By: Laine White
With all the diverse and unique musicians and artists in the world, pretty much all of us have something in common: we want people to love and listen to our music. The tricky thing is, there is a world of talented artists all competing for our audiences’ earbuds, and the competition can be tough! We have to stand out in some way so that the amazing music we create and perform is loved by the right people. I’ll let you in on a secret many artists take years to learn: A band that KNOWS themselves is easy to love, but a band that doesn’t have an identity is easily forgettable.
Imagine all your favorite bands. When you think about them, you can easily picture their logos, their unique band names, and the visual elements that represent them. When you see ACDC’s lightning bolt or Billie Eilish and her trademark neon green hair, it immediately connects with you. You KNOW who you are about to listen to and what to expect. We will always remember The Beatles walking across the street on the album cover of Abbey Road. These artists all have a brand and branding is powerful. Branding gives your fans something to connect to you with. It’s your 5 minute elevator pitch to your waiting audience. It allows your potential super fans to learn SO much about you before they even make it through your first demo album.
It can be really tricky to determine your brand though, especially when you are just starting out. Most of us can’t hire a big fancy branding firm to design this for us, so just like most of what we do as budding artists, we have to create it for ourselves. You can brand your band by identifying who you are in 4 main categories: Your Inspiration, Your Identity, Your Imagery, and your Impact.
Inspiration is an easy place to start out, and it’s often one of the obvious questions we ask ourselves: what other musicians inspire us? What songs do we love to cover? What famous artists and musicians do we idolize? We can learn a lot about ourselves when we look to who inspired us. If you love Taylor Swift and only listen to pop songs, then you may not be the best candidate for a hard core rock band. Think about how your favorite artists make you feel, what you love about their music, and what specifically inspires you about them. When you were a kid, who did you want to grow up to be? This is a great time to isolate the genre of music that you and your band fall into. It seems so obvious, but sometimes clarifying that at the get go can really help you know what venues to play, what festivals to participate in, and what promoters you should connect with.
Now that you have a sense for who you love, think about who you are. It’s important to really get to know yourself in this process, because being a musician isn’t about being someone you aren’t. It’s about wholly and completely being who you ARE and are meant to be, and sharing that with others through your music. Solo artists, you are in luck here, because this can be tricky to determine for a group of people, but even large bands have a collective personality. When it’s just you and your fellow bandmates, how do you act? Are you serious about technicality and passionate about your music or do you like to groove and have fun while playing together? Do you like to laugh and make jokes or do you prefer to sing and play about subjects that are deeply important to you? Here’s a fun exercise: If you and/or your band were a person in a movie, who would they be? Would they be the wise old sage imparting wisdom on the other characters or would they be the relatable hero that is figuring things out as they go? Discovering your identity can take time, and of course it will grow and adjust as you do, but spending some time to get to know your personality is so valuable and will have a huge impact on your success as an artist.
Once you know who you are, then you have a much better chance at discovering the visual imagery that you connect with and represents you as an artist. Your imagery consists of the colors, styles, and visual elements that will represent your band. We all strive not to judge a book (or an album) by its cover, but it’s undeniable that many times our future fans will see our name on a marquee or see someone wearing our t-shirt before they ever hear us play. We want our visuals to reflect who we are so our fans know what to expect and can get to know us even better. What colors resonate with you? What images connect with you? What style do you want to embody? If you are a solo artist, again, you have it easy, but if you are a band it’s a great idea to nail this down together. You all will of course have your own individual interpretations of this, but cohesion is the goal here, not conformity. It’s not silly to plan together what you will wear to a show, it’s clever and will help you connect with the right audience!
Impact is arguably the most important part of your brand as an artist. Impact involves the way you make people feel and the vibe you create at shows. It’s great to start out by imagining who your super fan could be. What is their personality like and how do they want to feel at a show? How old are they and where do they live? Don’t be afraid to be specific! Of course you will have tons of fans that are all very different, but they probably will have a few things in common too, so this exercise can help you discover those similarities. Determining the impact you want to have on your audience will also inform the way you go about thinking about your stage presence. This is sometimes the hardest part of being a performer, and it is a muscle you have to train. If you want your audience to have a blast at your shows, then maybe heart wrenching ballads aren’t a great fit for your sound. If your audience is really wild and likes to be surprised, then maybe you need to work in some crazy antics and surprises into your show! The possibilities are endless here.
The Bottom Line
Branding isn’t usually an overnight thing, and it can definitely seem daunting to narrow down who you are. You aren’t trying to put yourself in a box, so if you feel like you are, then give yourself a break and try again tomorrow. Music changes constantly, and who you are today will always be a little different from who you were yesterday, but having a pulse on your voice and identity can empower you to reach the right audience and feel fulfilled as a musician. Eventually, with a little dash of introspection and a splash of self confidence, you will be branded like the ‘best musicians in the biz’!
If you’d like a framework to discover your brand, then sign up below for a free downloadable worksheet!