If you’ve been pursuing a career as a musician for any length of time, you’ve probably been told that you need to “brand” yourself and your music.
But what does “branding” really mean for musicians?
On the surface, there are several elements:
Your look. Your sound. What you stand for.
But there’s something else that underlies everything.
Once you understand what it is that actually makes YOUR brand so important, you’ll be able to build an incredibly loyal following that will support you and your music for many years to come.
I’ll explain what this little branding secret is in just a moment, but first I just want to make sure that you have a basic idea of what I mean when I refer to your “brand”.
The first surface level element of your brand would be how you look.
The clothes you wear, the way you style your hair, and the way you carry yourself. Bands like The White Stripes have even gone so far as to establish a color scheme.
When a band takes the stage wearing studded leather jackets covered with patches, nose rings, and mohawks… you can probably get a pretty good idea of what kind of music you’re about to hear.
Just like you might expect to hear some bluegrass if you see a group walk out on stage with a couple of banjos, stetson hats, and suspenders holding up their slacks.
Of course, you don’t have stick to stereotypes. It’s not at all uncommon to see the lead singer of a rock band dressed like an eighteenth century concert pianist.
But you should keep in mind that the way you look is going to play a part in defining what your brand is.
The genre of music you play is clearly a major factor.
The instruments and equipment you use… The choice of a Les Paul played through a Marshall or a Strat played through a Blues Deluxe will have a big impact on your sound.
The production value and quality of your music will also define your sound.
A lot of indie bands will intentionally produce lo-fi recordings that have more of a “raw” sound. Something that’s unlikely to work very well for most mainstream pop artists.
What You Stand For
From bands like The Beatles and The Grateful Dead that promoted peace, love and happiness in the 60’s and 70’s to aggressive, politically charged bands like Rage Against The Machine and System of A Down…
Artists are often very vocal about their beliefs and sometimes use their music as a way of affecting the change they want to see in the world.
It doesn’t matter what you stand for, as long as it’s something you really believe in and something others can get behind as well.
What Makes You Unique?
Another important element of your brand is going to be something that’s uniquely you.
This is very important and something that a lot of artists have a hard time with.
Most commonly, independent artists don’t take the time to establish something that makes them stand out from the millions of other musicians out there.
Other times, artists will try to hard to be different… something that can often blow up in your face.
Bands can get hung up on trying to create a sound that nobody’s ever heard before. This can be especially difficult nowadays with all of the new music that’s being released on a daily basis.
But separating yourself from the pack doesn’t have to be that complicated.
We all have something that makes us unique, and that’s our own personal story.
So that’s something you should think about.
Billy Joel built a brand around himself by simply being a kid from a working class family in New York.
Bruce Springsteen has a very similar brand as an American working class musician from New Jersey.
Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were kids that felt disgruntled and disenfranchised. They eventually lead the forefront of the Seattle music scene in the late 80s and early 90s that was later established as an entire new genre known as Grunge.
So what’s YOUR story?
Your story is something that can resonate very strongly with others, and help you build a strong connection with your fans.
This leads me to the most important part of branding.
The Secret – Not The “What” But The “Why”
The secret to developing a strong brand as an independent artist doesn’t lie so much in what you look like, what you sound like, what you stand for, or even what your story is.
It’s not the “what” that really matters, but the “why”.
Branding is a way for you to connect with your fans and for them to connect with you.
Understanding why your music and your image resonates with fans is the secret to effective branding.
People identify with the music and artists they listen to on a deep level.
Your fans see you and your music as an extension of themselves. Understanding that is the first step to developing a strong brand and a loyal following.
Your brand as a musician isn’t just your identity, it’s a part of your fans’ identities.
Think about the artists you listened to in high school.
How did they influence you?
Did they affect the way you dressed? The way you styled your hair?
More importantly, did they affect the way saw yourself?
I know the music I listened to growing up had a big impact on how I saw myself, and I know that’s true for many others as well.
So the key to developing your brand is not only to understand this simple fact, but to embrace it… even exaggerate it at times.
As an artist, you have the ability to portray yourself as the ultimate version of how your fans would like to see themselves.
So think about how you see yourself. Think about what the ideal version of you would look like.
It’s not unlikely that your fans see themselves in a similar way. And if you embody that ideal version of how they would like to see themselves, they are likely to identify with you very strongly.
That’s how you can create a real connection with your fans, and build an incredibly loyal following.
As you develop all of the surface level elements of your brand – your look, your sound, what you stand for, and your story…
Think about how that feeds into your ideal image and how that’s going to resonate with your fans and their own personal identity.
That’s the secret to truly effective branding as an artist.
Word of Warning
Many artists really take branding to heart (as they should). However, some independent artists make the mistake of associating their personal brand with a “branding strategy” when it comes to their marketing.
While branding is an important part of your marketing, the type of branding we’re discussing here isn’t the same thing as a branding strategy.
Unless you have a million dollars to spend on advertising, you should avoid making the mistake of trying to mimic the same kind of branding strategies that major labels use. A trap that many independent artists fall into.
Trying to follow a similar branding strategy to that of major record labels is likely to be ineffective and a waste of money for most independent artists.
I highly recommend that you check out a recent article that I wrote, which explains in detail why you shouldn’t adopt a branding strategy when it comes to your marketing. I offer a much better approach.
Check it out here ==> The #1 Promotion Mistake That Independent Artists Make