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 Music180.com 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:
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 !