September 2017 – First Look: “How do you handle competition within the music industry?”

“How do you handle competition within the music industry?”

That’s a very good question. I’ll say that first off, I am a pretty competitive person. However, music is too much of a collaborative thing to let that get to you. I mean, you’ll see this even with artists on the charts, where they are literally ranked: one big pop star will take the top slot over another in second place, who collaborated with them on the next single on their album. No one outright hates each other unless it’s a personal issue.

The one thing I want all of you to do after you graduate and go off to have careers in the music industry, is to keep learning, especially after you reach success. Never get too comfortable.  You’ve probably all witnessed the career of a songwriter who, once she strikes gold with a hit, just keeps rewriting it for the rest of her days. Or a studio owner who, once he’s making steady income from recording, will never update his DAW, buy new plug-ins, and if a microphone breaks, will replace it with the exact same model. Don’t plateau, always work on yourself. This industry is constantly changing, and if you are 100% reliant on only doing things the way that has worked before, you’ll miss out as soon as the trends change, or a new update comes along.

Now, some of you listening have an amazing sense of self-awareness. You know exactly where your flaws are and what you need to do to improve them to reach your end goal. Others, like me, get their rocket fuel by watching the competition. Like, I’m not the only blog out there whose target audience is made up of unsigned musicians. I can name maybe 20 of us off the top of my head. Most of these are backed by corporations, as it both gives them more content to post on social media than a sales pitch, and introduces their target readers to them in Google searches; but many are also “their own thing”. I follow them on social media to keep up with their blog posts, and these are my best tips to being able to “handle competition.”

Learn From Them

Only a complete idiot would wear horse blinkers and pretend to not know a competitor exists. Once upon a time, the major labels dismissed Napster, and only once its true power was unleashed did they get up on their (not) high (enough) horse and scream up at them to take it down. If you reverse the roles, any newcomer into an industry or niche needs to know who are the movers and shakers. Don’t feel intimidated by big players; the market is ultimately going to dictate your success. In my case, I actively study what the bigger blogs are doing right, instead of simply sulking at their achievements from a corner. Then, if any of their tricks would translate well to Pop of Colour (without copying, obviously), I gently implement them. For example, a lot of authors will comment on each other’s blog posts, so I’ve taken to doing that when I have something insightful to say.

Jealousy without taking constructive action isn’t healthy. So if you’re in a band, and another local act with a similar sound got the festival slot instead of you, go study them. Figure out what they have that you don’t, that ultimately influenced the organizers. Maybe their YouTube channel has great live documentation, and yours only has staged music videos. Your next step is to pay someone with a camera to film your upcoming show; there, you’re on an equal level again.

Compare Wisely

Falling into the comparison game is easy. One of the most basic ways to judge how popular someone else is is by traffic. How many plays have they gotten on Spotify? How many Instagram followers do they have? How many comments are readers leaving on their blog? If you get obsessed with those metrics, it’s going to eventually eat you up alive. Be mature, and never compare at face value. Maybe the artist got their single on a big playlist, or the producer is extremely active on Instagram, or the blog is simply run by a big enough company that they can get a hold of influential people to write articles that then get tons of comments. If you’re new to the scene, there will likely be people who have been around longer. Don’t forget that social media is deceiving. No one (especially not a large business) is going to broadcast their struggles in an unflattering light, the way you see yourself 24/7. Everyone has different advantages going in, so make the most of yours.

Collaborate

One often overlooked way to diffuse competitive tension in this industry is to work with them. Go reach out a hand and ask if they would like to co-headline a club show, or exchange guest articles, or anything you can think of that will make you more understanding of their success. When working with them, see how much effort they put into certain things they prioritize, and go cheer them on. The exception to this rule is when their material is complete trash, but they are somehow more popular than you. In that case, you don’t want to lower your brand’s value for them. Instead, compliment them for what they’re doing right, and show that you support their projects, just like they do yours.

Focus On The Forest

If you’re ever struggling with self-doubt, remember to take a step back and focus on the overall upwards trend, and your growth. You have built something from the passion inside your soul, and brought it this far already. A little dip in the upwards climb won’t be remembered forever. I think my biggest flaw, personally, is that no matter how many good things happen, I’ll tend to focus on the one little disappointment. Last spring, for example, I got invited to host a workshop on social media as part of the Ottawa Grassroots Music Festival. My focus was on the one friend who couldn’t make it to my presentation. Shut up, Clara! You’re hosting a workshop! Be proud! Focus on the big, beautiful forest, not the one ugly tree.

Know Your Niche

The last piece of advice I can give you when it comes to handling competition in the music industry is to know what makes you unique a different. If you’ve got a particular style or skill set that others who do what you do don’t have, emphasize that. Copying someone when you don’t know what makes you you turns your business into a second-rate version of the original. It’s fine to get inspired by others, but you need to know why people would choose to come to you. In my case, I talk about the music business in a very personable and colourful way – something a lot of other blogs don’t do very well. This helps me be less jealous when I look at other quality blogs in my niche reaching success. They’ve got their strengths that makes them unique, and I’ve got mine – there’s enough room of all of us to be friendly and work together.

That’s how I handle competition in the music industry.