I sometimes come across great advice for musicians online and I share them on my Facebook page, but this week I came across something so helpful and yet at the same time incredibly heartfelt, that I just had to share it and give you my take on what I’ve learnt from it with regard to your ‘brand’ as an artist.
Here’s a link to the talk that inspired me.
One of my musician friends used to adamantly insist that she was not an actress on stage playing her songs, but herself. So she didn’t want to do any of that ‘dressing up nonsense’ or labelling herself as a particular type of singer along the lines of [insert names of famous other artists]. She just wanted to be herself. I can understand that point of view. Some people really don’t want to have a theatrical kind of stage performance style. Or weird clothes. Or a cute logo. And that’s fine. But there is a need for some kind of clarity as to the essence of what you do. And I think it’s more fun that way.
Here are three reasons why you need to have a clear ‘brand’ and how to establish one:
1) Because your fans need to be able to find you
People need music. Some people would swear a record they bought when they were 17 saved their life. The person whose life you can save with your music is out there. But you can’t reach them if they don’t know how to find you. You’ve got to have certain beacons in the path to your music that will help your ideal fan discover you. What is it that you stand for? Get clear on that, because it’s the artists who make this abundantly clear who get fans who show up to more than one gig and who buy their CDs too. One way to help fans find you, is indeed to make reference to other artists you sound like. ITunes implemented this with their, ‘if you like this artist, you may like…’. How effective is it to simply say you are a folk-rock acoustic artist who plays guitar? Ok, that gives us some idea, but say you’re an artist who sings like Joni Mitchell mixed with a the modern quirky sound of Regina Spektor and the dress sense of Björk and suddenly, we have a really good idea of what your values are, who you represent and how broad your musical spectrum is. Compared to saying you sing like Katy Perry but with the sophisticated style of Beyoncé. Then we know you’re more plugged into current pop culture standards and less retro. Those details also give us a clue as to the age range of your ideal audience too.
2) Because you need publications to review your work
If you don’t know your musical brand, you can’t select the right kind of publication to approach to review your album and mention you on their list of top emerging artists. It’s no good sending your latest single for review to a feminist magazine with a music section, if you’re singing about looking cute and getting the hot guys in the room to notice you. Unless you have some kind of ironic take on it all that makes you a role model for female solidarity. Equally, if your music is all about kicking back, letting the days go by while watching the sun go down to a good jazz bassline with some acoustic guitar, you’re not going to get a review in an electro-pop magazine, nor, for that matter, a publication that’s all about innovation and modern technology. However, if you’re a pianist and your approach is to use your classical training background and mix accomplished piano playing with industrial beats and cool new sampled sounds on your new keyboard, you could appeal to readers of ‘Keyboard’ magazine who like a bit of that classical/pop crossover.
3) Because you need to simplify your life
If you’re trying to be all things to all people, you’ll end up getting nowhere. You could be confusing yourself if you’re recording songs that sound like Kylie Minogue but you want to collaborate with Matmos for sampled beats on your song. How hard will it become to keep clear on what your goal is, if you’re a chaotic mess of indecision and different musical directions? As my music business lawyer and coach always reminds me, “No-one can get behind chaos.”
Above all, it’s likely you’ll have more fun with your music if you can be really clear why you’re doing it. Is it music to break boundaries and be challenging to listen to, or is it music you want to listen to in the car driving through fields in California with your university years behind you and a new relationship emerging? Who are you talking to? Are you trying to find calm in the world, things that soothe you, reassurance that everything’s going to be alright or are you trying to exorcise a ghost from the past that keeps haunting you? Do you want people to listen to your music while chatting someone up or do you want them to come home to listen to your music while lying on their bed and thinking about things? What is your music there to do? Quietly calm? Excite? Incite a riot? Conceive a baby to? Reminisce with? Decide for yourself even as you’re writing a song. Not for the purposes of being cool record specifically to achieve an outcome, but to enjoy the essence of who you are and what values are uppermost in your mind, soul and heart. If you’re clear on that, everything else will make sense.