Finding Your “Hit Zone” (and why it matters)

Eric Galen Music 180

This is a guest post by Eric Galen, with whom I had a good chat last week at the ASCAP Expo in L.A. Eric founded in 2008, a new artist development platform that connects aspiring artists, producers and songwriters directly to elite music industry professionals and unique opportunities (think of it as a matchmaking service between aspiring artists and established pros form all sides of the music industry). The service provides music pros new revenue opportunities and a trusted industry-wide networking platform. He recently published this post on Music180's corporate blog, and I think it provides great advice for songwriters and performers that are trying to create successful hit songs and find commercial success.

Finding Your “Hit Zone” (and why it matters)

Hits break artists and build careers. They are the ever-important “real estate” of the music business. Nothing is more essential to an artist, songwriter, manager, label or publisher than hits. A hit starts with a great song, which is then recorded the right way with the right production team, and released to the public and promoted effectively – then it’s up to listeners to decide whether the track is hit material.

As Universal Music Publishing’s Tom Sturges notes, “every hit is a miracle.” However, hits aren’t totally random – it’s not like the Swedish gold-sequin-clad God of Hits randomly strikes songwriters with his magical Hit Lightning Bolt – some songwriters are clearly better at summoning hits than others. Some songwriters who seem to be able to write hit after hit, while others struggle for just one life changing music miracle.

Some songwriters’ ongoing success can be attributed to their position atop the industry as established hit-makers (i.e., they are invited to write for established artists and can easily get their songs heard by decision makers), but much of their mojo lies in the ability to write songs that quickly connect with a significant segment of the listening market. These writers are often said to have their “ears to the ground,” and understand what the audience wants to hear.

Finding your Hit Zone is essential if you’re an emerging songwriter, artist or producer, because without it:

  • Most or all of your marketing, online networking and live shows will be useless;
  • You’ll have a hard time building a fan base;
  • You’ll probably only sell your music to your friends and family;
  • You won’t get TV/film licenses;
  • You’ll have a hard time getting signed;
  • And so on...

Yes, your Hit Zone is that important. It’s the most important thing you can do as an artist to attract fans, make more money and achieve success. It’s like the g-spot: if you haven’t found it, you’re just flailing around and wasting your time.

So what is the Hit Zone?

The Hit Zone is that creative space where the three key elements of your Brand (songs, production and image) are Authentic, Unique and Sellable. Everyone’s Hit Zone is different, and no one can tell you where yours is… but some artist development experts can help you find it. This image can help you visualize where you need to be:

Authentic, Unique and Sellable Creative Space

1. Be Authentic.

First and foremost, your songwriting, production and image must all be Authentic (the red circle above, symbolizing your heart). Other helpful descriptions for this aspect are “genuine” and “real.” Now more than ever, potential fans have highly tuned bullshit detectors, and they can intuit when an artist or song lacks authenticity. Few artists can break if they are perceived as being “fake,” and even fewer can sustain a long-term career unless their fans believe they are genuine.

Every time someone first hears you or your music or sees your picture or video, it’s like a first date: You don’t want to be the weirdo who wears clothes that aren’t natural, talks with a fake accent and tries too hard to act like you’re someone else. This is just as disastrous in music as it is in dating.

So you should spend some time exploring your answers to these questions:

  • Who am I, at my core?
  • What do I care about?
  • What do I want to say to my audience – what matters to me?
  • What makes each of my favorite writers or artists authentic?

Your answers don’t need to be grandiose – not everyone will be motivated by world politics or social justice like Bono. Some artists really care about partying, others really care about getting laid, others really care about love and heartache. It doesn’t matter what you want your music is about, as long as it’s Authentic.

2. Be Unique.

Once you know what music would be authentic for you (the red circle in the diagram above), then you need to think about what you can create that would also be Unique (see the overlap area of the red and blue circles above).

Being unique does not mean sharing nothing in common with other artists. Even the most unique artists (for a well-known example, take Lady Gaga) still use many of the same instruments, chord progressions, recording styles, lyrical ideas and other elements as thousands of other artists. You just need to explore elements that you can add to your individual artistic recipe that give your music and image something that will stand out from a crowd. You don’t necessarily need to go for shock value here, just look at those parts of your creativity that are both authentic and unique.

Consider some of your favorite songwriters or artists and what makes each of them unique. It may be in the voice, production style, instrumentation, image, songs, live performance, or other artistic elements. Sometimes seeing uniqueness in others can help you find your own.

3. Be Sellable.

Assuming you want to make money with music, then once you have found the zone of creativity where you are both authentic and unique, you should identify the area of that zone that is also Sellable (the gold area of the diagram above where Authentic, Unique and Sellable all meet). The key is considering what listeners are willing to pay for, and how many listeners are willing to pay (i.e., market size). If you’re only creating music as a hobby, then this third element may be irrelevant to you.

For example, writing and releasing East African Banjo Funk music may be authentic and unique for you – it might even be artistically fantastic – but the market for this may be so small that you would not be able to generate much money with it. Here you should think about market size, your key audience demographic, and other related concepts that are often alien to creative people but common to business types.

This is one area where a good producer, publisher, artist development coach or other knowledgeable music business expert can be helpful because their livelihood depends on understanding what people will actually pay for, and how many people will actually pay for it.

Before you read this and think to yourself, “I’m not a sellout… I’m an authentic artist and I shouldn’t have to think about business crap – that’s for the suits!”, but you would be wrong. First of all, I am absolutely NOT urging you to be a “sellout.” To the contrary, I’m urging you to be authentic, real and genuine – true to your art and your passion. Second, every wise artist and songwriter in this new music business has to consider the business side of music sooner or later; doing so does not make you a suit or a sellout, it makes you a smart artist building a career. So don’t be afraid to explore the “sellable” aspects of your songs, music and image – without it you can’t build a sustainable career.

Putting these three elements together, you see that finding your Hit Zone is about progressing through the songwriting, production and image phases of your development (which together constitute your “brand”) while focusing on those elements that are Authentic, Unique and Sellable. By doing so, you will maximize your chance of success, and hopefully avoid wasted time and money pursuing creative paths that will not lead you where you want to go.

So, Bandzooglers, do you feel like your music has reached that Hit Zone ? Are you even looking for it ? Or maybe your music about something else than "hits" ? Tell us what it's about. For those who have found their Hit Zone, any tips ? How did you make it happen ? Let us know !


The April Maze
Posted by The April Maze on May 4 2011 3:07 AM
Hmmmm....I think the diagram needs two more circles: "Money" and "Who you know"...
Posted by Revenant on May 4 2011 4:00 AM
If your music and image has elements of authenticity, uniqueness and sellibility, the elements of "Money" and "Who You Know" will follow. Without the first three, money and who you know really are pretty meaningless. Take, as an example, the most successful band of all time - The Beatles. They had the sound and the look that was obviously marketable. No real money until Brian Epstein. Brian heard the buzz on the street about them, went to see them and we all know the rest. The same held true for the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac.........the list goes on and on. On a related note, I'm going to talk about "cover" versus original music. The smart musicians know that nothing is truly 100% original. The British Invasion of the Sixties was built upon the shoulders of earlier American Blues and R&B. Rock & Roll itself was a synthesis of Country, Blues and R&B. Both Motown AND Parliament/Funkadelic built their sound on the shoulders of Fifties Doo Wop! The reason I bring this up is that I've seen a tendency among young musicians to adopt a mindset along the lines of "I WON'T play covers because I'M original". These same young players tend to blame their lack of career growth on cover bands. Here's a news flash: YOU may think that your music is the best thing out there. What YOU think doesn't matter so much as what the market thinks. To compete in the market of music, you need to understand the CRAFT of music. Holland- Dozier-Holland, Isaac Hayes, Lennon-McCartney, Paul Simon, Carol King and James Taylor are all absolutely brilliant at the CRAFT of songwriting. They didn't become masters of the craft by accident. They learned from all the masters that came before them - Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn, Cab Calloway, Chuck Berry....... Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Clapton and the original version of Fleetwood Mac listened to all the great Blues masters like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howling Wolf and B B King. I'd be surprised if Eddie Van Halen and Slash didn't learn from Clapton, Page, Beck, et al. By learning other people's hit songs, you learn song structure, cohesive narrative(Think Bob Dylan), and most importantly, HOOKS! To put it bluntly, you need to look at the music BUSINESS as being like school. The better you learn your lessons, the more successful you are. And unless you are just playing music for yourself, you want other people to like it, don't you?
my first robot
Posted by my first robot on May 5 2011 12:16 PM
I think the stuff that's mainstream these days fall into the sellable part of the diagram. I don't find these acts unique nor authentic. To be honest I doubt that unique and authentic artists are searching for a publishing company like Universal, which would only ruin them to put the next cashcow on the market. I hope record companies die out soon. Luckily they are killing their own music business model. Make good music, sell it on your website and at your shows, the people who like it will find you and support you. Maybe you won't make millions but you will be authentic and unique in an artistic sense.
Posted by Revenant on May 5 2011 2:32 PM
First, you have to realize that music is subjective. No one is gonna hit EVERYONE'S hot button. I've heard it over and over again that "Today's music sucks". There's a lot of music out there! I like a lot of it. I don't like a lot of it, as well. Major labels have always looked at artists as hit machines. That's why they are major labels. What has hurt the major label model is one thing - the internet. Previously, even in bad economic times, people bought recorded music. Now with the net, the number of people BUYING recorded music is getting smaller all the time. Major labels have been slow to realize that, but they are adapting. Will they survive? Probably. But it's gonna be an interesting musical landscape over the next several years!
my first robot
Posted by my first robot on May 5 2011 3:37 PM
I didn't say that todays music sucks. I said that the stuff that is coming from the radio sucks, most of the time. I don't know when was the last time I turned on a popular radio channel and heard a song I actually thought of as it's a piece of art. Ladygaga is on most of the time, and I have to say it's very hard for me to hear the actual melodies in her music. Usually it's some sort of noise but in a bad way. Maybe this is what people like in it. All I'm saying is that, yes of course you have to find your audience but not because then you will get signed by a label. :rolleyes:
Posted by Revenant on May 5 2011 11:49 PM
I agree completely about there being little need to be signed to a major label, though you may get substantially greater tour and promotional support from a major IF you have the right deal. Radio for a very long time has been largely irrelevant in terms of music - I'm talking about mainstream radio ala Clear Channel and it's ilk.
Si Connelly
Posted by Si Connelly on May 6 2011 12:30 PM
Good advise Eric. It's does get overlooked by many bands and artists but it is the most important key to the long term career plan.
Posted by WWW.QUIETSTORMBEATZ.COM on May 7 2011 11:30 PM
[quote="AprilMaze"]Hmmmm....I think the diagram needs two more circles: "Money" and "Who you know"...[/quote] i agree with u, but u could also use social media if you dont really have a budget.:)
Meg Josalen
Posted by Meg Josalen on May 8 2011 12:50 AM
Thanks David for posting this. I enjoyed the way Eric writes, very relatable and informative... new to this "business" I am enjoying reading such posts...and the responses.
Morgan Joanel
Posted by Morgan Joanel on May 8 2011 2:00 AM
The real trick is to sign a major label deal and convince them to work with you on an independent artist's approach! Take advantage of all the things you learn as a muso on the road and take it to a bigger arena. And the other thing people don't realize is: 1. You've got to pick your battles 2. You've to give some to get some 3. You've got to work your ass off I've worked harder since singing with Sony music than I ever did in my 6 years as a full time, touring indie artist. And in the end it's feeling well worth it. It's the same no matter what you want to do really.
Kappa Danielson
Posted by Kappa Danielson on May 8 2011 2:36 AM
This was a great article! Clear, well-thought-through advice presented in a hard-to-forget manner. Loved the circle picture and I had to chuckle over the g-spot reference. ;)) Have I mentioned I love bandzoogle? ;) Thanks guys!!
Posted by on May 16 2011 9:11 PM
One big circle around the entire diagram LUCK
Alstallio Music ©2016
Posted by Alstallio Music ©2016 on May 17 2011 10:33 AM
I second that mate! [quote="AprilMaze"]Hmmmm....I think the diagram needs two more circles: "Money" and "Who you know"...[/quote]
Not Too Late
Posted by Not Too Late on May 17 2011 5:58 PM
[quote="myfirstrobot"]I think the stuff that's mainstream these days fall into the sellable part of the diagram. I don't find these acts unique nor authentic. To be honest I doubt that unique and authentic artists are searching for a publishing company like Universal, which would only ruin them to put the next cashcow on the market. I hope record companies die out soon. Luckily they are killing their own music business model. Make good music, sell it on your website and at your shows, the people who like it will find you and support you. Maybe you won't make millions but you will be authentic and unique in an artistic sense.[/quote] Very well put
Posted by BlaqThai on May 19 2011 11:53 AM
Thanks Eric for your insight, it's interesting and I hope that BlaqThai's site incorporates your key elements. The site was just announced, I'm just happy to finally have a site and to be able to share with friends, family, the world. You work hard at something, you want to share it with others. Have a great day.:)