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Branding For Musicians: How to Create Your Artist Identity

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

I always talk about the importance of marketing for musicians. I’ve been on Podcasts, created email courses, and blogged about it extensively. Central to your music marketing strategy is your music brand identity, which is a fancy way of talking about all the elements that make up your identity as an artist. These elements are written, visual, and mean something. And once you have your identity down, your marketing becomes much easier. You can find your people by attracting them and cultivating your brand actively.

Who Are You? 

To begin figuring out your brand, list 5-10 adjectives that describe you as a first as a person and then as a musician. You will use these later to decide on your music brand voice, or how you want to communicate to your fans in your marketing and on stage.

Next, go a little more in-depth. A popular tip I like for this is starting with your “Why?” Marketing guru Simon Sinek points out that most brands only communicate what they do, but leave out the foundation–the why. By starting with why you make music, you strike right at the heart of the question of what your brand should be. Your why is essential and can be expressed as a brand story for marketing, is the basis for your mission statement (a brief 1-3 sentence statement stating the intention of your brand), and touches every area of your marketing. 

This is called “The Golden Circle Approach.” Envision your “Why” in the middle of the circle, encircled by your “How”, further encircled by your “What.” Work from your Why to your What. Do you make music because it’s therapeutic to you? Because creativity is important to you? If that were the case, your Why (what pushes you to make music? you believe in creativity), works outwards to become your How (how does the music you make support your why? You try to push boundaries between genres and mix in creative elements such as samples) and finally your What. Simply put, What kind of music do you make? Maybe it’s EDM, maybe it’s jazzy trip hop, but whatever it is, figure out how you’re going to tie it to your how and what. 

How Do You Communicate?

Your marketing strategy will definitely involve social media, and might involve email, a website, and other communications to your fans. And you’ll communicate with them on stage at shows as well. So I’d suggest also writing down a communication strategy. 

In your communication strategy, you want to pinpoint your brand voice and tone, your values and what you’ll speak about on social media and elsewhere. 

Your brand voice: I’ve heard it said that tone changes, voice does not. Start with a few scenarios. On stage, is it important that you rile up your crowd, and how do you want to rile them? Some bands are angry as a trademark, and their voice is therefore angry, on stage and off. 

Brand tone: Your tone does change. Imagine a fan reaches out to you for support. Is it more important that you be strong and steady, or warm and empathetic? You want to change your tone to address their needs. How does being strong and steady or warm and empathetic relate to your music? That’s the connection that makes your tone part of your brand. Is it in your lyrics or your sound? The truth is it’s everywhere. 

Does and Don’ts: Finally, document some best practices, as well as some off-limits subjects, tones, and brand descriptors. What do you speak about? Do your values center around activism? Then don’t be afraid to get political. The flipside: Maybe you don’t want to get political, maybe you’d rather play it safe. In that case, it’s a “don’t”. 

What visuals tie it all together? 

The visuals you’ll find associated with your brand include your album and single artwork, your logo, your website, and what you post on social media. Like your brand voice, your visuals should match your sound. 

The Matches, a band from my hometown Oakland, CA, use album titles that are wordplays. Since a person named Yvonne Dolll sued them, forcing their name change from The Locals To The Matches, their next album was called E. Vonn Dahl Killed the Locals. Their album artwork always matched their album titles, because their album artwork is usually and optical illusion, a visual wordplay. 

Album and single artwork is a great way to differentiate yourself. Bands and producers on Spotify can now upload GIFs to stand in place of album artwork, and I’ve never seen a GIF that didn’t tell me something about the artist, or rather confirm it. Trippy song? Trippy visual. Every time. Mellow song? That’s always indicated by the gif having only one small piece of it subtly shift back and forth, like changing eye colors. 

Otherwise, your album and single artwork should say something about the song and about you. One of my clients, in a rap about a lost love, drew essentially a stick figure picture for his graphic designer of hands in handcuffs holding a rose. The graphic designer came back with pure magic, and that first single established something about his brand. The design was sleek, modern, and a bit dark–as was his music. 

Finally, you want your logo to say it all. When I’m following musicians on Instagram, I always know when I’ve come across a group of metal bands. Their logos are standard for the genre. Go back to your adjectives list and brand documentation and see what you want your logo to say about your music, then go over it with your graphic designer and tell them what you’re trying to convey. 

I’ll leave you with this: write down your brand guidelines, your brand voice, and put together a visual toolkit of colors, fonts, logos, and website and social banners that match and that say something about your music. Documenting your brand is key to knowing who you really are as an artist. Documenting your brand is really just about defining what you on some level already know about yourself, about having an honest conversation with yourself. 

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Vince Martellacci
Vince Martellacci is the owner of The Forge Collective Agency, a marketing agency for indie musicians.

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