How building a strong brand can help promote your music

If you’re a musician or band just starting out on the road to fame and fortune, you might think branding is something you don’t need to waste any valuable time on. You’d be very wrong. The beginning of your musical career is the best time to get your brand sorted. If you just bumble along with your public persona – which, after all, is essentially what your brand is – as an afterthought, you risk losing fans by not giving them anything tangible to latch onto in terms of words and pictures. So take a deep breath, get your creative thinking cap on and prepare to take command of your most important asset after the music itself.

The first step is to lock down exactly what it is that you – as an artist or act – are all about, and then come up with a visual identity, name and mission statement that fully reflects it.

What is branding?

Branding is, in a nutshell, the image you want to present as an artist, and the ‘story’ behind it. It comprises your general ‘identity’, your name, and your logo, photography and artwork, for use throughout all of your media, from packaging and posters to website and social media feeds. Crucially, of course, all of these things need to align with your music – indeed, it should be your music that informs your branding, not the other way round.

Don’t get the wrong idea about all this. The word ‘branding’ might raise images of cynical corporations and marketing trickery, but without branding, all markets – including music – would be greyer, duller places. Yes, it’s a necessary evil, but that doesn’t mean it can’t come from an authentic place, or that you’re a sell-out for putting branding on your list of priorities. It’s more about coming up with a clear identity and then spreading that to potential fans over time.

Define your identity

The first step is to lock down exactly what it is that you – as an artist or act – are all about, and then come up with a visual identity, name and mission statement that fully reflects it.
When developing your musical persona, putting together an inspiring mood board of images and text from a diverse range of sources can be helpful: other bands, movies, fashion, industrial design, videogames, popular culture in general… Draw on all these influences to come up with your own backstory (imagined or real!) and appearance, and get it all down on paper. Ask friends whose aesthetic opinions you respect for their thoughts, too – as you’re probably already aware from the music production process, it’s always amazing how much difference a second opinion can make.

Ultimately, your identity can be as simple or complex as you like, as long as it doesn’t sit at odds with the music you make. If you’re producing menacing Berlin-school techno, for example, giant comedy glasses and a beer hat probably aren’t going to win you much of a following. However, that doesn’t mean you should default to the cliché of leather trousers and shades, either – although cliché can certainly work, putting your own spin on thing is always preferable.

Make a name for yourself

Coming up with a good band name is hard. If you’re a singer-songwriter, the title already bestowed upon you by your parents will hopefully have you covered. If your actual name doesn’t roll off the tongue, though, or you just don’t like it, you’ll want to come up with an ‘artist’ alternative, like countless other musos have since time immemorial.

For the band or electronic artist, it’s time to dig out that dictionary and start kicking words around. Objectives to bear in mind, are that your name needs to look good written down (which we’ll come back to shortly), sound great when spoken, not be open to comedic misinterpretation, and give a clear indication of who you are and what genre you operate in. House music, for example, is a broad church, but not so broad that names like Napalm Angel or Hellgate will easily find a pew within it.

Resist the temptation to go for clever imagery over clear text, too: getting your name and that of the track or album in question into the heads of your

Write your mission statement

With a musical backstory and name firmed up, your mission statement really shouldn’t be too difficult to compose. Really, it’s just a snappy sentence or two that makes it immediately apparent to your audience (and you!) what you’re all about. For example: “Future Dystopia will not rest until the whole world has succumbed to their unique tribal-influenced tech-house sound. Whether working in the studio or performing live, dancefloor satisfaction is always at the top of their agenda, delivered with the biggest of beats and baddest of basslines.”

Your mission statement should be honest and sustainable in the long term – so if you call yourself “the hardest working live hip-hop act in the south east”, you’d better be doing a lot of local gigs now and in the foreseeable future. That said, don’t ever play yourself down either. You might know in your heart that your songs aren’t going to change the world, but you either have to big yourself up or find a different hobby.

And what your mission statement absolutely mustn’t be is a tedious biography of you or your band – no one really cares what you did at university or that you all were brought together by a “shared dissatisfaction with your home town’s music scene”. Oh, and as with every other piece of written copy you ever generate for anything bigger than a social media post, you must get your mission statement proofread by a professional wordsmith. You might think you’re God’s gift to grammar, but you almost certainly aren’t, and a misplaced semicolon or unnoticed double space can seriously undermine your perceived professionalism.

Art and design

When it comes to your logo, photography and ‘sleeve’ artwork, the two main considerations are that they all looks awesome, of course, and that they’re totally consistent. With the second point in mind, you need to be completely onboard with any and all design work before you let it go live.

Your logo and/or typography are the logical places to start, since they’re set in stone once established, and will appear on everything you do. The ultimate solution is to commission a professional designer to create a logo entirely from the ground up – graphics, lettering, the lot – but there’s nothing wrong with just choosing a font from the thousands available online and keeping things simple.

Whichever way you go, make sure your logo works in all sizes, from very big to very small, so that it’s as immediately recognisable in an online thumbnail as it is on an A1 poster or t-shirt.
With photography, once again, getting a pro involved is usually going to be preferable to the DIY approach, but there are plenty of websites you can turn to for technical advice on taking great photos using nothing more than your phone. It goes without saying that your pictures need to tally with your identity, as discussed earlier, so think very hard indeed about lighting, location, clothing, and even hair and makeup, when styling your photography.

Although single and album artwork isn’t as important now as it was in the days of physical formats, you still need to catch the eyes of your listeners as they browse the thumbnails and small-format covers in iTunes or Spotify. Use colour to stand out, and ensure any incorporated photographs and graphics – including your logo, as mentioned earlier – are fully legible when scaled right down. Resist the temptation to go for clever imagery over clear text, too: getting your name and that of the track or album in question into the heads of your potential audience is far more important than showing them how good you are at Photoshop.

Maintaining your brand

With your brand established, you now have a great responsibility on your shoulders: don’t mess with it! If you’re a cerebral electronic artist with an image built on the sort of icy cool facelessness that makes Daft Punk look like One Direction, try and keep your real name to yourself, and don’t mention in interviews that you were inspired to get into music in the first place by hearing Craig David at the age of ten.

While your mission statement can be tweaked over time as circumstances dictate, only change it when such change is fully warranted. Fiddling with your manifesto every couple of weeks just for the sake of ‘keeping it fresh’ will make it look like you don’t really know who you are.

Similarly, try and exercise restraint with your social media feeds and keep them relevant at all times. Post gig photos, free track downloads, release dates, shares of other people’s tunes that you like, etc, not what you had for lunch today or how disappointed you were in last night’s Game of Thrones episode. Inject a bit of personality into your Tweets and posts, by all means, but, content-wise, be sure to stick to the only thing that really matters: the music.

Finally, we’ve mentioned consistency in relation to art and design, but it’s essential in all other areas of branding, too. It’s often been said that a simple, consistent brand is infinitely more effective than an elaborate, variable one. Keep that in mind and, assuming you’ve got the basics in place, you can’t go wrong.