what you are doing isn’t relevant to the market then you’re going to find yourself rapidly in a river of excrement without a means of locomotion. Let’s spend some time picking this apart so we can better understand how to keep this in mind as we move forward.
Now you might be thinking, ‘Well this is bullshit, I love my specific subgenre and I have friends who love it too’ and this is probably true. I’m sure you do have a lot of friends who love whatever subgenre you play, but think about your subgenre as a whole and at the most basic possible level. Strip it down to the lowest common denominator and then ask yourself ‘is this what fans are looking for right now?’ For example, if you are a pop punk band and you are doing Blink 182 type stuff, maybe you aren’t getting success because the young bands who are succeeding are groups like Real Friends and Neck Deep, bands who have a lot of that first wave of pop punk influence but who are bringing in a lot of more modern ideas like the new emo movement. That’s just what the market wants right now and they give it to them. If your goal is success in the form of exposure and financial gain for eventual artistic freedom then you need to be savvy to these trends.
The general rule is not to try and compare yourself to an old band who came out of a very specific time and place but rather to look at a younger act maybe a few years ahead of you and try to emulate their path to success. If you can’t find any examples of that then maybe you need to completely re-evaluate where you are coming from. Ideally you want to be able to find three or four examples of bands in your genre who have found success and counterbalance this with one band who you think is concretely eighteen months ahead of you and then figure out what they did to get to where they are. Again — if you can’t find enough solid examples, enough bands road mapping this particular path to success, then you are not putting yourself in a situation that means long term success. And again also be aware that you can’t just choose extremes. You need to find a range of acts, locals too who have found success. This is part of why it’s important to have a deep knowledge of your scene, it gives you a lot to observe.
It’s important though to realize there is a significant difference between a market gap and a market need. A market gap is something like ‘There is no egg salad flavored ice cream’. Except, no one wants egg salad flavored ice cream. There is no market need even though there is a market gap. This is where we see a lot of bands getting confused. If no one is looking for new bands in your genre then you aren’t going to really be getting anywhere. This also doesn’t mean ‘Why create classic rock sounding tracks when Led Zeppelin exists?” Because Greta Van Fleet are having ridiculous success by aping Led Zep. That’s not a dig on Greta Van Fleet, just a statement of fact. However, Greta Van Fleet saw that a lot of young people wanted a classic rock style band who spoke to people their age but still had a classic feel. So that’s what they did. It’s as simple as that sometimes. However, bands who are playing music there is no clear desire for often get cut out, no matter how much touring or hustling they might be doing. And it’s aggravating.
I see it all the time with bands I’m friends with who are good bands but who don’t draw anyone despite touring constantly. If you’re not drawing after hitting a market three or four times, that means no one wants to take time out of their day for you in that market. If no one is trying to take time out of their day for you, well, I don’t know man, maybe stop? Yet there are so many bands who keep grinding, who keep pushing and who don’t understand the market just doesn’t want another heavy band with knock off Pantera riffs and death growls. That’s just not what we are looking for as fans. It sucks I know, but this pie is not big enough for everyone. It’s completely dictated by the wills of a volatile market and there’s no getting around it. That’s why so many bands disappear after a few years, because if they reinvented themselves it would seem inauthentic, but the market also isn’t really looking for whatever that band was doing anymore. The band didn’t get worse because they got older, the market simply stopped being interested in that product.
This sounds really cold and harsh I know. I really do hate when I need to break it to bands that people aren’t looking for their type of music right now. It’s why so many dudes in suits who work at major labels are deemed to be assholes. Sometimes they are wrong, but they have to play the safe bet because they need to get children, their children, fed. They need to pay the bills and make sure everyone gets paid. Demanding someone take a risk on a style that isn’t popular right now isn’t really fair, unless you’re a band like Vektor and have something REALLY special going on. That’s just the way things shake out. You can embrace it or realize that this whole thing is a crap shoot and you won’t always win.