By Thomas Burritt

The great “niche” artistic suppression is ending. Let the upsurge begin!

The past “niche” artist’s dilemma:
The capitalistic industrial age of the past hundred years in the United States has increasingly suppressed artistic development of all forms, placing instead an ever increasing stress on profits earned from physical goods. The arts, unless mainstream, just didn’t lead to the massive profits that the industrial goods industry could muster. Succumbing to this corporate cultural pressure to achieve these profits the recording and media industry had to sign artists that they felt could cover the massive costs to support their industrial juggernaut of high overhead and physical production (CD’s etc.). These massive record and media labels made their money producing, marketing, and selling plastic discs, not so much what was digitally coded on that disc.

This systematized, highly powerful corporate machine effectively squashed any effort made by smaller “niche” artists to be discovered and promoted, leaving them to find “day jobs” to support their creative energies and make their living. In this old economy there simply wasn’t room for the “niche” artist. Furthermore, it severely limited offerings to consumers leaving them less choice or access to variety.

The current “niche” artist’s solution:
Slowly, with the rise of the internet, our economy began to shift from an emphasis on the physical production of goods to the production, curation and communication of information (bits and bytes). The physical music media profit machine proved vulnerable to this shfit and digital media, delivered via the Internet, and the iPod (iTunes more specifically) revolutionized how the masses consumed music media. Because there was a diminishing need for physical media the labels fell. Rather than adapting to survive they fought and fell quickly fighting an impossible battle. Sure, some remain, but their power will be limited as society adjusts further to this digital revolution. This fall was the tipping point for the “niche” artist. Their single most controlling adversary was an early victim of the new economy.

The future “niche” artist’s upsurge:
I believe there are three upsurges brewing. One: “Niche” artists, many of whom, have yet to fully understand the opportunities laid out before them created by this new economy. Two: the general public who I believe is sick and tired of the lack of variety and access to interesting, challenging, and truly artistic music/content. Three: Technology and varied internet resources that makes producing, marketing, and distribution practically free. The combination of these three upsurges work to solve EVERY problem previously encountered by the “niche” artist in the old economy.

Think about it this way. The large corporate music labels essentially did three things well. They produced, marketed, and distributed physical media. All of this, in the old economy, was VERY expensive. Equipment for the recording studio was exorbitant. They hired or created a marketing department that advertised in basically now extinct media (radio, newspapers, and magazines). Once the physical media was produced it had to be shipped all over the world for sale. The new economy, the interenet more specifically, has disrupted ALL three of these areas.

Lets examine how each of these three areas have recently and significantly changed for the “niche” artist in the new economy.

Producing: Advances in hardware and software now make producing high quality musical recordings exceptionally inexpensive. Software that used to cost thousands of dollars now costs considerably less.

Marketing: The social media revolution is here to stay. It takes time, but reaching out to your fans on your own (yes, YOU… not someone who works for you) is far, let me repeat, far more effective than some corporate machine doing it for you. Remember, you are a “niche” artist. You are not interested in quantity but quality of outreach. Don’t use this technology to directly market or sell yourself! Offer valuable content and interaction to your fans and they will support you. The most powerful tool social media offers is the power of caring. You should CARE that anyone is interested in you and your art and these tools offer the opportunity of connection that has NEVER existed before. Think about it. You can now search twitter for any mention of your product or name. That gives you the opportunity to say thank you, or address a concern or complaint that without these tools you would have never known about. Think about how powerful it would be if your favorite musician directly replied to your compliment or complaint!

Distribution: This is the one area that is still really developing. The key here is ownership. If you let a label produce your recording then you probably don’t own your content. This is a terrible mistake! In this developing new economy you will need the flexibility over the coming years to have complete control over your content. I imagine a web site designed specifically for “niche” artists to sell their music. When this happens, if you own your content, you will then be able to upload, sell and take most or all of the purchase price and not share any percentage with Apple or CDBaby. While iTunes distributes digital music effectively Apple isn’t interested in the “niche” artist. CDBaby comes closer to the mark but can fall short for the ultra “niche” artist because there is still too much of a “middle man” model in there (CDBaby to iTunes etc.). In the new economy the role of the middle man will, and has already, decreased significantly! You don’t need a middle man to market you because with one Facebook and Twitter update you can announce your new recording to all your fans and bring your content directly to them (all they have to do is click a link).

Conclusion:We are witnessing unprecedented change in the area of technology. Change that is as fundamental as the invention of the printing press! The resulting new economy is creating a new business culture that favors the geeks over the jocks, the entrepreneur over the large business tycoon. While it will continue to disrupt old business models and inhibit recession recovery your future has never been more in your control. As a “niche” artist everything you need to learn to adapt is there if you want it. Do you want it? What are you waiting for? Join the upsurge.

As a “niche” artist, what is your first “gut” reaction after reading this article? What opportunities exist for YOU in this “new economy”? Already using these new technologies? Answer these questions and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on October 7, 2010 by Thomas Burritt.

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The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by Art Jessen on Flickr.com.

Dave Gerhart

Dave Gerhart

Dr. Dave Gerhart, Product Manager, Percussion for Yamaha Corporation of America and Lecturer of Percussion at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSU, Long Beach, is a nationally recognized performer, composer, and educator. Dr. Gerhart, originally from Fairfield, California, holds a D.M.A. from the University of Southern California, M.M. in Percussion Performance and Instrumental Conducting and a B.M. in Music Education from California State University, Long Beach.
Dave Gerhart

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