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« How Well Do You Know Your Fans? | Main | Andrew Dubber To Record Album In Delhi With Street Kids »
Friday
Oct292010

What Is A Brand?

One of the things that an artist or band hears a lot these days is the need to promote “your brand” in order to get ahead in the Music 3.0 era that we all now live in. That’s all well and good, but it’s hard to promote your brand unless you’re 100% sure of what a brand is. So what exactly is a brand? Here’s a quote from the Music 3.0 Internet music guidebook that describes it perfectly:

A brand is a promise of quality and consistency. No matter where in the world you go for a McDonald’s hamburger, you know what to expect. No matter what product you purchase from Apple, you can expect sleek high-tech design and an easy to understand user interface. Brand management is protecting the image of the brand and carefully selecting how to best exploit it.

For an artist, that means a consistency of persona, and usually a consistency of sound. Regardless of what genre of music the artist delves into, the feel is the same and you can tell it’s the artist at first listen. Madonna has changed directions many times during her career but her brand has been consistent. Her persona remained the same even as she changed to and from the “Material Girl.” The Beatles tried a wide variety of directions but you never once questioned who you were listening to. It was always fresh and exciting, but distinctly them.

On the other hand, Neil Young almost killed his career with an electronic album called “Trans” that alienated all but his hardiest fans, and the well-respected Chris Cornell may have done irreparable harm to his long-term career with his recent album with Timbaland (“Scream”) even though it was the highest charting of his career. Why did this happen? For both artists, the album in question no longer “felt” like them. Both Young and Cornell built their careers on organic music played with a band, and as soon as their music became regimented and mechanical, they lost their brands. After Trans, Young returned to his roots and slowly built his brand back to superstar level, but it’s too soon to know what will happen with Cornell.

How do you determine what your brand is? It’s easier said than done.

In order for an artist to recognize and successfully promote their brand, they must have a great sense of self-knowing. You must know who you are, where you came from, and where you’re going. You must know what you like and don’t like, and what you stand for and why. And you must have an inherent feel for your sound and what works for you.
Your brand may be as much about your image as your music, although this sometimes happens by accident rather than design. Slash always wears a top hat, a jean vest, leather pants and plays a Les Paul, grunge musicians of the 90’s like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains wore jeans and flannel shirts, and the White Stripes always dress in red and white. That’s not all there is to their brands, but it’s a big part.

And that differentiates a superstar from a star, and a star from some who wants it really badly but never seems to get that big break. Recognizing your brand is an elementary but vital step to a successful career.
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Bobby Owsinski is a producer, engineer, and author of 13 books on music, music business and recording including “Music 3.0: A Survival Guide For Making Music In The Internet Age.” His music industry blog can be found at music3point0.blogspot.com, and his Big Picture production blog can be found at bobbyowsinski.blogspot.com

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Reader Comments (6)

"A brand is a promise of quality and consistency. No matter where in the world you go for a McDonald’s hamburger, you know what to expect"

Not sure about the importance of quality, unless by the term it is just meant a standardised level of grade. Using McDonald's as an example flies in the face of quality of product. I'm really not convinced by arguments that revolve around examples of faceless, multinational corporations as ways in which artists should project themselves. I can see the basic point and the need on the part of the audience in a consumer driven society to have everything in nice neat packets but it is the job of artists to break the norm or at least to challenge it. I love it when my favourite bands do the unexpected and flip the bird to the bottom line.

What you are talking about is identity I suppose, and this should come about organically as you explore yourself, your way of making music and what you believe in. You can't just fabricate these things or even try and control them prematurely in order to create your own brand. What you will end up with is a gimmick, a loss of integrity and a loss of perspective.

Don't think about it and you will be just fine.

October 30 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Andy: I think that quality refers to meeting and/or exceeding the expectations of your customers. You may not think McDonalds is a quality product because it may not meet your expectation for a healthy nutritious meal and so you may not ever enter a McDonalds to eat. However, for the person who is on the run and may not have the same nutrition expectation as you but simply needs food delivered in a certain time at a certain price McDonald's may just do the trick and meet their expectation and may constitute for them a quality service.

The issue of quality in this context is for the artist who sees themselves also as entrepreneurs commercializing their art.

Your response underlines a real dilemma for the DIY artist in that they have to be artist and businesspeople at the same time which will make it difficult for them to "do the unexpected and flip the bird to the bottom line".

Maybe DIY is just not for pure artists...they need a label or some sort of management team so that they can focus on their Art and not think about things like Brand Management.

November 2 | Unregistered CommenterSeretse Small

I think what I meant to say is, "A brand is a promise of a certain quality level..." since all quality is relative.

November 3 | Unregistered CommenterBobby Owsinski

Seretse: Fair points. The analogy of McDonalds is certainly an interesting one and what you say about the person on the run without nutritious expectations is completely true. I too am often privy to the temptation to duck in a get fast food in these situations. I guess the thing is no one is really kidding themselves that they believe it is nutritious food, so it's not an issue of relative expectations in those terms - it is undisputedly crappy food but it tastes good and it is quick and easy. And it plays to our need for standardisation as consumers, which leads us (me included) to enjoy a lesser standard of product in order to feel safe when we step into a store. Much like Starbucks is based on the environment they provide, not the coffee - let's face it, their coffee is bad.

I guess my point as far as being a DIY artist goes, I don't think we necessarily need management teams to do the marketing side of things because I think there can be something fun and creative in that too but we should be wary of forcing it, becoming unauthentic and putting money first. We don't actually have to force a living from it if there isn't a living to be had and it is much better for my output if I have a separate job bringing in money so that I don't have to make every artistic decision based on its potential revenue. It has actually followed that when I am in this situation I start making more money from the music anyway - funny how that happens!

November 5 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Answer: "Jet West".

November 8 | Unregistered CommenterMusic God

One thing to think about is that part of a branding exercise is answering the eternal question, in the eyes of your audience/fan: "Why should I care about you?"

This may seem trite but for the average person who doesn't know you, or care, how or if you answer that question is paramount to whether or not you are able to build an audience or not.

If you answer this question clearly, and in an interesting way that differentiates you from others, then you are already way ahead of the game.

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterBen

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