Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Aim for the edges.

An amazing shift has happened in the last 10 years, as an artist.

You now have a better chance of being successful by being remarkably unusual, than by being normal and mainstream.

Songwriters constantly search for that universal theme, aiming to write the next “Yesterday” that will resonate with millions of people for decades to come.

But what good is the next “Yesterday” if nobody hears it because your music is too normal?

(See my article called “Well-Rounded Doesn't Cut”.)

You already know we're moving to a niche-driven culture, probably permanently. In 1948, Milton Berle's TV show had 80% of all viewers, because it was one of only three choices! When the Beatles played on Ed Sullivan, they had 60% of all viewers. The biggest American Idol episode gets 30% now. There won't be another Michael Jackson Thriller or Fleetwood Mac Rumours.

With unlimited options online, music fans don't wait for mainstream media to tell them what to do - they explore, click, follow links, and can immediately listen to absolutely anything they've heard people talk about. Because of this, tastes are more spread-out than ever.

Your goal should be to attract and excite the people who have headed to the edges. They're the ones who are looking for something new, and more likely to rave about it if you impress them.

I think of this like an archery range metaphor:

In the old music business (before 1997) it felt like hit-single-or-nothing. The only way you could be successful was to hit a tiny 1-inch target on the other side of a field. If you missed by an inch, you get nothing.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/davepearson/537677681/

Now it's like the target is huge, and you can aim for the edges, and hit something pretty easily - BUT - there's a catch : someone cut out the middle.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/davepearson/537677681/

If you're still aiming for the middle of the target, there's nothing there. They're all out exploring niches.

Aim for the edges.