By: Bob Baker
Focus. It's not just something you do with a camera. The kind of focus I'm talking about can be one of the most powerful weapons you use to attract fans. Through the magic of focus, you can transform your musical identity from one that is meaningless and forgettable to one that screams for attention.
When you have a strong musical focus, you position yourself as an artist that fills a specific niche and caters to a well-defined audience. The only thing is, most artists don't do this.
The average songwriter, for instance, in an effort to craft a hit, creates songs that sound similar to what's being played on the radio. They write about love gone wrong or teen frustration or dealing with lustful urges ... all themes that have proven themselves popular with the masses.
There's nothing wrong with this approach. There will always be a need for predictable pop songs. However, since thousands of songwriters are striving for the same type of hit, your struggle to stand out and be noticed will be all uphill.
To stand out -- especially as an independent artist -- you have to resist those well-traveled paths and find a distinct road that's all your own. Sure, you won't appeal to as wide a range of people, but the fans who do gravitate toward you will be cult-like in their admiration.
Singer/songwriter Brad Belt is a good example of an artist who is using focus to his advantage. "A few years ago I was in Nashville at a music conference. In one of the sessions, a songwriter on the panel mentioned how important it is to write about topics you know a lot about. It got me thinking."
Belt continues, "Since I love golf and play as often as my wife lets me, I figured maybe I should write a golf song or two. I started taking the humorous situations that have happened to me and others while playing and pieced together some golf songs."
After a couple of years of doing this without any particular game plan, Belt realized that he had assembled enough golf songs to do a CD. He did some research on the Internet and found that very little had been done in the genre of golf music.
He recorded and mixed the songs in his home studio. Before long, Belt's new release, called Golf Is a Cussin' Game, was born. It features 10 original songs that portray the humorous side of golf and those who play it.
"I had my CD release party at the local country club, where I performed some of the golf songs and told a few jokes," Belt reports. "About 80 people showed up and I sold about 800 dollars worth of CDs and cassettes.
I sell them locally at coffee house shows, at golf events and on the Internet at my web site (URL?), Amazon.com, cdbaby.com and cdstreet.com. I'm looking for more golf events to do shows at. If I can establish a reputation, I think I can sell a lot of these CDs. I think niche marketing is a great idea."
Why does this offbeat angle work? Wouldn't Belt have better luck releasing a CD filled with songs that everybody can relate to? Isn't he limiting his reach by having such a narrow range of fans -- golfers?
Not at all.
There are a million other artists clamoring for the attention of people who enjoy radio-friendly pop songs. But there are very few, if any, artists who cater to golfers exclusively. In essence, there's no competition.
And it doesn't hurt that golfers can be easily reached through country clubs and golf course events, that golfers are often passionate about their sport, and that they tend to have disposable income to spend on recreational purchases.
Marc Gunn, of the Brobdingnagian Bards, has a similar story. His ensemble performs Celtic music -- traditional Irish and Scottish folk songs. Recently, the Bards found that they were being invited to play at a growing number of Renaissance festivals. These events celebrate the culture of 16th century Europe (think Robin Hood era).
"At long last, we are focusing our music even more by putting out our fourth album, called A Faire to Remember, which features our favorite Renaissance faire songs," says Gunn. "It took a while for us to develop this focus, though. When we started, we just recorded music that our fans loved. But more and more faires are hiring us, so we decided to focus our music by having a CD specifically catering to faires."
Armed with a CD filled entirely with Renaissance faire music, the Brobdingnagian Bards will surely get hired at many (and perhaps most) of these events. By performing smack dab in the middle of hundreds of Renaissance-era fans, the group stands to sell a lot of CDs to this niche market.
Having a musical focus means having musical impact. So ... what's your focus?