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Do you find it difficult to stand out from other musicians and groups? Is your career stuck in neutral?

It’s a common issue. We see it all the time.

The solution: It could be time to brand yourself as a musician or group. It’s the only way you’ll be able to differentiate yourself from all the other performers, acts, producers, teachers, and other music professionals in your space.

A musical brand is a set of guidelines that explain what a musician or group is about, including sound, style, look, and everything that makes experiencing it unique and stand out from others. It’s like how Coke’s brand differentiates itself from Pepsi.

When it comes to creating a musical brand, you are your own creative director. Your dream can be as big or as small as you’re comfortable with. You can keep things simple and develop a presence as a local troubadour. Or you can create a huge artist persona, such as Madonna. Perhaps you want to present yourself as a highly knowledgeable educator. Or as the go-to person for instruments and repair who is also a highly skilled performer. You can also change your brand anytime you like, ideally in a strategic and thoughtful way.

The purpose of your brand is to build awareness of your music and skills — so you get recognized, build a reputation, earn a following, and make money. A brand will help you be more intentional about how you present yourself and market your music. It will support consistency in your promotional materials and musical activities.

Your personal or band brand provides an image for your fans, music industry professionals, and others in your target audience (including influencers, the press, and potential students to latch onto. It also demonstrates to music industry professionals, the music media, and others that you’re taking the business side of your art seriously.

Coming up with your brand.

Your musical brand is how you present your artist self (or selves) and your music to the public. It’s the way you express your music into your written and visual communications or through physical products you sell or services you offer.

Your brand assets are the details that ladder up to your overall brand image and business plan, such as:

  • Your visual identity, including press photos, logo, style of dress, catchphrases, and more.
  • Voice and tone of messaging, including how you express yourself on stage, through social media, online, and more.
  • Your back story, including key aspects of your personal and musical biography.
  • Musical project story, including why you write or perform certain pieces or types of music and why you may have decided to sell musical instruments or learn to fix them. Your why is what will motivate those interested in you to come take a closer look.
  • Merchandise, including t-shirts, mugs, and CD covers.

Does this seem like a lot? It’s not. Just keep reading to find out how you can get all this done.

Getting started with branding

Let’s start with the basics of musical branding.

Why do you want to build your brand?

This is a critical question, because until you answer it, you won’t be able to figure out why you want to promote yourself or your group and how you will go about doing it.

Some common reasons for building a musical brand include:

  • Differentiating yourself, your ensemble, band, or your music
  • Finding more gigs
  • Moving from being a local performer to a national or global act, or
  • Becoming more influential in your local community

Your reason for branding may be one of these things, a combination of them, or something completely different.

Once you know why you want to brand, you can move on to writing your brand statement.

Your brand statement should clearly define who you are as a musician, ensemble, or band, what you stand for, what makes you different, and the value you provide. Some examples of musical brand statements include:

  • Our old-school rebel rock band is committed to rebellion, railing against war, fighting racism, battling corporate America, taking down cultural imperialism, overcoming government oppression, coming out on top of the man, and raging against the capitalist system.
  • I’m a professional soprano who can be depended on to deliver Puccini arias and bring audiences to tears with my elegantly executed performances.
  • We are an experimental biomusic band that expresses deep emotion through our unique sound-based music that features the hums of whales, chirps of birds, and cries of herons.
  • I am a highly-skilled artist/performer on my instrument. My knowledge and abilities translate perfectly into the delivery of high-performing instruments to local musicians and quality repairs.
  • I am the top clarinet teacher for high school students in the Cincinnati area. I will have your kids playing like pros in less than two years.

These brand messages are very clear, and you know what to expect from each individual or act.

Use these questions to help you come up with your unique brand statement.

  • Why do I make music?
  • Why do I make the particular kind of music I make or offer the services I do?
  • How do I feel when I deliver my music and services to others?
  • How do I want others to feel when they listen to my music or experience the products or services I can deliver?
  • What do I want others to take away from a performance or their experience working with me?

In many cases, the answers to these questions could be a single word or a phrase, and that’s okay if it captures the essence of you, your group, or the products or services you deliver. If it helps, you can use visuals in a mood board rather than words to help you come up with your brand statement. This is a better approach for visually inclined musicians.

Your brand statement will guide all aspects of your musical branding, from your logo to the fonts you choose for your social media posts, to your messaging style, to the clothes you wear, and more. You will probably see a lot of what you’re already doing in your brand statement. Once you have a statement, it’s likely you’ll be able to use it to clarify what you’re doing, refine it, do more of it, and maybe even amp it up a bit.

Identifying your business goals.

If you want to earn income from your music, you are in business. If you are in business, your brand needs to move beyond words and visuals and include specific business goals and how you plan to reach them. Every business needs goals to keep it focused.

Ask yourself: Why am I developing my brand NOW?

Your answer will direct you to where you should focus your branding and marketing.

Some examples:

  • Develop relationships with performers and influencers so you can become a go-to repair technician.
  • Build your presence on social media so you can springboard yourself into viral fame.
  • Teach students and help them become the best musicians they can be.
  • Prove yourself as a top-performing musician and leverage your abilities and knowledge into musical instrument sales to make money when you are not performing.
  • Connect with concert promoters internationally that could take your career to the next level.
  • Develop a portfolio career as a performer, teacher, and purveyor of quality musical instruments so you are the go-to-person in your community and beyond.

If you want to be more than one of these things — or other things — figure out how they fit together and the ways that they could intersect. The question you need to answer is: How can your brand help you achieve everything you want it to?

If you’re still not clear on your business goals — or have any doubts about them — ask yourself these questions as a reality check. They’ll help you understand yourself better.

  • Are you prolific, or does it take you a long time to complete projects?
  • Do you prefer to collaborate, or do you like to work alone?
  • Do you like helping other artists out, or do you prefer to focus on your own work?
  • Do you like using your smartphone and laptop?
  • How do you like connecting with people on social media?
  • Are you comfortable with marketing or would you prefer if someone else handles it for you?
  • Do you like being on stage?
  • Does performing energize you or make you a nervous wreck?
  • Do you like working behind the scenes?
  • Are you a “doer” or a “teacher”?
  • Do you enjoy touring and traveling, or do you want to stay close to home?
  • Do you like variety and see doing a little bit of a few things more exciting than focusing all your time on just one?

It may seem daunting to have to answer all these questions, but it’s the only way you will be able to set business goals within a business model that aligns with your personality. Doing so means it will be more likely you’ll stick with your plan and achieve your goals.

Once you have defined your longer-term goals, you can select smaller ones that will ladder up to them.

Here are some examples:

  • Play one gig each week so I meet and get on the radar of more music professionals.
  • Learn repair so I can use my skill and performance knowledge to help others.
  • Compose for ten local commercials this year so I can get the exposure and experience I need to get national opportunities.
  • Expand my social media following by 50 percent so I can grow my fan base.
  • Become a musical instruments consultant so I save up enough to finally tour with my ensemble next year.
  • Complete my education so I am qualified to teach.

Once you have a long-term goal, you can figure out the “mini goals” it will take for you to reach them.

Coming up with your brand.

Now that you have a brand statement and some business goals, you can start planning the brand assets you need to support the marketing and communication efforts it will take to reach your goals. You may not need everything presented in this section. For example, if your goal is to be a saxophone teacher, you may not need a logo, but you might if you teach, repair, and sell instruments.

Voice and tone

How you communicate with your audience may be a more important element of your brand than your visual identifiers. Your voice and tone communicate your attitude and personality, and explains to people in your audience base who you are and what you stand for. Your voice and tone should align with what’s communicated in your brand statement. It could be expressed in a single term, such as “intelligent” or with multiple words, like “intelligent, witty, and thoughtful.” Use as many words as it takes to define how you want to say what you need to say to your audience and people in your target market.

Some examples of voice and tone words include:

  • Fun
  • Knowledgeable
  • Skilled
  • Upbeat
  • Kind
  • Sassy
  • Elegant
  • Casual
  • Formal
  • Inclusive
  • Condescending
  • Goofy
  • Casual
  • Formal
  • Cheesy
  • Dry
  • Direct
  • Indirect
  • And more.

Identifying the right words will help ensure your brand messages will be communicated in a consistent way.

Brand assets

Come up with a list of brand assets — the things you’ll need to market yourself so you can achieve your goals.

Some typical assets for musicians include:

  • Logo
  • Imagery
  • Typeface
  • Website design
  • Social media banner and post design
  • Artist photos
  • Wardrobe
  • Key messages
  • Catchphrase
  • Colors, and
  • Video style.

Most musicians don’t have the skills it takes to define and develop brand assets. The good news is that once you’ve written a brand statement, defined your business goals, and identified the brand assets you’ll need, you can work with designers and communicators who can create professional-looking and sounding assets.

It’s likely that you have graphic designers, writers, social media experts, and other marketing professionals who can help you out in your fan base. Or you can find them online through a source like Upwork. (Look for people with music industry experience.) The good news is that if you’ve done all the leg work explained in this article, hiring and working with professionals should be easy and efficient.

In the end, if you want to make money as a musician, you’ll need a brand and business plan to succeed. The clearer you are on who you are and where you are going, the easier it will be to find your fan base. It’s the only way you’ll be able to differentiate yourself from other musicians and keep yourself on track toward fully realizing your vision for your future and achieving your goals.