How to make your music stand out in the Music Industry
Instinctually, we all want to belong. Human beings are tribal creatures, and we fear being ostracized. Those qualities typically work against us when we’re trying to stand out in a competitive industry like the music industry.
Because the things you need to do to cut through the noise are generally counterintuitive. However, if we can develop a bit of a comfort level with the uncomfortable, each of us can find clues and develop ideas that’ll lead us to tangible results.
The following three tips should also prove a worthy starting point for standing out.
1 - Know the Rules & Break Them
I was a guitar teacher for over 10 years, and something that often got repeated in those circles was, “know the rules and break them.”
Even if you don’t have a comprehensive understanding of music theory, surely you know that music has certain rules.
It’s fine to break them. But before you break them, you should know what they are. Then you can be more intentional about the process. To observe the “rule”, all you’ve got to do is tune in to top 40 music for a day or two. Then you’ll know exactly what you’re trying to separate yourself from. Sounds like common sense, but most artists don’t do this and keep modelling what they hear on autopilot.
Listening to everything that’s out there and trying to model it is only going to set you behind the eight ball, because trends shift quickly, and you never know what’s going to catch on tomorrow. There’s virtually no benefit to having passé music placed alongside new releases. Just ask John Oszajca!
2 - Go Against Expectations
This summer, my friends and I launched a six-song compilation called Spirit Searcher, Vol. 1. In lieu of that, we hired a publicist for a two-week PR campaign, and we saw some early traction with playlisting.
What happened next wasn’t just the cherry on top. It was basically the whole cake! First, the compilation was featured on CCM Magazine’s new releases. In Christian music circles, let’s just say it doesn’t get a whole lot more mainstream. We also landed an interview with The Antidote (Christian music that doesn’t suck), a podcast/radio show that’s syndicated across nearly 60 FM radio stations.
The question is – how did this happen?
See, most Christian music is all about the JPM (Jesus Per Minute) – how many times you can sing “Jesus” in a three-minute timeframe. Our music is literally nothing like that. There are deeper meanings hidden in our lyrics, but there’s nothing overtly Christian about the songs.
We also had a rather intriguing description to go along with our compilation:
“Spirit Searcher is a music series of original songs, written by artists who are inspired to question and challenge their conventional religious experience” (summarized).
Challenge? Question? Who dares challenge the infallible divine!?
The point is not that we’re outright rebellious. It would be more accurate to say that each of us has been on a path of spiritual discovery and growth, and it just so happened that questioning was all a part of our walks. Is there an angle you’re missing? Could there be an opportunity to do something unconventional in your niche? It might be exactly what you need to stand out.
3 - Be Yourself
Again, what might appear “trite” advice is wisdom for the ages.
I’ve had the opportunity to interview a variety of people, including senior songwriters. I once asked my songwriter friend’s mom (who’s also a songwriter) if she had any advice to give to young creatives. She simply said:
“The number one thing is to be yourself.”
I’ve been at enough open mics to know that many singer-songwriters first aspire to sound like their heroes, and by the time they’ve accomplished that, they stop and don’t go any further. But look at someone like Eric Johnson. His guitar playing is a cocktail of Hendrix, Vaughan, Montgomery, Moore, Atkins, and numerous others. Go and listen to one of his tunes – you’ll see that he’s devastatingly unique!
The lesson we’re often too late to embrace in this life is to just be ourselves. Allow our creative expression to unfold without judgment. Notice what’s unique about what we’re doing and learn to bring it out and emphasize it in our music.
(Recording and listening to yourself could prove helpful with this process.)
I can’t tell you how many times I “filtered” myself in my early development, only to hear a song at the mall a few years later that used the exact idea I had deemed “too weird. Be unapologetically you! Never dismiss an idea outright, because it could develop into something.
Consumers have more choice than ever. Competition is beyond fierce.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out, even in today’s music industry. Many artists aren’t mindful or intentional about their process, and this puts them at a disadvantage. It certainly doesn’t help that the media has basically raised us on hits of dopamine.
Some of the greatest musicians I know think carefully about who they’re trying to reach and focus on the smallest details that no one else cares about or even notices (e.g. “should I slide into this note or bend up to it?”).
Regardless of the competition, a good campaign executed at the highest level can still get you results, and in my opinion, it’s better than an amazing campaign executed like a zombie unaware of their surroundings.
David Andrew Wiebe is the best-selling author of The Music Entrepreneur Code: How to Get Paid for Your Passion and Impact More Fans Without Wasting Years of Your Life and Thousands of Dollars. If you’re ready to make your music stand out from the crowd, you’ll love the book.