Niche of a Niche: Learning Business Lessons from Music Festivals

Me on the first day of ArcTanGent, merely hours before the ground turned into a muddy swamp

Earlier this month I finally went to my very first European music festivals. I took 8 days off from work to go to two music festivals taking place on consecutive weekends. As a music lover, it has been my dream to attend European rock & metal festivals for years. The U.S. does not have the same metal festival culture that Europe does, but now that I live in Berlin, I am close enough to make my dream a reality.

Music Festival Overview

Brutal Assault 2017

The first metal festival that I went to was called Brutal Assault (yes, I know…) which took place in an old fortress in the Czech Republic. 20,000 fans gathered in the Czech countryside to camp out, drink, eat and headbang to heavy metal bands from around the world. Brutal Assault had the most bands that I wanted to see and the most diverse band list of the European metal festivals that I considered this summer. Coupled with the close proximity to Berlin and the cheap Czech beer, buying a ticket to Brutal Assault was an easy decision.

The second festival, called ArcTanGent, was held on an idyllic farm outside of Bristol, U.K. This festival featured a much more specific set of sub-genres of rock and metal music, particularly math-rock and post-rock. The focused musical scope helped the festival to bring in the very best acts in those sub-genres, attracting 5,000 passionate fans to cheer the acts on.

Comparing the Music Festivals

As I attended the multi-day festivals with only a few days’ break in-between, I naturally began to compare and contrast each of the experiences very closely. I thoroughly enjoyed both festivals, but they were quite different in many aspects, particularly in the ways that they addressed their target audiences. These differences helped me to understand what it means to pursue a very specific niche in a market.

Brutal Assault is a large European metal festival competing for attendees with some the biggest names in the metal festival space like Wacken, Hellfest and Summer Breeze. Brutal Assault is well known among the metal community for bringing together bands from all sub-genres of metal and having open minded fans willing to embrace acts outside of their preferred tastes. While it is nice to have a welcoming crowd, I think that it necessary for this festival to try to appeal to fans of all sub-genres in order to sell out its 20,000 tickets. Four stages switching off between bands in sub-genres like black, power, progressive, and thrash metal will provide attendees at least a handful of acts that they will enjoy throughout each of the festivals’ four days. It is likely that attendees will see some acts that they know and love while also spending some time watching acts that they don’t care much for due to the large breadth of genres present in the festival schedule.

While Brutal Assault had an impressive number of bands that I wanted to see in its lineup across four days, ArcTanGent provided a full schedule of back-to-back amazing bands that I couldn’t wait to see throughout its 3-day duration. It was truly a situation where I was running from stage to stage while keeping a close eye on the time so that I could catch every artist that I wanted to see. On Saturday, the final day of the festival, I barely had time to grab food or take a short break before the next band that I had to see started playing. The festival lineup basically consisted of all of my favorite bands and then bands that also would have been on that list if I had known about them.

In practice, this means that ArcTanGent was guaranteed to meet, and quite possibly exceed, its devoted attendees’ expectations. All 5,000 fans that convened on the farm that weekend were seriously into the music, much more so that I saw at Brutal Assault, and most of them had been to at least 4 of the 5 years of events. It was an annual tradition for them to head to ArcTanGent and surround themselves in their favorite music. The positive feedback that I heard about the festival from the bus ride to the festival until the bus ride back to the airport really drove home the fact that this festival is like no other in the world for fans of post-rock and math-rock.

Niche of a Niche

Though you can say that each of these festivals is catering to a niche audience, it was clear to me that there are niches, and then there are niches of niches that you can target with your product. Brutal Assault’s target market is the broader European metal concert scene, and it has to compete head-to-head with other similar festival offerings when promoting its product. While metal is surely a niche music genre, Brutal Assault can still seem quite generic when compared to the focused intensity of ArcTanGent. By pinpointing its focus on meeting the desires of a smaller number of attendees, ArcTanGent can ensure a superior experience for its target market and likely drive much higher retention in the long run for its repeat ticket purchasers.

This difference in target customer is important for me to keep in mind as I consider starting a bootstrapped business in the future to meet a specific market need. What may seem niche at first might actually still be too big to target and subsequently require further reductions in scope. With that in mind, it makes sense that I have already bought my ticket to next year’s ArcTanGent festival while I wait to consider my options for metal festivals in 2018.


Originally published at www.davidemcneill.com on August 29, 2017.