In our efforts to make available as much music business information as possible for Alabama music artists, Alabama Music Office.com has asked music business professionals from all over the world to share their knowledge and experiences.
Great music and a reputation as a live phenomenon are a start, but your artist brand is important to cementing your place in the hearts and minds of your fans
When you hear slogans like “Finger lickin’ good,” “Just do it,” and “Eat fresh,” can you immediately picture the logo, the company, and the associated products? This is branding in action, and big businesses invest untold millions on it because they know it can mean success and longevity for their products. Developing your artist brand is an important step in your music marketing plan and in the ongoing development of your music career.
In the music industry, many major acts have mastered the art of artist branding. The Rolling Stones have the unmistakable lips, the Misfits have their skull, Kiss has the lightning-style “s,” and the Grateful Dead has their skeleton and roses and dancing bears, etc. When you see these symbols and band logos, you are reminded not only of the artist, but also the albums, the songs, the shows, the style of music, and the unique wardrobes – all of which add further to each artist’s brand identity. These symbols and band logos represent everything these artists are in the mind of their audience, and can serve as a badge of identity for the fans. But artist branding goes a lot deeper than a band logo or a symbol.
Why is artist branding such an important element in determining an band’s long-term success? Because in an abbreviated and unique way, it captures their essence and provides followers with an identity to embrace, deepening the identification of each fan to their favorite band – and brand.
A Mark Made By A Hot Iron
The word “brand” comes from Old English, meaning fire or flame. By the 1550’s its meaning had changed to an “identifying mark made by a hot iron,” and by 1827 it was broadened to include “a particular make of goods.”
According to entrepreneur.com, today branding is “the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol, or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.” These are clear concepts: you need a way to tell the world that something belongs to you or came from you.
Rewind for a moment and think about your favorite mainstream artists, from any era: Elvis, Madonna, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Beyoncé, Prince, Taylor Swift, Eminem. They have all created an artist brand image that resonates with their audience.
If your style, message, and reputation is consistent with a particular consumer’s taste, you might be able to deepen the fan/band/brand relationship through consumer brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is a business concept where a consumer becomes so enthralled with your brand that he or she will continue to purchase your brand over and over again and won’t consider another brand offering a similar product. These people are loyal, long-term customers, often willing to spend a little more on the brand they’ve chosen.
This is the customer who goes to Starbucks so consistently that the barista knows to start blending the mocha frappuccino at 8:09 every morning so it’s ready at 8:11 when the customer walks in the door. In the music world, it’s the Dave Matthews’ fan who went to every single show when she got her driver’s license and still follows the band around each summer to half a dozen gigs, noting which songs the band played and in what order so she can post it on her DMB blog.
The bottom line for any band is that a loyal customer (fan) is more valuable to a business (your band is a business!) than a one-time buyer who will not be coming back for another show, album, mp3, t-shirt, etc.
Creating Your Artist Brand
How do you go about starting to create your own brand? Let’s not forget, it starts with a lot of hard work. First, you need a product (songs, a live show) that establishes you as something consumers want to hear and see. Then, in an effort to establish a reputation, not only do you need to perform constantly and refine your craft, you need to simultaneously determine what it is that people are reacting positively to and use that to identify, establish, and refine your artist brand.
It begins with an identity and an understanding of what makes you different from other bands or artists of the same genre of music. In other words, who are you as an artist, and why are you unique? What is your message? Weezer differentiates itself from other alternative rock bands by offering a geeky look and comedic lyrics over grungy guitars; Girl Talk gives you a bass-throbbing, infectious mash-up party on a CD; and The Flaming Lips are going to be weird, no matter who they’re collaborating with.
Who are you, and what makes you unique? Start with your elevator pitch. If you’re having trouble zeroing in on what that is, study other successful artists you may be like, and make a list of what makes them unique to their audience. Jason Mraz wears his trademark hat while spinning his heartfelt story-songs and Keith Urban portrays an image of laid-back country boy who can shred on guitar and melt ladies’ hearts. Hone your qualities down to a quick list of attributes that describe you and work from there.
Once you pin down your identity, make sure you stay consistent. Your artist brand should be apparent at every exposure that you have to the public. Band logos and slogans are not as useful if they are not used repeatedly. And even if you get sick of announcing the name of your new release night after night, it’s that very repetition that will help establish your brand identity in the minds of your audience. You know a shoe or a shirt or a hat is made by Nike when it’s got their swoosh because they use it consistently. Coordinate the look of your website, press kit, merchandise, and social media to match so that they are all readily identifiable to your artist brand.
Even if you aren’t splashing your logo over everything you produce or wear, your products and your image should deliver a consistent message and ooze your unique identity. Gwen Stefani’s wardrobe matches No Doubt’s “pop punk with a splash of ska” branding. She does not need the words “No Doubt” branded across her t-shirt in order for her artist brand to be identified with her.
Sustaining Your Artist Brand for the Long Haul
Sustaining your artist brand means consistently protecting and promoting it in all your music marketing efforts. Every single exposure you have with the public is an opportunity to promote your brand, so make sure you are constantly promoting the reputation you’re striving to achieve with the public. Justin Bieber, love him or hate him, always has his brand (music, tours, movie, videos, merch lines, and even his forays into being a “bad boy”) presented in a consistent way, making it much easier for fans to stay loyal to his many products.
If you’re a punk rocker, be a punk rocker at every contact you have with the public – on your album covers, in your video blogs, Facebook posts, anti-establishment rants, wardrobe, etc. If you are a socially conscious hip hop artist, do the same thing with your key messages, music, videos, etc. Develop your identity and spread it everywhere you can.
Creating your artist brand is not something that will happen overnight. Major corporations work for years to sculpt their brand’s identity and reputation into the most tightly defined version it can be. And while an indie artist does not have the financial resources or manpower that mega-brands such as Nike, Pepsi, or Subway have, the fundamental concepts that the big companies use are the same that your band can use: fans will purchase your music, merch, and tickets if they perceive added value to your band/brand because it resonates with them and is different (and therefore better) than other bands/brands in the same genre.
As you build your positive reputation, you build what’s termed brand equity. Brand equity is additional value attributable to your product or service due to your brand’s reputation. This is why you can go to the grocery store and buy a two-liter bottle of generic cola (generics are a sort of “anti-brand”) for 79¢, but Coke costs $1.29. Coke has additional value due to its brand equity.
Similarly, your artist brand equity is directly correlated with your reputation. If you have a reputation for putting on an incredible live show, have quality merch, and your music is superior, then you can charge more for shows, CDs, and tickets.
But just developing a good reputation is seldom enough to keep your brand in the limelight. Your brand equity is garnered over time by building a positive reputation with the public. Remember, every “best new artist” winner selected at any annual music award is years into refining and hammering home their artist brand. So stick with it, refine it, and be consistent.
Dana Myers is a practicing attorney in Stockton, CA, who advises artists on various legal and copyright matters. She also teaches an introductory music industry course at the University of the Pacific, called Music, Entertainment in U.S. Society, which provides students with a basic understanding of how the music business operates.
Do you want to DO something with your music … or do you want
TO HAVE DONE something with it?
One involves wishing; the other acting. Success is wonderful, but it only happens as a byproduct of action. Hit songwriter comes afterSongwriter. Famous artist comes after Artist.
Those of you who follow me know that I am a strong advocate of action. Those of you who know me understand that everything we teach and preach at Kim Copeland Productions is based on movement towards a goal. Through our mentoring, critiques, seminars, artist development and artist/songwriter production, we are all about laying a foundation under your dreams and turning them into action! We know through our vast experience that success is not about having talent as much as it is about how you use your talent. We also know that productivity breed’s success.
I woke up this morning reveling in the success that so many of our clients are finding (or rather, creating) right now! From writing and pitching deals, first cuts, first radio interviews, to landing big gigs that increase fan base and paydays, etc., etc. I LOVE seeing you reap the rewards of your hard work and seeing the plans that we have helped you design come to fruition.
It takes a lot of courage and blind faith in yourself to keep moving forward even when the steps seem small and the mountain high. Those of you (you know who you are) who have shown this courage have earned the right to celebrate now as you begin a new chapter on your exciting journey. I am proud of each and every one of you and honored to share the journey with you.
Where are YOU on your journey? Still dreaming about it? If so, I challenge you today to write 5 goals for yourself for the coming week that will help you act on your dream.
Here are some suggestions.
>Write a verse, a chorus or a full song. (You know your level of writing.. Set attainable goals.) Write 15 minutes a day whether you feel like it or not. Sit and invite the creative muse in.
>You may be ready to start seeking out publishers. If so, find contact info on several and create a database. Musicrowmagazine.com offers a “Publishers Edition” that you can buy online which lists many, many publishers in Nashville, as well as some in LA and NY. Reconnect with any contacts you have had and let slip. Ask friends who they have relationships with or whom they can introduce you to.
>Cold call 10 publishers and ask if they will listen to outside material. You only need one “yes”, so don’t be afraid of the 100 “no’s” that may precede it.
>You may have songs that you know are not commercial, but that you still believe in. Perhaps it is time to send the off for critiques to see how they can be tweaked to give them commercial appeal.
>Call a Performing Rights Organization (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) to find out what they do and how to join. Or, if you are already a member of one, how they can help you with where you are now and where you want to be.
>If you are weak in one area of your writing and would like to write with other writers whose strengths compliment your weaknesses, seek out co-writers. There are songwriting groups all across the country and abroad that facilitate co-writing. You should also check out local writers nights and performance places where you can listen to songwriters perform and approach those that sound like a good fit for your needs.
>Find out how pitching works and lay out a plan for preparing your songs for that process. Writing is great. Getting your finished songs to artists who would potentially record, release and promote them….even better.
Spend some time learning about an area of the industry you are not well versed on. After all, it is the music BUSINNESS. Knowledge is power. Success in the music business, like success in any other business, consists of building and marketing a great product. Decide what areas you can do yourself and what you need help with, then find that help. Build a team around you that contains all of the players needed to succeed in this business.
Songwriters need publishers or song pluggers to represent their catalogs. If you do not want to handle your own marketing, find someone to partner with for that part of your business so you can focus on what you are best at.
By learning about the various pieces of the business puzzle, you can identify your needs and address them one at a time until your have a complete business plan of action.
As my songwriter friend, Marco says, “You eat an elephant one bite at a time”. It helps to remember that no one can do everything right now! Keep doing what you can do right now and the future will take care of itself.
To dream or to do? Both! Take time to visualize your goals. But save some of your available free time to act! DO what you have dreamed and your goals will become reality right before your eyes.
As in any business, your reputation and the impression that you make is a big part of a successful career in songwriting. Being well-respected and taken seriously as a songwriter will, in time, open doors and lead to work that will get your songs to a wider audience and generate income. However, as with almost everything in music, building this reputation takes time and conscious effort. Below are a few things you can do to begin building your all-important reputation as a songwriter.
1. Write quality material
It should go without saying – but I’m saying it anyway – that you should be actively working on the craft of songwriting. Writing consistently good songs takes lots of practice. Don’t let the myth that “all you need is one good song” distract you from working on improving your songwriting every day. I’m of the belief that songwriting is a muscle that needs to be constantly worked in order to stay strong.
2. Present your songs professionally
Whether it’s fair or not, you’ve only got one chance to make a first impression with your song when you play it for someone in the music industry. Even though, strictly speaking, songs are simply lyrics and melody, the way you present them (i.e., the quality of the recording, the instrumental performance and the vocalist you use) counts. Music industry professionals hear a lot of songs every day. Don’t give them a reason to discount your songs by pitching a poorly recorded or tentatively performed demo. Put your best foot forward by presenting not only a well-written song but one that is professionally produced. Remember, you’re running a business and you need to make sure your product (in this case, your song) is polished and marks you as a pro.
3. Develop your people skills
It’s important to remember that your songs don’t exist in a vacuum. Your best bet for finding a receptive industry audience for your work is to remember that interpersonal skills count. Being friendly and taking an active interest in the people you’re meeting makes a big difference. For example, if you’ve got a meeting with a music publisher or label representative, do a little homework and find out about the company and the person that you’ll be meeting with. Take the time to get to know someone before you begin asking them to do something for you. If you’re interested in a publishing deal, go hear some of the writers already signed to that company. Find out what kinds of material they’re writing. It can also be as simple as asking the person you’re meeting with what they’ve been working on instead of immediately telling them about you and your songs. And, although I’m not your mom (I don’t think…), I’m going to remind you to say “thank you” when someone has taken the time to meet with you or answer your questions.
4. Take criticism well
Songwriting – like all art – is subjective. Everyone has their own sense of what they like and what they’re looking for. If you’re hoping to get one of your songs recorded or used in a TV show or movie, then listening to the comments of the publisher, A&R exec or music supervisor about your work can give you real insight into what they’re looking for. Responding defensively to these comments won’t get you anywhere. You certainly don’t have to agree with every criticism, but it’s in your best interest to give the comments real thought and consider where they’re coming from. Remember, these are the people who make the decisions about whether your songs will be put in the position to make you money. Pay attention and see if there’s a way to give them what they’re looking for without feeling like you’re compromising your art. I believe it’s possible to do both.
5. When pitching songs, remember “less is more” on every level
I understand how passionate songwriters are about their material. It’s incredibly tempting to want to show any interested person a lot of your material. Don’t. Only present the song that is most appropriate for the pitch. There’s no good reason to add a “bonus track” to your pitch. Believe me when I tell you that if a publisher or label exec wants to hear more of your songs, they’ll ask. Here’s an example: If at the end of their work day, a publisher sees two CDs on their desk and one has one song on it and the other has nineteen songs on it, which CD do you think they’re going to pick up and put in their CD player? Also, once you’ve submitted your song, be prepared to follow up, but, again, less is more here. A very brief email or voicemail about two weeks after your submission is just about right. You might need to do this a couple of times (again with a two week space between each successive contact) before you get a response, but if you’re polite and to the point, you’ll almost always get a reply eventually.
6. Be dependable
It’s essential for people in the industry to know that they can count on you to do what you say you’re going to do. By showing up to meetings on time, following up on things you’ve discussed and generally being reliable, you can go a long way toward developing a bond of trust. When people in the music business feel they can trust you, it’s amazing how many opportunities present themselves. It sounds simple, but by consistently delivering on what you promise, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
There’s really no way around it. Building a solid reputation as a songwriter takes time and effort. A healthy dose of patience and humility will certainly ease your path. The good news is that once you’ve established yourself in the eyes of the music world as a solid, reliable professional, the benefits far outweigh all of the work it takes to get there.
Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA.Cliff’s site is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. Go to http://www.educatedsongwriter.com/webinar/ for the latest schedule.
Cliff’s company, http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos.