Learn how to brand yourself in the music industry. ICON Grad Nick Voorhees shares five music branding tips to help you define your brand.
The Philosophy of Branding for Music Producers
Developing a career in today’s music industry requires much more than producing great music. If you crave a music career and a life that swims in the musical world, you must work hard. You’ll also need to figure out how to uniquely showcase your brand in this competitive industry.
A question you’ll inevitably ask yourself is: do I want a career in the music industry? If your answer is yes, then you must consider music branding. Branding is essential for advancing a career in the creative world.
The hard truth is, people will make judgments and decisions before actually hearing your music. That’s why it’s crucial to have a vision of where you want your music career to go and how you want to present your brand to the world. It’s also essential to discover what’s unique about you, your artistry, and your story. Then build your brand from there.
What is Music Branding?
In today’s music industry, branding can play more of a role in a musician’s success than the music they create. Musicians are not merely selling their music; they’re selling an image, an experience, and a message that defines them.
Music branding is a powerful marketing tool for creative musicians. It’s the reflection of their overall message, identity, personality, style, values, beliefs, ambitions, and music. In other words, branding is everything that helps people identify and experience your unique brand.
Music branding also includes the marketing and communication strategies that differentiate you from other musicians. Moreover, it aims to create a consistent experience which leaves a lasting impression and builds a loyal following of fans. The key components of music branding include brand identity, brand communication, brand aesthetic, brand awareness, brand loyalty, and various other strategies.
Your brand will also influence your music career decisions. For example, it will guide your marketing and messaging strategies. It will also affect the way you present yourself in person and online, how you interact with fans, the imagery you choose, and more. Your brand reflects your story as much as your music!
How to Brand Yourself
You may feel uncomfortable or unsure about how to brand yourself. Defining your brand and developing a brand strategy can be difficult. Here are five helpful music branding techniques and thought exercises to help identify your brand.
1. Be Yourself
Yes, this is a cliché. However, never forget your music tells the story of your life, connects people, and expresses your vision. It’s also crucial your brand does the same. Your logo, cover art, messaging, social media presence, and other branding elements provide a unique perspective of your brand and a visual representation of your music. No one else has a sound like yours, and this should be true for your brand.
Also, do not fake this process. The music industry can see bullshit from a mile away, and being inauthentic will damage your momentum. It’s vital to show your true colors, and in return, your fans will love you for it. And if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, think about what describes your style, inspires you, and sets you apart. What will make a memorable impression?
2. What’s Your Message?
Some of the greatest musicians during the past century spread powerful messages that extended further than phenomenal music. For example, in the 60s and 70s, we saw many artists push anti-war ideologies and other agendas that helped fight for humanitarian causes. By being an advocate for something they believed in, these musicians helped grow both awareness for the issues and the size of their fanbase.
Why are some musicians more innovative, influential, and profitable than others? To begin creating a brand message, you must first understand your own beliefs and message. Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why,” does an excellent job of diving into this concept. He explains most businesses only communicate what they do. But the most successful ones communicate why they’re doing it instead.
Knowing “why” will help you connect with your fans and develop your brand to a level you never thought possible. Start by finding a unique and memorable message that like-minded people can connect with and recognize. For example, boost your brand’s awareness through advocacy.
The circle diagram below shows how to organize your thoughts and better understand yourself as a musician. Try creating a similar layout and then fill in your information to get a better visualization of your music venture.
Let’s dig deeper into brand messaging using examples from popular bands. Using the circle diagram, well explore the “Why, How, and What” of self-branding.
Your Message (Why)
Why do you want to brand yourself? What are you trying to say? What are your beliefs? Who are you as a person? Why are you even producing music? Many bands answer the “why” by using their brand to express their views and messages. For example:
- Rage Against the Machine railed against war, racism, corporate America, cultural imperialism, government oppression, the establishment, and the capitalist system.
- Bono helps raise awareness for impoverished and struggling nations in Africa.
- Bob Dylan focuses on political and social movements. He was the “voice of the generation” whose music defined anti-war and civil rights movements.
These musicians not only supply us with great music, but they also shine a light on what needs to change in the world. There’s a reason why decades later, we still know these names.
Spreading That Message (How)
You’ve chosen music as your career, so this is “how” you tell your story. You can tell a great story with your music, lyrics, imagery, ambition, unique style, social media engagement, and more. These pieces must also reflect your brand’s message. It’s challenging to master all these at once, so focus on each one individually. With enough dedication and practice, these concepts will come naturally.
Your Job (What)
This part is self-explanatory. You should have no trouble explaining to the world that “what” you do is music production. You make music for a living.
3. Establish A Memorable First Impression
First impressions are influential and key to music discovery. You have only seconds to hold someone’s attention, so you must make a lasting first impression. That’s why brands are powerful. They are usually the first impressions people get of an artist in today’s music industry.
Have you ever seen a logo, cover art, tour flyer, or other imagery that instantly resonated with you? Imagery plays a vital role in brand identity. Visual identity should capture people’s attention and make them feel something, whether that emotion is happiness, sadness, or somewhere between. Musicians who move the souls of their audience will gain lifelong fans.
Designing effective cover art is a great place to start when creating a personal brand. Cover art is the visual gateway to your music. It’s also the image listeners associate with your music. For example, your cover art will often grab someone’s attention before they listen to your music. Potential fans are also more likely to listen to your music when your album artwork stands out.
There are several ways to create album cover art. A few free options include services like Canva and Pixlr. If you’re looking for professional work, there are services that host graphic designers like Fiverr or Upwork. Melody Nest is also an excellent choice for music producers and creative entrepreneurs because of their specialization in graphic design for the creative field. They offer music cover art, podcast cover art, logos, social media branding, and more.
4. Realize You’re an Entrepreneur
Musicians are also entrepreneurs. They have a product and a brand to sell in a competing marketplace. To do this, musicians need to learn business skills. They must also have the drive to sell their music and brand as any entrepreneur would. If your branding is inconsistent or non-existent, chances of conducting business with key players in the music industry diminish drastically.
I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man. Jay-Z
A successful DJ once said to me: “To blow up, it’s 80% branding and business, 20% music.” You might read this and feel like it shouldn’t be this way. However, that’s the way it is in the music business. The music industry is over-saturated with hungry producers looking to make it big.
Begin treating your brand as a business by dwelling on things you may need to acquire. For example:
- A trustworthy team that understands your message and can help build your brand.
- A talented graphic designer to help you design a logo, cover art, and other imagery assets.
- A target audience. Find the people your music resonates with the most. There are various ways and analytic tools to help you understand your fans. For example, SoundCloud’s “Stats” feature can find the locations of your listeners.
- Marketing strategies to help you reach more fans, engage with current fans, sell music, and bring awareness to your brand. For example, placing targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram. However, if you’re running on a low budget, utilize your personal skills to engage with others on social media. For instance, your sense of humor, people skills, artistic style, etc.
- Legal protection. Music law, contracts, music rights, etc. are complicated and confusing. It’s often wise to find a lawyer when dealing with the complexities of the music business.
It’s essential to have a basic understanding of the complexities and formalities associated with making a career in music. A music career is like operating a legitimate business. You’ll have to treat it as a full-time occupation to prosper and succeed.
5. Create Realistic Goals and Hit Those Marks
What is it that you’re looking to achieve? You’ll need to understand this critical question because it’s key to creating a successful music career.
“I want to be the next Skrillex” is not an answer.
A good practice is to define success. What does success mean to you? Are you looking to “get by” with your music? Would you like to be a touring artist? Or maybe you want to produce music for tv, film, radio, etc.?
These are the questions you cannot ignore. It’s rare to stumble upon success. It’s earned by those who know exactly what they want and ready to put in the hard-working hours to achieve their goals.
For instance, setting smaller goals can help you understand what it is you’re looking to achieve. For example, some realistic goals could be:
- Gain 10,000 Spotify plays on your next release
- Play at a major festival
- Land a sync licensing deal with a major motion picture
- Create a record label
It’s essential to set goals, hit those goals, and then move to the next target. And if you don’t hit your target, try again!
It would be nice to produce music all day and immediately make millions of dollars. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic for the vast majority of us. It’s no secret that choosing to be a full-time musician is a difficult task. And to keep yourself motivated through hardships, you’ll need a strong force to keep pushing you forward.
Having a robust and consistent brand is necessary for all music producers looking to create a successful career. Spend time thinking about how to brand yourself, what you care about, what you want to achieve, and how to incorporate it all into your musical venture. Adequately self-reflect to better understand what you’re looking to accomplish. Good luck!