Music Advice: How Major Acts Expand Their Audiences

Lady GagaI suppose there’s some redundancy to that title. If a band or singer has already become a “major” act, then there wouldn’t seem to be a whole lot of need to expand their audiences. Nevertheless, as times change and these acts move further away from their initial hits or their glory days, they’ll often try new and interesting things to stay in the public eye or reach new listeners. And some of the strategies they use can actually be interesting examples for emerging musicians looking for ways to gain exposure.

Let’s look at a few tricks and initiatives popular musicians have used in recent years to retain or regain their fame.

Cross-Genre Collaboration

This is probably the most popular trick being used today by artists looking to increase relevance and expand fan bases. The basic idea is that if you can collaborate with someone who isn’t playing to the same audience you are, you can then reach that artist’s audience and your own. While it’s by no means a recipe for automatic success, it makes plenty of sense.

The most significant example in recent years is “Cheek To Cheek,” an album of duets by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga that earned a whole write-up in Vanity Fair when it reached number one on the Billboard charts. Naturally those two artists are larger than life in their respective genres, but the idea of an album making generations of Bennett fans appreciate Lady Gaga and getting younger fans to listen to an old pro like Bennett is just what we’re talking about. Other examples from recent years include Jay Z collaborating with Coldplay on the song “Lost,” and YouTube singer/songwriter Charlie Puth reaching new levels of fame in Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.”

Again, this isn’t a surefire ticket to success, and if you’re an aspiring musician you likely don’t have a connection to an artist with a massive fan base with whom you could collaborate. But even on a smaller scale, it’s a good idea to cross genres. Whether that means a song, a whole album, or simply opening for a different act at a live venue, you can always reach new ears.

Branching Out To Gaming

When games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band became popular, they basically established new depths of the potential connection between musical acts and gaming. Of course, a number of major groups have enjoyed their songs’ placement in those specific game series, but they’re pretty much designed for thoroughly established hits. There are, however, more niche examples of musical exposure through modern gaming.

It’s something we’ve seen some classic hard rock groups taking advantage of in a relatively unexpected way through the online casino industry. The Betfair Arcade uses a number of TV- and film-related pop culture themes as backdrops for its variety of games, and it’s apparent that certain bands have taken notice. Both Kiss and Megadeth are featured on the site with their own slot machine games, thus gaining exposure to the same legions of players who are on the site to play options like Batman or Star Trek slots.

This is probably not an attainable goal for a new or aspiring musician, but that doesn’t mean gaming isn’t an option for exposure. Look to the app market in particular, where developers like Smule are churning out music-related games in the vein of Guitar Hero for mobile platforms that take advantage of huge collections of playable songs. If you want to get more creative, it’s worth speaking to indie game developers, too. They’re always looking to keep things cheap, and if you find the right fit, you could potentially help build a soundtrack for the sake of exposure.

Film Presence

This is another area in which there are significant advantages to already being a major act, but that doesn’t mean some examples aren’t worth taking note of for young musicians. Probably the most prominent case in which an act has revitalized its career and/or gained new exposure in recent years was when Daft Punk exploded back onto the scene by doing the entire soundtrack for TRON: Legacy. The film itself earned a mediocre reception but almost all of the buzz was about the soundtrack, which catapulted the group to new heights.

A more appropriate example for an up-and-coming musician is the soundtrack for the film Once, which famously took a budget of just over $100,000 and spun it into one of the most popular indie movies of the century thus far. The film rode the back of its signature song, “Falling Slowly,” to Oscar relevance and, as a wonderful interview in The Independent described, that success earned leading man Glen Hansard into associations with the likes of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

That, too, is a stretch for the average young musician, but it does demonstrate the value of putting your music into any artistic project that will have it. Trying to hook up with indie filmmakers to provide a cheap soundtrack is certainly worth exploring.

It’s never easy to gain an audience as a musician. It’s a competitive industry, and hard work is absolutely required. But by taking advantage of some of these concepts, even on a smaller scale, you may just find yourself reaching new ears.

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