When you survey the indie music industry, it’s littered with instructions on how to get noticed, create exposure, make money, go viral, and so on. It’s all driven from the perspective of how to reach wider audience. The bigger, the better.
I am glad they are there, and I personally benefit from many of them.
But when I think about why I make music, being heard by as many people as possible isn’t a big one. Sure, I’d like audience that’s big enough. When I’m writing, the thought of making music that’s accessible to as many people as possible doesn’t really dominate my mind.
First and foremost, I make music because I need to. I go crazy if I go a long period without doing it. Secondly, when I’m making music, I am making it so *I* like what I am creating. The audience is the third item on my list. I adore how my heroes like Toad the Wet Sprocket, King’s X and Cloud Cult all have passionate, loyal fans who constantly talk about how much their music mean to them, and they fill social media with quotes of their favorite lyrics and their memories of seeing them live. My logic is simple: if I make music that’s impactful to me as its listener, then there’s bound to be other people who will experience my music in similar ways. Of course that only happens to a tiny portion of the listening population, so reaching wider audience is relevant.
I also love how music attracts like-minded people. Fan communities of the above acts are filled with conscientious and thoughtful people. Many express gratitude for having discovered the music, because other music doesn’t do it for them. There’s depth to the music that hits us more profoundly.
So when I connect with fellow music fanatics, I enjoy telling them about music I listen to. Who doesn’t? It’s a thrill when you recommend a musical act to someone and the other person ends up liking it. Impactful music doesn’t come by everyday and we haven’t exactly come up with a system or infrastructure to help make that discovery. Music is a complex and highly individual taste. One act that sounds like another still contain some critical differences so that it doesn’t work for you. I can tell you that likes of Tonic, Gin Blossoms, Sister Hazel come up next to Toad the Wet Sprocket on many music apps. All great bands, but they don’t hit me like Toad does to me.
Still, I know I’m not alone in craving impactful music, and I’m always on the lookout for like-minded people who may be listening to impactful acts that I don’t yet know.
Along the same vein, I don’t believe I’m the only one among musicians who is driven to create impactful music. They may not come out and say it but you can tell when an artist is impact-driven. Some common traits are:
- Compassion and respect for fellow human beings, reflected in the lyrics and actions they take
- Interest in growth, such as improving musicianship
- Driven by that need to create something, and they pour themselves in the creation
My more recent favorites like SHEL, Christa Wells and Son Lux all fit this profile. Heck, U2 may be considered the granddaddy of impactful artists. They may not be the first but they certainly set the bar in terms of how to create music that affects their audience deeply.
So between music fans who crave impactful music and artists who strive to create them, I feel like there is an opportunity to create a niche or a community. A little band of music fanatics who co-create meaningful music. Audience is a big part of creation process — some purists may claim that art must come only through the artist alone, but I believe that since art is meant to be shared, it’s best when created in collaboration with those who have desire for it. (I believe songwriting and musicmaking should go through some of the rigors that book publishers and film studios do, but that’s another topic.)
I don’t know what form it will take. Is it a special-interest record label? Or a some kind of membership organization? For the guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, it was a record label that focuses on (mostly) instrumental rock music, to capitalize on his own reputation. Like him, I’m focusing on finding my audience first, but this is a dream-in-waiting, to be pursued once I have a little community of my own.
I realize I’m getting ahead of myself — but this stuff is so fun to daydream about, sometimes I can’t help it. I am grateful that I have enough dreams to fill a few lifetimes. I will not be bored the rest of my life.