Brand yourself consistently in all your marketing
This is an edited version of an article originally posted as “Communicating a Consistent Artist Brand” on MusicConsultant.com. Reprinted with permission.
One of the more curious things I’ve learned while working with indie musicians to craft artist bios that compellingly capture the spirit of their music and their essence as unique artists is that many of them – in fact, most of them – have never truly asked a very important question: “Who am I?”
Unfortunately, many who have asked themselves this question often come up with an answer that is flat wrong, and then build a brand build and create a marketing strategy around the identity of an imaginary stranger they have created.
As an indie artist, it is important to know what your unique brand and identity is and to be able to express it in a consistent, confident, and authentic voice in order to engage meaningfully with fans, connect through your music, and have a long-lasting career. It starts with being comfortable in your own artist skin. Here are five ideas to consider as you develop a consistent artist brand for your media kit, EPK, merch, and fans.
Tell your story
“Storytelling” is a simultaneously under-utilized and over-hyped branding exercise. As it relates to branding, it is the way you focus your messages around a central theme and create consistency. Your story gives people additional reasons to invest in you emotionally and financially beyond your music, which is why you need to develop an interesting narrative that moves forward and grows as your career develops. The special story of your personal relationship to music and who you are as an artist should be concisely summed up by your mission statement, which you communicate through every aspect of your website, press pack, social media pages, merch, and other marketing pieces.
While it is important that your story have a plot, having real conflict and tension to emotionally engage fans (and potential fans) is even more important. That doesn’t mean your band bio needs to be wrought with gripping drama, but it should develop a narrative. For example, did you discover you wanted to become a professional musician while you were struggling through law school? Tap into that. How does your music reflect that moment of change? How did that turning point shape your journey as an artist?
People make their biggest decisions with their hearts, not with their heads, so when you make an emotional connection with your story, you compel them not only to learn more about you but also spread the word to others. By the way, it should go without saying that your story needs to be credible and authentic, as people are more likely to respond to you when they feel you come from an ethical and honest place. Relax, be creative, let your story flow, and you'll unlock a huge opportunity to connect with your audience on a very deep level.
Keep all your marketing materials consistent
When putting together your official website, Facebook artist page, CD covers, merch, and press packs, many artists let their creativity take over and forget one of the most important aspects of branding: consistency. Throwing every idea you ever have and every video you ever shoot out into the universe without considering how it will contribute to your career aspirations and business plan can cause confusion. Consistency can feel constrictive and repetitive, especially when you’re using the same images, words, color schemes, and ideas over and again, but it is necessary. In order to be perceived as professional, your Facebook artist page needs to match your website, which needs to match your Twitter account, SoundCloud page, merch, and everywhere you’re presenting yourself and your music online.
The way fans and the public experience you needs to be consistent so they can feel comfortable in the space you’re creating for them and understand who you are. Whether fans are visiting your website or holding your merch or CD in their hands, every piece of artwork needs to be clearly-identifiable as yours, with a look, feel, and style that ties directly to your identity. You need to use the same colors, images, fonts, backgrounds, page layout, and voice in everything you release into the world, including newsletters, emails, merch, and promotional posters for your gigs.
Here’s a challenge for you: gather up all your artist collateral – your press kit, website, CDs, Facebook artist page, Twitter profile, etc. Are the design elements (colors, fonts, photos, images, etc.) consistent across all platforms and media? Is your mission statement clearly evident in all places? What message and values are your materials conveying about your identity as an artist? Are these messages consistent with how you perceive yourself and the type of artist you want to be? If you knew nothing about the artist you see as you look at all your materials, would you be able to describe your fans? Does how you engage on social media align with what you hope to communicate through your music? Does it align with your own personal values?
Accept feedback from your fans …
but NEVER betray your authentic self. While you, as a musician, sometimes have to embrace fans in unexpected places and adapt a “beggars can’t be choosers” philosophy to excel at your craft, you should never abandon your core identity. If what you are presenting doesn’t square with your principles, what you believe, and the music that truly inspires you, you’re not going to enjoy your job as a musician. So listen to your fans and create merch, music, and experiences that speak to them, but always stay true to your mission statement and be the authentic artist that you claim to be.
Silence the noise
“You have to stand out above the noise in order to get your music heard.” You've probably heard some version of this statement, but most people don’t understand what it really means. Some hear this and attempt to sing louder and more often than everyone else, believing that will set them apart from the hordes of other musicians making noise in an intensely-packed market. They update their status messages dozens of times a day, play ten shows a month, record a new song every week, and indiscriminately email everyone they can get their hands on.
Staying active and working hard at your craft through practice, recording, and live performances is essential to your development as an artist, but standing out and rising above the din is often more about subtraction than addition. We live in an environment where we are constantly being bombarded by information, no matter where we are. If you feel overwhelmed as you try to scream louder than all the other bands out there, remember your audience is experiencing the same system overload. So pare down your interactions, the length and frequency of your emails, the number of songs and videos you release, and get really selective about your communication. Focus on writing and releasing your best material and using succinct and meaningful language to communicate and promote yourself.
You may have an amazing band with incredible songs, but if no one knows about you, you're not going to find success or move your career forward. You have to educate yourself about marketing and PR and reach out to others about booking shows, buying your music, and becoming a champion for your band. Taking control of your artistic voice and being a skillful self-promoter is the only way to build a sustainable career, even if you eventually seek or get support from outside forces. It starts with your mission statement: everything you do to promote yourself should stem from it, so get clear on that first.
It's a fine line between bragging and promoting, and you have to learn how to walk along it. Just remember, it is always better to push your brand than not. You will learn, often through trial, error, and the responses you get, when you have gone too far – or not far enough. Developing your own voice and brand as an artist is an ongoing process that will continue for as long as you make music. But if you are fully present in every aspect of your career, it will emerge naturally and help you navigate each challenge and triumph.
Julia L. Rogers is the Editor in Chief of MusicConsultant.com. She is a classically-trained musician, published author, journalist, and a contributing music writer at Bitch magazine. She also writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients, including The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and American Express. She was previously a grant writer and development/marketing strategist for several New York City-based non-profit Arts organizations and has written business development materials and produced online media for a variety of small technology companies. As a songwriter, cellist, bassist, singer and pianist, Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects. Julia continues to take risks that help her clients and partners passionately re-commit to their visions and capture their on-going stories with honest, sharp and engaging narratives. She has been working with MusicConsultant.com since 2009.