How do you gain more listeners and build up a cult following of rabid music fans when you’re starting out? And how do you grow your audience when you’ve been around for a while and it’s not happening yet?
It can be demoralizing not getting any listeners. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into recording your music and you want people to hear your art that you’ve worked so hard on!
Building fans can seem like a huge, time-consuming task when starting out. However, there are secrets you can use to shortcut this process.
How King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Built a Cult Fanbase
For those of you who don’t know: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are a psychedelic rock band from Melbourne, Australia. They’ve built an incredibly passionate fanbase over the last 10 years, despite not being super well-known in the “mainstream’s” eyes. Yet they continue to grow more and more.
Everything they put out, their fans lap it up, to the point that their music world even has it’s own nickname (the Gizzverse).
Think of how enormous this achievement is:
- band makes lo-fi, unconventional music with no regard for what’s popular or mainstream
- band continues to do this
- band gets insanely popular regardless, and continues to expand their audience
What You Have Wrong About Gaining Success & Listeners
The cliche idea you’ll find is that to get success in the music industry, you need to keep it safe and cater to the mainstream to get more listeners. Target your music at the common man. “Play it safe” and smooth the edges, in case it disturbs the casual listener out of their auto-pilot listening mode.
This idea is ABSOLUTELY UNTRUE!
Guess who is else is doing that? Just about EVERYONE to some degree (some more so than others)! The amount of “competition” that are doing that is absolutely enormous.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can bypass this whole frustrating and soul-sucking path and get success doing what YOU want to do. Be bold.
5 Rules That Make King Gizzard Stand Out & Gain More Fans
1. Don’t Water Down Your Music
At the time of writing this article, King Gizzard have released a whopping 18 albums in less than 9 years. Among these albums you’ll find:
- thrash metal (Infest the Rat’s Nest)
- experiments in microtonality (Flying Microtonal Banana)
- a “sci-fi heavy metal epic” with spoken word passages (Murder of the Universe)
- an “infinite loop” album (Nonagon Infinity)
And that’s only scratching the surface of their catalogue! How many bands can make the same claim, yet still win ARIA Awards (Australia’s equivalent of The GRAMMYs)?
Yet it’s precisely this reason that they win awards – THEY STAND OUT! They’re memorable.
Everyone else is softening the edges of their music to sound more “radio-friendly” or trying to have a radio hit. King Gizzard just ignore that, save that mental energy wasted worrying about those things, and transfer it into creative energy that goes directly into creating the best music that they can.
If they happen to get a radio hit, then that’s great – but it’s not the focus of their process. It’s more of a by-product of consistently making good, authentic music.
At no point does their music ever feel self-conscious or contrived. As a fan, you can hear this in the music, and you can feel the passion they have. There’s a strong element of fun to their music, even when they’re making heavy metal albums.
You get the sense that they’re in the studio gleefully finding ways to push the boundaries. This quality keeps their listeners coming back for more.
Aim to be polarizing. Don’t try and get approval from everybody. People like this quality.
2. Be Passionate (& Have Great Stage Presence)
King Gizzard is lead by singer/guitarist Stu Mackenzie, who is the primary songwriter in the band. They’re still very collaborative, but Stu is essentially the engine of their rocket. He’s the guy who tends to have a lot of the crazy ideas for albums/songs and is up at all hours of the night working on mixes. It’s as if creativity flows out of him with ease.
If you love what you’re doing, then it becomes significantly easier to put more energy into your music and, as a result, grow your audience. This is because you LOVE DOING IT!
You’ll put more effort into everything that you do, whether that’s writing the perfect song, getting your song mixed exactly how you imagine it in your head (perhaps from the comfort of your bedroom studio), or even just sending emails to people in the industry.
All these side things (like promoting your music) become more fun when you actually give a shit about what it is that you’re doing.
They’re Fun to Watch Play Live
They also put on amazing live shows because they let loose! Stu doesn’t just stand there with a blank expression on his face and stare at his feet, motionless like a statue suffering from stage fright.
Unconsciously, he bypasses any logical thought processes he has and gets into a flow state when performing.
This is because he loves the music he’s playing. It’s incredibly exciting hearing your music played back at that volume at a live show, while feeling the energy of a crowd.
These sensory experiences bring up an energy inside of you that wants to be expressed physically – often through hurling your body around on stage!
I can back this up from my experience playing shows where I’m into the music I’m playing vs when I’m not into the music I’m playing. When I’m not into it, I’m more analytical and in my head. Fortunately, this basically never happens, and that’s because I love what I do.
When I’m into it, it’s as if I’m possessed – there’s no thought process involved and you’re completely flowing in the moment with no control over what your body is doing.
It’s hard to care what other people think when you believe so strongly in what you’re doing.
The audience will pick up on this energy, and if the energy is good and the music is good, then they will literally become addicted to coming to your shows.
I have several bands that are must-see for me every time they play live. They all share the fact that they look like they’re having the best time on stage, or that they’re tapping into some source of energy beyond what our logical minds are capable of.
Everyone can tell if you’re enjoying yourself or not, so make music that you enjoy playing!
3. Give Fans a Unique Experience
King Gizzard do vinyl releases incredibly well (more on that coming up), but they don’t stop there.
Here are a few other things they’ve done that have created a unique experience for their fans, which gains more listeners and keeps them interested.
They Put on Their Own Music Festivals
For 4 years straight they ran their own music festival called Gizzfest. This was a niche festival, targeted specifically at psychedelic rock/garage rock/psychedelic punk artists. These shows were massive and something that fans looked forward to each year.
They literally created a place that fans of their musical niche could congregate and discover new music, all completely catered to that listeners’ taste. This will gain you new fans and listeners, as every band’s respective fanbases are exposed to your band.
Most bands aren’t doing things like this, so it instantly elevates the bands that do.
They Made Music Videos for an Entire Album
Just recently, they released their 18th studio album Butterfly 3000. This album was accompanied by music videos for a new song every week.
They collaborated with a variety of different visual artists and gave the album an extra added dimension. This made the music a more immersive experience.
They also just absolutely kill it when they make music videos in general, creating visually-interesting content in a variety of innovative styles.
This has an added bonus.
More video content helps you stand out online, with places like YouTube growing at a phenomenal rate.
Have a cool thumbnail on YouTube for your music video that makes people want to click = instant new listeners.
They Allowed Fans to Make Their Own Releases of Their Album
This was a GENIUS concept that I don’t believe had really been done before. I still remember where I was and my reaction when they announced it, and this was in a year of surprises from King Gizzard.
In 2017, they released 5 new albums (again, this is because they’re passionate), with the 4th album from that year, Polygondwanaland, being released 100% copyright-free. They put the release of the album into the hands of fans and allowed them to press their own vinyls, cassettes etc.
One crazy concept made by fans was turning the album into an 8-bit Nintendo recreation of the album with old-school Nintendo sounds. This was then made into an ACTUAL Super Nintendo game.
You dust off your old NES video game console, put the cartridge in, and experience the album as if it were 1991.
By involving the audience directly in their music, they allowed the audience to invest further into it. Fans literally took time out of their lives to think of crazy concepts for a release and then make them happen.
Independent record labels even started just as a result of this release! King Gizzard will forever be a part of the story of how these labels formed.
You may think releasing an entire album completely for free is a bad idea (how are you going to make money off of it?). While I wouldn’t recommend this to newbies, doing something like this makes you absolutely beloved in the eyes of fans.
It truly shows that you care about them and the music.
It also gets people talking, because who else is doing something like that? You can guarantee that any fan that made their own Polygondwanaland release is telling everyone they know about it. You even get more listeners this way just by word of mouth alone. And word of mouth is powerful.
They Make Albums Around a Concept & Expand Their Niche
Starting out as a garage rock band, King Gizzard have expanded into many different genres. Yet they’ve managed to keep true to the core of their sound and identity. Going beyond just genre, they’ve crafted entire albums around a conceptual idea multiple times now.
Some examples of their conceptual albums:
- an infinitely looping album – Nonagon Infinity – the end of the album leads back into the start of the album
- a spoken word, spaghetti western album – Eyes Like the Sky – Ennio Morricone western-like instrumentals over a Blood Meridian-style story narration
- microtonal albums – Flying Microtonal Banana, K.G., L.W. – use of non-western scales/notes between the notes
This makes for a fun experience as a listener, and it’s almost like being in a candy store. You can go to one aisle and pick out some gummy bears, then go to another aisle and pick out some Skittles, then go to another aisle and get some sour worms.
It’s all still candy, but it’s exciting new flavours and unique experiences.
Doing things like this will not only create more interest for listeners in your music, but it will make it fun for you to create music.
It can often be easier to write songs when you have a clear vision/destination in mind, rather than just writing without a goal/direction.
4. Target Your Music at a Niche Audience
This is a MASSIVE key!
King Gizzard knows their audience.
At this point, they would have it down to a tee. A sign of this is all the constant vinyl and vinyl variations that they release. These all sell out within the hour (often within 10 minutes) when they put them live on their store (often crashing their website in the process due to the demand).
King Gizzard knows that their particular audience values the EXPERIENCE of listening to music, so they create a unique EXPERIENCE for their fans.
What most people get wrong about releasing music is that they think they need to appeal to the widest possible amount of people. The more people you can target, then the more possible people that could be interested in your music – makes sense, right?
This couldn’t be further from the truth!
A passionate, niche audience is always going to be better than spreading yourself thin, trying to appeal to everyone and compromising your artistic integrity.
I’ll say that again: a passionate, niche audience is always better than spreading yourself thin and exciting nobody.
This is more true than ever due to the internet. You have access to literally billions of people all over the world now. This myth about needing to cater to the mainstream is old-school, and it’s due to the way the industry used to work pre-internet.
Your audience is out there, they just have to find you.
Think About This
Who is more likely to buy music and support you on your journey?
a) casual mainstream music listener
- bounces around from song to song on Spotify
- switches to a new track every 20 seconds
- doesn’t listen to albums
- doesn’t even pay attention to your name when the algorithm decides to play you
b) fan of a specific sub-genre of music (in King Gizzard’s case, psychedelic rock):
- has to dig to find new music because the mainstream doesn’t care about their genre – this means they’re already interested in what you do before they’ve even heard you!
- listens to full albums
- goes to all of your gigs because they appreciate the experience of listening to music
Obviously B! B is more invested in your music, and is more willing to support you to continue making music for them.
King Gizzard has done extremely well because their fans value that they make music that satisfies that “musical itch” for them.
Once again: a niche audience is SEEKING YOU OUT, so that means they’re ALREADY INTERESTED!
Scarcity vs Abundance
This boils down to scarcity – people always want more of what’s not easily available.
The mainstream listener doesn’t value the music they’re listening to because it’s abundant and easy to find.
When you finally come across a band that feels like they’re speaking directly to you, then you’re more likely to get invested in them. I’m sure you’ve had an experience of finding a band that just speaks to you on a soul-level.
Remember how invested you were in that band and the powerful connection they made with you. Hell, Stu has even said that he was inspired to start his first psych rock band after he saw Tame Impala play live in 2008.
That being said, there can be a caveat to this. There can be a “ceiling” to how far you can go with a niche audience. But unless you’re making harsh noise music, you shouldn’t worry about this.
Funnily enough, Japanese noise artist Merzbow has done plenty well, despite being in possibly the most niche of all the niches. Check out this video and take note of how many people are there to see a guy make literal noise on stage (specifically, check out the super-into it guy at 2:34 with the toothbrush). That alone should tell you that niches work.
A niche audience will grow far quicker and more organically than the other approach.
Let’s Break Down How Much Money You Could Make – Niche vs Mainstream
|5,000 Fans - |
|10,000 Fans - Mainstream Audience|
|Spends $20 on your vinyl release||Doesn't purchase your music|
|Spends $20 on ticket to your gig||Doesn't go to your show|
|Buys $20 t-shirt||Maaaybe half of them buy a t-shirt for $20|
|Spreads word of mouth to their friends = more fans||Doesn't tell anyone about your music|
|5,000 fans spending $60 each = $300,000||5,000 of 10,000 fans spend $20 each = $100,000|
As you can see – you only need half the amount of people to make 3 times the amount of money with a niche audience! This is still being conservative as well.
As you create more albums, play more shows, and make more t-shirts & merch, that $60 quickly turns into $120, then $180 etc etc.
Another cool side effect of the niche audience is that they tend to stick around for longer too.
If you’re targeting a mainstream audience that literally doesn’t listen to songs for more than a minute, or has never listened to a full album in their life, then how can you expect them to stick around?
The artist targeting at the mainstream suffers because their music doesn’t stand out, and their audience is less likely to invest money into their music.
They want to target more listeners, but their audience isn’t quality. They’re used to being handed it for free on Spotify, on the radio etc etc. Obviously, mainstream artists at the tippy-top are making an eye-watering amount of money, but that’s an extremely hard market to break into (and you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you were in that position already)!
Think about where you want to target your music/what niche you fit into and go at it 100%.
5. Create Your Own Local Music Scene Around Your Band
Check out this list of bands related to each member of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard:
|Stu Mackenzie||Revolver & Sun, The Houses, Almacknjack|
|Joe Walker||Bullant, Love Migrate, Trumpdisco, Goodnight Owl|
|Ambrose Kenny-Smith||The Murlocs, Sambrose Automobile|
|Cook Craig||The Murlocs, Pipe-eye, Revolver & Sun, The Houses|
|Michael Cavanagh||Cavs, The Houses|
|Eric Moore||Buried Horses, Goodnight Owl|
|Lucas Skinner||Atolls, Sambrose Automobile|
The first thing we can see from this is that clearly all the members of King Gizzard love making music.
They don’t settle with just the one creative outlet and they find other ways to express themselves outside of the band.
I recommend this approach to musicians for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that playing in more bands leads to more opportunities to create new bands, due to amount of different musicians you play with. By doing this, you may discover a new project becomes your primary band. This wouldn’t have been achievable otherwise. In fact, many members of King Gizzard actually met at music school.
I’ve seen bands doing this a lot in their local scenes. A number of bands will team up and play shows together on the same lineup regularly.
This was a big element of the 90s British shoegaze scene as well. They were made fun of in the press, but teamed up and created one of the best movements in alternative/indie music ever.
If you can create that team spirit among other bands, then you’ll be well on your way to making it big locally. You will then grow your music from there.
Benefits of this approach include:
- it makes it easier to get regular gigs/live show experience – if your friends’ band is playing a show, then they’ll probably reach out to your band to play with them/play the support slot
- being a band in your local area that plays shows consistently increases the reputation of your band and keeps you in the front of people’s minds – “if this band is playing a lot of shows then they must be good, right? I should probably check them out”
- you join forces with other bands in your niche and gain access to their fans, growing your fanbase in the process as well
- if one of your bands “hits it big”, then all the other related bands gain more exposure – this directly increases your chances of being discovered and gaining more unique listeners
Find other bands in your local area and reach out to them. Go to their shows. Network with them at gigs and build friendships. Organise shows together and support each other. It builds comradery and benefits everybody.
Don’t be the unapproachable band that thinks they’re better than everyone else. No one likes that, because they’re not fun to hang out with at shows, and then they’ll get less gig offers. Keep your ego in check and be down-to-earth and supportive.
4 Action Steps to Build Your Niche Music Audience and Get More Listeners
So now we’ve learnt a lot of key ingredients that have worked well for King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard getting more listeners over the years, but I don’t want this to just be more information that you absorb from the internet and then immediately forget about.
You need to apply it. This info should be used in a practical way.
Here are some steps you can take:
- Think about what makes your music “you” and find ways to amplify that. Maybe you add just a little bit more distortion to your guitar sound, or include a section in a song that’s a bit more “out-there”. Look at music you’re working on and actively find ways to make yourself stand out or do things differently to everyone else.
- Work out what your niche is. Look at the over-arching genre of your music (e.g. rock music), then look at the sub-genres (e.g. psychedelic rock music), and even look into the sub-sub-genres (e.g. space rock). Try to be as specific as possible. We’re not locking you into one genre, but trying to gain some clarity on who you are and who your audience would be.
- Brainstorm some concepts that you could explore within your niche. For me, I like to think in terms of albums, and you should start to do this as you build your career. I have an endless list of album concepts that I’d like to explore over the course of my life/career. Be as bold as possible with your plans – make big dreams and don’t put any limits on this part. If you put limits on yourself, then you only limit your own potential. King Gizzard put on a whole festival, so get creative.
- Write down a list of bands in your local city/town that are similar to your band. They don’t have to be doing the exact same thing as you, and live shows with a variety of genres are still fun, but you should try to aim to put on shows with bands that are at least somewhat-related. Once you have your list, rank the bands from most-related to least-related. If you could be side-to-side with each other and flow nicely on a Spotify playlist, then put them at the top of the list. This will be your go-to list of bands to contact when you start booking shows.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are truly an amazing case study in building a passionate fanbase. If you want to get good at something fast, then you should model people that have already done it. This will save you literal YEARS of trial and error. King Gizzard are a great band to model yourself on.
Do the action steps and drop a comment down below to let me know what you think. Tell me what your niche is, how you plan to amplify it, and what concepts you plan to explore within your niche. Please also feel free to shoot me an email if you need help with the action steps/working out what your niche is.