Personal Branding For Artists (Stop Complicating It)
While ultimately we choose what music we continue to listen to and what bands we support by how they sound, ultimately the music business is just that – a business. For a business to be successful it needs to think about how they market themselves.
Imagine if the cover of the new Aphex Twin release featured himself pictured in a leotard. Not quite the same is it? Imagine Beyonce performing to an arena of thousands in black band tees, we’re sure she’d sound great but not all that glamorous for a stadium tour!
Thinking of it this way, it’s easy to see how branding goes hand in hand with an artist’s sound.
Why Is Personal Branding Important For A Musician?
Branding is what you use to promote yourself as a musician by means of distinctive design. It is a way of visually expressing your creativity instead of sonically.
Typically, a musician’s branding can be broken down into three areas; graphic design, imagery and personality. In this article, we will focus on the graphic design component.
We’ve all heard the story of A&R reps giving a song 30 seconds of listening time to decide if they like it or not.
Similarly, your logo, press kit or website might be the first impression you give a potential listener so you need to make sure it sticks. It should also convey meanings and associations that make up the construction of your overall identity.
This means you need to have a hard think about the message you want to convey and how this relates to your sound.
A band logo that incorporates abstract & dark imagery could signify an edgy electronic musician.
By contrast, a simple font with light, bright colours and elements might suggest a pop act.
Whatever your genre, your logo can be the thing that entices someone to listen to your music, so think about how you would react seeing it if you had no idea how you sounded.
Music Isn’t A Hobby. It’s A Career.
If you’re going to take yourself seriously and progress then you need to treat your music like a business, not just a hobby.
That’s not to say you won’t have a lot of fun along the way, but if you’re reading this, you already know that marketing is a vital tool for progression.
By utilising a well-designed logo and image you give your branding that extra level of professionalism which is vital from the beginning to finding gigs and followers through to the next stage of approaching a label and others in the industry.
Some artists have used the same logo for the entirety of their career, which shows that the right branding can not only work but also last you for as long as you can keep playing.
Your Personal Brand Is Your Income
At the start of your career you may not welcome the extra outlay, but spending a bit of extra money can make all the difference. Much like any business, treat branding costs as an investment, not an expense.
“Like any self-respecting business, treat branding costs as an investment, not an expense”
Strongly branded merchandise is not only a promotional tool but it actually invites people who have not heard your music to explore it (see what we mean about your logo being your first impression on someone?).
Scan through any major festival lineup poster and you’re bound to lock eyes onto stronger logos. If you haven’t heard of them before this may lead you to checking out their Spotify page, which can lead you to going to see them at the festival and buying a t-shirt, which can lead you to buy tickets to their next tour with your friends!
From simply designing a strong image, the band’s branding has created an income. Through this, it can be reflected on all types of sellable materials including music videos, album artwork, merchandise and more.
Are there noticeable similarities between what other bands or artists in your genre are doing?
If what they are doing works well, there’s nothing wrong with approaching your branding in a similar way while trying to add your own unique twist that will make you stand out.
You want your branding to represent your image and music accurately. Context is key, here.
This could directly tie in with a theme of the artist, or it could even relate to the subject matter of your latest release. Whatever it is, try and choose something that speaks to your ideal audience and what they resonate with.
Versatility is key as well, choose something that can be used on all mediums, at the smallest sizes as well as the largest.
Check out this article if you want to see some examples of branding done right.
Want an online crash course in branding by some of the best teachers in the business? Check out Point Blank’s course on Artist Development here.
An Effective Personal Brand Visualises Your Music.
Although you may be sonically focused, creativity is expressed through all of the senses. Strong and suitable graphics will only strengthen your image as a musician.
The artwork pictured above was a tour poster I designed for the Paleman national tour. In my work, I try to visualise the essence of the artist’s musical direction by listening to the artist while creating. This not only provides me with something to tap my foot to but gives me an ‘auditory’ brief that I can translate into the artwork. I embrace what the musician is trying to communicate and amplify it through means of visual communication.
Below is a snippet of “Audio Repeater” by Paleman which I used as inspiration for the poster.
As demonstrated in the clip, you can hear the following:
Large room reverb
Focus on groove and repetition
If you reference the poster above you can see these sonic elements within the poster:
The grain and noise is accentuated by the texturing used in the artwork
The industrial setting alludes to the music being played in a big room
The repetition of the square panels and typography portray the rhythms in the track
Effective branding compliments the music and shows the viewer what to expect when they go to your show or listen to your music. A graphic designer can only interpret what you put in front of them, and how you define your unique style.
Defining Your Unique Style
Think about what makes you and your music ‘you’. Asking the right questions is often the best place to begin.
Is your music reminiscent of a particular movement, e.g. anarcho-punk, goth?
Do you have a message you want to get out to the world?
What’s your mission statement?
Is your personality loud and abrasive or are you deep and introspective? Neither?
What comes to mind visually when you listen to your music?
Are there any characteristics of your artistry that you think people will latch onto?
There are no right or wrong answers here. But, they will provide the blueprint and important clues for when it’s time to approach your graphic designer with a brief.
Embrace Your Inner Weirdo
Comedy can be a tricky thing to nail, but one band that has done this really well is We Are Scientists. The subject matter isn’t necessarily comedic but their funny side comes across completely naturally as seen in their video for Impatience.
In contrast Daft Punk are famous for choosing anonymity in their branding, performing and being photographed in robot outfits. In fact they even went as far as creating a buzz by choosing a specific date to ‘become’ robots.
Watch any of their live videos and you’ll really see how effective and exciting their branding is. Of course, no one believes they have actually transformed into some sort of robotic replacement, but their image complements their music perfectly.
Even if you’re shy and introverted, or feel like you’re not ‘star material’, branding has a way of encapsulating that. From the lyrics and music, all the way through to his branding, James Blake has built up a career embracing themes of self-isolation, anxiety, depression etc.
Authenticity builds trust, and trust builds a following.
Here are some final tips to consider when thinking about your artist branding…
Start by checking out similar bands and genres (and even successful marketing campaigns of similar artists both at local, national and worldwide level). Find out what you, as a listener, like and dislike and utilise this to influence your branding decisions,
Set up a Pinterest board with all your references and research. See what is common between them and decide on the aspects you’d like to use.
The next step is to contact a graphic designer that specialises in music who can help you create your logo and craft your image.
Your branding is dynamic, and will grow along with you as your career does. Rebranding is common, and also a reason why you shouldn’t fear being locked into an image. You can always veer in a different direction later on, if need be.
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY CIPHR, A GRAPHIC DESIGNER HELPING UNDERGROUND ARTISTS DISCOVER THEIR BRAND IDENTITY.