Decoded

Decoded: A complete guide to branding yourself as a musical artist

In your capacity as performer, musician, lyricist, tour manager and business strategist you also need to fit in the small matter of becoming a branding expert.

Nobody said this was going to be easy!

Although some musicians might see creating a brand as a something akin to exam revision, we’ve created this guide to hopefully show you that the creative process of devising and developing a brand is nothing to be feared.

In fact, it should be as absorbing and artistic a process as song writing itself!

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

Why some artists shy away from branding

How to begin creating a brand as an artist

The ‘3 Es’ of branding (careful now!)

Key takeaways

But before we begin… what actually is a brand?

We interact with brands all the time. In its simplest form it’s a logo, along with a name, tagline, design, symbol, or other feature that distinguishes it from its rivals in the eyes of fans or customers.

However, many will tell you that a brand is much more than that. It’s engrained in our tribal psyche as human beings to gravitate towards badges, flags, symbols and ideas– to claim allegiance to a cause, and literally ‘nail our colours’ to the mast.

Brand is visual representation of identity and the best artists in history are all about identity and identifying with their audience. So, as a musical artist starting out in a career you are already a brand whether you like it or not.

The question is whether you are a good, bad or just plain ugly one (in many cases this is no bad thing; check out those early Rolling Stones album covers!)

Image Credit: BP & O
Why many artists shy away from branding

A common mistake some artists make is to confuse authenticity with branding. ‘But isn’t it supposed to be about the music’ is a common complaint when discussing a band’s image, for example.

There’s a fear that credibility can be lost by taking any focus away from the music and concentrating on image.

While there’s no doubt that style over substance always causes problems, even the most credible artists in history have cultivated a strong, defined image, story and visual identity (AKA a brand!).

The Sex Pistols are credited with turning the entire music industry on its head; a vital disrupting force that led to one of the most creative and exciting periods in music’s history.

They were also entirely manufactured by Vivienne Westwood and her then partner, Malcolm McClaren. Does this make their music less credible?

The best artists have always understood that being a successful artist is about more than having well-crafted songs. Remember Nelly’s face band-aid, Madonna’s cone bra and Lady Gaga’s crazy, well, everything? All those quirks and styles helped created their image and brand as an artist. (If you want help finding your trademark style, we’ve got you covered.)

Artist branding is about taking that music and channelling its energy through a consistent visual style and identity. In a way that, hopefully, builds the kind of tribal loyalty that causes normal people to sell everything the own and follow you on tour for the rest of their lives.

Your brand should be considered as much a part of who you are as your music. It should be respected and nurtured just like any other valued artistic element. A Spinnup act we think really nails this is Swedish songwriter/producer/performer duo Vaz, who put a huge amount of effort into their brand, from their album artwork, to artist imagery and outfit styling. Check out their Instagram to see what we mean.

VAZ COVERART_BIG
How do you begin creating a brand as an artist?

Paul Wilkinson, former Creative Director at MTV, believes that the trick when starting out is to take inspiration from your idols:

“When most artists start out they tend to emulate the people they admire as they find their own voice. The best place to start is to think about who inspires you and look at what they’re doing. Don’t directly copy what they do, but study them carefully and introduce your own ideas. Keep it simple.”

Quite often there will be someone in your band or close to you that has a natural affinity for creating a visual identity. If not, it might be worth enlisting the support from someone who can.

Good artists collaborate, so find some inspiration from artists or designers who resonate with you and even see if one can help you begin to create a brand that will elevate your music to where it deserves to be.

“Try reaching out to your own fanbase,” says Paul. “If you have a few hundred followers ask them for feedback and see if any of them can do better. There’s bound to be someone amongst them who will step forward and offer good creative ideas. It’ll also help foster a sense of community, which is vital in the early days.”

One word of warning. When starting out remember that everything you post online will still be there a few years down the line, so take this stuff seriously from the start.

“Everything stays online these days,” says branding expert Bridgette of Zambesi Digital, “so think carefully before you put anything out there.”

“Are you going to be embarrassed in a few years’ time? Is it going to come back to bite you?”

Don’t get caught up in the moment. Guard your image jealously.

Image credit: Toward Music

What are the ‘3 Es’ of branding?

The 3 Es of Branding are often highlighted by branding agencies when helping companies to devise a new brand identity.

The Es stand for Enabling, Elevating and Enriching – and don’t just apply to the logo design and colour palettes, but are used to inform everything from imagery choices to the tone of voice.

We aren’t saying that these principals will always be applicable to every artist, but they help to give you an idea of how a professional agency might approach branding an artist.

  1. Enabling

In other words, whatever brand you choose should feel simple, effortless and accessible for anyone who is attracted to it either directly or through your music

  1. Elevating

Your brand should aim to create an experience through the senses. Think about textures, colours, environment and storytelling.

  1. Enriching

Fans should be able to feel part of what your brand represent. It should resonate with them and create that sense of tribe and community that they seek.

Think of what you can provide your fanbase with that will help this. What tangible objects can you give out at gigs? What different ways are there to interact with them?

When you get these three elements right it can create a catalytic effect that delivers real magic – which is all your audience is really looking for.

Key takeaways

  • Keep it simple
  • Study your idols; be inspired by them
  • Collaborate!
  • Take your time, get it right – you wouldn’t put out a half-arsed song!
  • Be careful what you post on social media – will you still be proud of this in 5 years’ time?

Branding is a living, breathing thing, so expect it to evolve over the years as you become more successful. Coldplay, for example, evolved from a simple scruffy busker look to the colourful and distinctive visual identity they enjoy today.

The most important thing is to take it seriously, and not dismiss it as some sort of inauthentic corporate exercise. It’s really all about visual communication and a chance to stand out from the crowd. And remember, enjoy it and your fans will too!