In search of a microniche
Recently I have begun to take an online music-marketing course that applies the techniques of niche marketing to the new (i.e., post-label, post-radio) music industry. The impetus for this is my desire to find a wider audience for my music and get my music out in front of it, but without dropping everything and going on tour, which is not feasible at this point in my life, or playing a whole series of meaningless gigs to rooms that are empty because nobody has heard of me. Don’t get me wrong, I will be happy to play anywhere there is a demand or desire for my music, but I am through banging my head on the wall to find gigs where I won’t be appreciated.
The key to doing this, per the course, is to find my own corner of the music universe—termed the artist’s microniche—and to market to it exclusively. This microniche is a place where people who appreciate this kind of music will come repeatedly to follow these types of artists and support them enthusiastically.
So, in search of my own particular microniche, I began asking some questions about my music—specifically, what kind of music would the music-appreciating public call my music. For that matter, what would I call my music. I have used some interesting descriptions in the past …
Jersey Shore rock’n’roll
Keyboard-based, lyric-intensive rock
Thinking person’s rock’n’roll that aims for the heart
A potent mishmosh of rock’n’roll and middle eastern music, with a twist of Jewish humor
But it has to be clearer and more concise, so that people would be able to find it while searching on the Internet.
So this got me thinking: What genre is my music? What sub-genre would my music fall into? What niche within that sub-genre would it fit?
Well, the main genre is easy: Rock.
Within that, define its subgenre: Singer-songwriter. For better or worse, that is what I am.
Then, the niche. What type of music does this rock-oriented singer-songwriter play? For this, one must examine influences. The biggest influence on my music has always been Bruce Springsteen. But that comes with all kinds of baggage and implications: Is this just another guy trying to Be The New Boss? (For awhile, especially in my teens, I thought so.) A lot of Bruce fans do not take kindly to these pretenders. And additionally, I was advised by a friend whose opinion I trust that it might be wise not to hitch my wagon too closely to the Boss’s these days because of his politics and growing distrust of his vaunted “everyman” stance due to his cavorting with the elites. I tend to agree with this assessment. However, musically, the influence cannot be denied.
Other artists with whom I have been compared are Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Dire Straits, and Gordon Lightfoot. (Thanks for the compliments, friends who made these comparisons.) Similar artists would probably be Bob Seger, Eddie Money, John Mellencamp, and perhaps also Steve Earle and Joe Ely, though I don’t possess the ‘twang’ that these artists have. Lump them all together as heartland rock, if you will. So, for better or worse, within the genre of rock and the subgenre of singer-songwriter, heartland rock is the niche I fall into. I don’t particularly care for that sticker, but that’s what there is.
But here is where it all gets dicey.
In addition to Bruce, I take a big influence from other proponents of the Jersey Shore sound, such as Southside Johnny and Little Steven. I’d say that they are bigger influences on my style than Petty, Money, Seger, or Mellencamp. At the same time, though, I don’t want to paint myself into that corner, because although I once did live at the Jersey Shore, I feel that I belong to the wider area, and I want to appeal to music fans outside of New Jersey as well. I would consider using beach-town rock as a microniche, but although I celebrate my beach-town roots, my music isn't strictly about being at the beach.
What more, the songs I write tend to be longer than the usual three-minute, pop-record length, and I also prefer the album format, in which a dozen or so songs coalesce around a common theme (regardless of whether the effort is in fact a “concept album” or not). This clearly comes from my affinity for Bruce’s earlier music—think songs like “Thundercrack,” “Lost in the Flood,” "Jungleland," and the entire B-side of The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. But it isn’t all from Bruce, by any means. I am also a big fan of Kansas, and I love their long, involved pieces like those appearing on their first several albums. And in recent years, I fell in love with Brian Wilson Presents Smile—probably one of the best rock albums ever made (pity that Brian had a nervous breakdown and falling-out with his fellow band members before releasing it as originally intended, with the Beach Boys).
I trace all of this back to my pre–rock’n’roll love for classical music. And in turn, my love for classical music can probably be tied to my love of reading—whereas the pop-record format is good for TV-truncated attention spans, classical music and progressive rock is better suited to people who love to read. (My theory.)
So, does this make my music “progressive” in any way? That term brings along its own set of baggage—images of the bloated, overblown ‘prog-rock’ concept albums of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as a political connotation that I am not comfortable with.
And what of my other influences, like my own Jewish background and the Jewish-related music that I loved? There are Hasidic niggunim (melodies), the tunes of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, and most recently Moshav. I would not classify myself as a “Jewish Music” artist, but it would be a mistake to ignore the influences.
And none of this takes into consideration my love for soul, blues, rhythm and blues, and reggae music. These elements are quite present in my music, but it would not be accurate to call me a blues, R&B, soul, or reggae musician.
So, after all this soul searching, I arrived at “progressive heartland rock” as my initial idea for a microniche. But it does not take everything into account, but I can’t include everything in such a short description of my music. Other microniches are "urban folk rock," "urban singer-songwriter," "East Coast beach-town singer-songwriter," and last of all, "aspiring cult artist."
What do you think? Give my music a listen, and then feel free to comment below.