It has been said, “to thine own self be true.”[1] It has also been said, in more standard English, that “to be yourself is all that you can do.”[2] Though Shakespeare may seem outdated in 2016, his words are significant for musicians and artists trying to figure out how to brand themselves today. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Define Yourself. We understand that humans are complicated and cannot be put into a box. Summing up the entirety of your personality and values into a few words is like piecing together your life story out of MadLibs; “The (adjective) party came to a screeching halt when the (noun) (verb ending in- -ed). My parents were not too (emotion).” However, it is important to understand the values/parts of your personality that you want to share with your audience because they are what you will bond over.

    If you are passionate about shedding light to socio-political issues in the black community like Kendrick Lamar, then you want your followers to do the same. If you regret the time you wasted on terrible ex’s in very catchy tunes like Taylor Swift, write those songs. In essence, your brand is a promise to your audience of what products and services you will provide based on who you are, who you want to be, and who people think you are.

    Here’s an example for you to fill out about your music career:

    “Way back when, I (where you started). Then (what drives you). So now I (what you do).”

    For Shane Morrow, each of those fill in the blanks would include the word “jazz.” Shane has grown up with jazz in his blood. He came from five generations of piano players. In an interview with People of Chattanooga, he said, “I was told, when I was little, that I had to learn to play piano “because it is part of your family heritage and, of course, because you could get a job.”” With that background in music and a strong connection with his African American roots, he wanted to make sure that musical heritage was preserved, and shared with others. Belen Galindo on Shane Morrow, Co Founder of Jazzanooga

    Jazzanooga was the love child of Shane’s passion for jazz and his desire to create what the Chattanooga community needed. He said, “I hope that Jazzanooga gives the community more options of cultural offers, more education about our own community, about our roots and history.” Since its creation almost six years ago, Jazzanooga has done just that by bringing in musical performers to celebrate Chattanooga’s rich jazz history with the local community. Shane’s brand, in essence, is jazz. He has taken his love for his African American heritage, history in music, and desire to create more cultural experiences for himself and others and channeled those into one big festival that has grown in popularity and diversity each year.

  2. Know Your Audience. Who is your audience? Ideally, the answer to this question would be “everyone.”  As much as you’d like everyone in the world to join your fan club, the reality is that’s probably not going to happen. By narrowing your audience, you will have a better idea of how to create art that is true to your values and best serves your recipients. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of building your audience with the art you create. Caleb Ludwick from 26 Tools said that brands are most successful when they connect with the audience “in a way that benefits both sides.” He went on to explain that, “The brand has to tell the truth, and be aspirational both for itself and for the customer.”

    Caleb is a creative communicator who helps companies rekindle relationships with their customers by talking about their values and marketing strategies. When asked for an example of a band he thought branded themselves well and connected with their audience, he discussed Arcade Fire’s rise to fame. As they played shows, their fans began to write about them in blogs, which spread to obscure online magazines, which were shared with less obscure magazines, which were then passed along until Rolling Stone and Pitchfork writers heard about them. If you create a good connection with your audience, then they will share their good experiences with others and those stories will be picked up by others.

  3. Create Good Marketing Materials. A successful musical brand is just as much visual as it is audio. Matt Busby is the event manager of the Camp House, a classy coffee shop/restaurant by day and concert/event venue by night. When deciding whether to book an artist for his venue, Matt claimed that the biggest factor after music was website quality. “I would listen to their music and if it was good, then I would start vetting their other assets. It’s really important for me if they have a really good website. … When I see someone who has great music and a great image online, then it shows me that they're trying really hard.”

    The conversation turned towards the importance of good photography as Matt discussed how local artist Cody Harris’ branding landed him a gig at the Camp House a few years ago. As we looked through several of his artist headshots, you got the sense that he was an old soul singer/songwriter, which Matt agreed to wholeheartedly. “Yeah he’s a singer/songwriter and his photography fits well. ... Personally, it’s a huge delight on my end if I see an artist has a photo like this one in particular because when it comes to marketing, that’s an awesome canvas for me. I can easily make a slide that’s gonna run on our TV’s, I can make a facebook ad out of that, and it’s a fantastic picture. So that’s why assets are important, because it can affect how you market the artist.”

Creating a brand may seem simple enough to be covered in three bullet points, but the process of self exploration, relationship building, and investment in quality content is not for the faint of heart. Ultimately, you need to figure out what works best for you and why it is important for you to portray a certain image in order for your music to hold true to your art.

1. Shakespeare, W., & Jenkins, H. (1982). Hamlet. London: Methuen.

2.  [Recorded by A.]. (2005). Be Yourself [MP3]. Interscope: Rick Rubin.