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Finding Your Natural Audience

audienceSongwriters, do you know who your natural audience is?

Your songs exist at a point within or outside the commercial mainstream. If they fall in the mainstream, they are similar to other songs, and are most likely to be embraced by a pop audience. If they hang out on the fringes, they are discernible from other songs, and are most likely to be noticed by a niche audience. The pop audience is larger and more accepting, the niche audience smaller and more discriminating. Each has its pros and cons.

Pop and niche artists are different animals:

Pop: Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, T-Pain, Gwen Stefani, Chris Brown.

Niche: Nick Cave, Jonathan Richman, Polly Jean Harvey, Howe Gelb, Daniel Johnston, Robert Pollard.

You’re more likely to hear Taylor Swift at the shopping mall than you are Howe Gelb. Why? Swift sings of romantic disappointment and packages it for adolescent girls, who frequent malls in droves. Gelb sings about more arcane things, which are less relatable to shoppers. At the mall, Swift is going platinum while Gelb is going quietly. But Gelb, a rough-hewn, outsider songwriter in the Neil Young vein, is known to a certain audience, and has been known to that audience since before Swift was born.

Each of these songwriters has enthusiastic fans. But their audiences are as different as Diet Coke and desert dust.

identity mirrorThe Artist-Audience Mirror

“I’ll be your mirror,
reflect what you are,
in case you don’t know.”

-The Velvet Underground

An audience responds to a song when they identify with it. Something about the song — style, sound, point of view — resonates in them, rings a bell, causes them to remember and replay it. When an audience responds to your song, they are basically mirroring you, identifying you as one of them. They are seeing things as you do, and valuing your song as you do.

You are giving voice to something the audience already feels and knows.

And that can’t be faked — you either reflect the audience or you don’t. If you reflect the audience, your songs might, if you’re lucky, play as background for some of their thoughts and dreams.

It might look like it’s just you in the mirror. But your natural audience is there, too.

Connecting with Your Natural Audience

Artists sometimes try to reach out to everyone with their marketing. It makes sense at first — why limit yourself, after all, to engaging a particular group? Why not introduce yourself to sparkly tweens and college professors and stockbrokers and pizza delivery guys all at once? It’s better to have “more balls in the drum,” right? Wrong. Your music career is not the lottery. The less you focus on a particular segment of your audience, the less those people feel you’re talking to them, and the less they identify with you and your music.  When you try to talk to everyone, you’re actually not speaking directly to anyone.

To connect with your natural audience, set aside your preconceived notions and think for a moment about who you are. Ask yourself: What do I write about? Who is interested in those things? Who are my favorite artists, and which artists do people think I sound like? Who listens to those artists? The answers to those questions will produce a surprisingly accurate sketch of your ideal fan.

That person is living in your town, in the next town over, and on the web. Find them and introduce yourself. And then find their friends.


For more on your natural audience, read “Why Originality Matters” (at Music Think Tank | at Wampus).

Mark Doyon is principal and creative director of Wampus Multimedia, a record label, publishing imprint, and creative branding agency based in the Washington, D.C. area.

Reader Comments (8)

I’m back in Japan, just around the same time as last year. The weather is completely different this time. 21℃ mid afternoon. T-shirt weather, as we say at home. I’ve one gig behind me and again I’m left wondering what these lovely people see/ hear in me. Because listen they do. Scarily so.

Mind you, you learn a lot about yourself and your art in this country. Freed of, deserted by all the musical and lyrical frames of reference that cloud the issue in the English speaking countries, Ireland in particular, you’re left with nothing but the sound you make and the way you look. There is no shared cultural memory which has made so many of my songs resonate with the Irish diaspora and those other cultures it has intermingled with. No musical commonality that I can see beyond, I suppose, a shared love of the best in American music of the past century which has also left its mark on me. A response therefore is visceral, fundamentally human, instinctive. When it comes.. and come it does in spades, I come face to face with myself in a way I never do elsewhere. I end up feeling more human, a basic individual giving voice to a spirit as old as time. But in truth I’m as far from fully understanding what it is as ever…and end up forced to accept that whatever the signal is, it’s bigger and more complex, yet primitive and universal than my take on it.

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Brady

Great points here Mark, especially finding your ideal fan and then connecting with their friends.

I'd like to add that its also possible to make a decent living creating music in your own niche.

The Fan Formula

Know who your audience is so important to any successful endeavor. This is especially true of a songwriter. Song are meant to communicate. If the song's message does not fit a group of peoples demographic, that message will get ignored or lost. Perhaps that's why you will never hear a rap in a county song. In business there is a concept called the "Ideal Client" If would be beneficial for every songwriter to know their "Ideal Client" as well.

March 20 | Unregistered CommenterJohn P

Mr. Doyon,

I greatly enjoyed reading your blog post on finding one’s audience. It is a well-crafted basic introduction to self-promotion and music marketing. The opening question you beg, “Songwriters, do you know who your natural audience is?” is a very important artistic and commercial inquiry artists must grapple with in order to be successful. Also, while irrelevant and taken out of context; I still enjoyed your Velvet Underground mirror quote. However, your insight detailing, “You are giving voice to something the audience already feels and knows. And that can’t be faked – you either reflect the audience or you don’t.” is an astute observation and something all major artists have (such as Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake who you reference). Your anecdote, “If you reflect the audience, your songs might, if you’re lucky, play as background for some of their thoughts and dreams.” made me laugh and struck a personal chord. Additionally, I agree with your general sentiment that, artists sometimes try to overreach with their marketing which can have a negative effect. Lastly, your overall message to find out who you are as an artist is positive and motivational for those looking to enter the industry.

As an industry songwriter, artist, and producer; here is where my problems with your blog post begin. Your description of music listeners as either “in the mainstream” or “a niche audience” is an offensive oversimplification. Obviously, there are many genres of music you are neglecting, other than the only two you described in your post: Pop – Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake… and Niche – Nick Cave, Jonathan Richman… Additionally, you are ignoring the complexities and emotions involved in songwriting and artistry. Your explanation for Taylor Swift being played at malls because she, “sings of romantic disappointment and packages it for adolescent girls, who frequent malls in droves.” is as much a fairy tale, as your described lyrics of Taylor Swift. Like fairy tales, there is some truth to your theory. But you are neglecting the obvious fact that Taylor Swift is played at malls because of her vast network of corporate sponsorship and what is referred to as, “payola,” (labels paying DJs to play their artists) in the industry, and not necessarily the artistic content of her songs. Lastly, your post presents the assumption that an artist cannot crossover from “niche” to “mainstream” or visa versa. Artists are beginning to forge new boundaries and genres in the music industry, and cannot be compartmentalized for the sake of vast media marketing.

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Dan, thanks for the feedback. Great thoughts to consider for a longer-form article on artist and audience.

March 29 | Unregistered CommenterMark Doyon

I think it is much more efficient to do this computationally, instead of relying on artists to do this. We simply need better, more acurate algorithms, and a more precise theory of the categories of music, the types of tastes, and their similarities and differences.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterPerfectMatch

I think Everyone made a Great Point about the Art of finding your Audience when you write a song.Myself I write in story form so I guess that would put me in the Niche area.But I also try to aim my songs at all types of people.I saw the word Theory show up.And I hope that all people that Write songs remember there is a thing called Music Theory(this means that all songs have a Form of some type).But I really Hate when some one says" Who do you sound like".My aim is to sound LIKE ME...I have 29 songs on CDBaby,iTunes & Amazon.But my Audience,well I really don't want my music to be back ground music.And yes I want my music to stay in peoples heads.I think thats what a Hook is right?You know that little thing that you find you Hum hours later (or that you can't get out of your head).Just my point of view on all of this.Jimmi Ritz Reitzler


I enjoyed reading your piece encouraging musicians to uncover and pursue the natural audience for their work. As a creative development advisor, I've been working with artists for years to do just this. Your piece is provocative, practical and helpful. Interested artists might also want to take a look at an e-book on the same topic I released last year,

Thanks again for a strong piece and great comments in response.

September 14 | Unregistered CommenterMarc Zegans

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