Wynton Marsalis, one of the most celebrated contemporary jazz musicians, got his start playing with his family's jazz band, with the likes of Miles Davis, Clark Terry, and Al Hirt. Not every aspiring jazz musician has a family band with absolute legends to play with, but there are still other proven strategies that can help you succeed in the competitive world of jazz.
In 2023, emerging jazz musicians succeed by collaborating with other artists, releasing crossover work that forays into other popular genres, and establishing a strong personal brand through strategic marketing.
In this post, De Novo Agency explores evidence-based tactics — including networking, building a fan base, winning gigs, and beyond — that build your success as a jazz artist and set you apart from the competition. So grab your trumpet (or sax, or bass...) and let’s get started!
Defining Your Jazz Niche: How to Identify Your Target Audience
Jazz in the US primarily appeals to adults aged 35+, with higher levels of education and income. Given its historical and cultural significance, jazz is typically promoted through institutions like universities and museums, and is thus associated with sophistication and refinement.
For instance, the chart below shows the breakdown of age groups of jazz listeners in the US, based on Facebook ad targeting data.
But there is a lot more to your audience than just that.
Traditional versus fusion, bebop versus smooth, classic versus contemporary — there are seemingly as many eras and sub-genres in jazz as there are genres of music, and the folks who listen to them are not necessarily the same set of people.
This is why, precisely identifying your target audience is absolutely critical to figuring out how to succeed as a jazz artist. Before you do anything else, start with determining who exactly your fans and potential fans are.
A listener who prefers Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington may not be a fan of Esperanza Spalding, and a Kenny G aficionado may have nothing in common with other jazz listeners.
There are two key elements to defining your target audience:
- Demographic attributes: Age, education, income level, and geographic location.
- Interest attributes: What other things they’re interested in, especially what other types of music they’re interested in.
If you’re already publishing your music online on platforms like Spotify and YouTube, the analytics tools on those platforms offer you invaluable data to pinpoint your target audience. For a complete breakdown on how to identify your target audience, check out our helpful guide on how to find and grow your audience, which also contains our free, downloadable insights tool.
Winning Gigs as a Rising Jazz Artist
With the rise of streaming music platforms, record sales have shrunk and are no longer a significant revenue source for most artists. As a result, gigs and live performances are now more important than ever before, as they offer avenues of monetization other than just ticket sales (like merchandising).
But landing gigs can be challenging when you’re not yet a well-known performer. So, how do you get more jazz gigs?
To land gigs as a little-known jazz artist in 2023, it's essential to build a strong online presence and fan following through social media. Networking with other artists and industry insiders is crucial, as is consistent interaction with venue managers and booking agents.
The table below offers you a list of a few of the jazz events and festivals around the US where up-and-coming jazz artists often find opportunities to perform.
Before you apply, be sure to check out the guidelines on the official website or applications page. Most events have their own guidelines, while some festivals such as the Telluride Jazz Festival, have a closed selection process and do not accept submissions from artists. Sending in an application without checking these requirements makes a poor impression and hurts your future chances of landing a gig at that event.
Also, keep in mind that most events finalize their artist selection several months in advance, so it is worthwhile starting your application process 6 to 10 months ahead of the actual events.
Finally, remember that even if you don’t get to play on the main stages, many commercial establishments in these cities host jazz gigs and live shows to take advantage of the influx of jazz enthusiasts during these events.
For instance, in addition to the shows at the official event, the city of Atlanta comes alive with jazz performances at countless venues across the city during the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Dozens of local jazz clubs and venues offer special events and performances, from late-night jazz sessions, to jazz brunches, workshops, and masterclasses.
Reaching out to the managers of these establishments is an effective way of finding opportunities to gain exposure and build your fanbase. For a full breakdown of all the factors that go into creating the right kind of pitch to impress venue managers, check out our complete guide on how to win and promote music gigs as an emerging artist.
Getting Featured on Jazz Playlists, Radios and Magazines
For up-and-coming jazz artists, getting featured on a relevant playlist, radio station, or magazine can help expand their audience, build relationships with industry professionals, and establish credibility with agents, managers, and event directors.
Reaching out to playlist curators or station DJs directly, or connecting with them over social media is a good first step towards this. Getting noticed, building rapport and getting coverage can be a time-consuming process that takes months to deliver pay off. Our 5-star-rated PR packages for musicians, backed by our extensive connections to industry insiders, can be a faster way to earn coverage on reputed, high-DA websites.
Getting featured on a good Spotify playlist can be especially useful, as it can boost your followers and your track’s play count. That said, it’s important that you do your due diligence and research, because there are a lot of scammers out there operating bot-driven or low-value playlists.
Congratulations — by doing the research to figure out effective ways to grow your success as a jazz artist or jazz band, you’re already ahead of 90% of aspiring jazz artists! If you’re working on an upcoming launch, you might want to check out our round-up of effective launch tactics for albums and singles.
On the other hand, if you’ve already got some music out there, you should focus on growing your audience, rather than endlessly releasing new content. Think of it this way: if nobody is walking into your retail store, just adding new products is not going to solve your problem. Our other guides can help you with growing your audience: