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Artist Positioning... The next generation of Artist Development

The following article originally appeared on June 10th, 2009 at It was written by Josh Collum. Josh handles TV/Film/Advertising licensing and marketing direction for the Nashville based writing/production team of Sorted Noise. Sorted Noise has a progressive business model, and sees opportunities in the present music industry climate, where most see dead ends. Their artists are flourishing in this environment. Examples include Ellis Paul, who had a fan-funded record campaign that raised over $90,000 and Secrets in Stereo, who landed over 40 major TV/Film/Advertising placements in 2 years.

Find out more… at

Traditional artist development isn’t working anymore. It’s no secret the music industry has changed exponentially over the past few years. But, what has it changed to? 

Sorted Noise sees two key shifts…

1. It’s more personal (As in artist / fan relationship)

2. It’s more immediate (Fans don’t want to wait a year for a new album. They want a constant influx of new material)

Here’s the problem… traditional artist development addresses neither. An artist’s identity is normally decided or molded by some guy in a suit who’s met the artist 1-3 times. How can an artist connect with a fan if they aren’t comfortable in their own skin? The skin isn’t even their’s. And, everyone knows it isn’t immediate. How many horror stories have you heard about a band being in a “development” deal for two years? Only to be eventually shelved because their A&R rep got fired.

Over the last decade, Thad Beaty and Jason Collum (aka. the writing / production team of Sorted Noise) have been around some of the most identifiable artists in the world. We are talking Beyonce’, Backstreet Boys, and Sugarland. So, what were these “superstar’s” secret?

After some thought, Thad and Jason came to the conclusion that it wasn’t their songs, or their look, or even their label… It was the fact that all of these things worked together to communicate one clear identity. This is memorable to a potential fan, because it claims a “position” in their mind, and hunkers down. This idea of “positioning” is a marketing concept developed by Jack Trout and Al Ries. Sorted Noise believes this can be applied to the music industry as well.

But, what exactly is Artist Positioning?

Simply put… Artist Positioning is discovering an artist’s unique identity, and utilizing that identity to cut through the clutter of today’s overcommunicated society to find a home in a potential fan’s mind.

So, that’s the jist. Interested? Want to dig a little deeper? Then keep reading…

Five years ago, how many bands or artists were you introduced to on a daily basis? And, now, with Myspace, Facebook, the viral word-of-mouth power of Twitter, how many are you introduced to daily? I would guess a few more than five years ago. Artists might only get one shot to find a “position” in a potential fan’s mind. And, only the artists with a clear, unique identity are going to claim that position.

How about a real life example…


Let’s take Katy Perry. Great songs. Great performer. Great looking. But, what’s her position?


Think about it. Her first single was released on a limited basis to blogs in an attempt to get people talking on the web. It was called “Ur So Gay.” And, her first mainstream radio single? …”I Kissed a Girl.” Pick up a magazine or watch an interview with Miz Perry. There is one constant in every piece… controversial comments. And don’t be fooled. This is a calculated move. Don’t forget. She was a clean cut Christian artist in Nashville named Katy Hudson just a few short years ago. ”Controversial” is Katy Perry’s brand. Her unique identity. Her position. And, it’s the reason she will be around for a long time.


Now, let’s take a look at Howie Day. In the Spring of 2004, he had a Top Ten hit called “Collide,” He was red hot. An amazing performer, amazing songwriter, and the ladies loved him as well. The sky was the limit. He was right where he (and his label) wanted him to be. Now, here’s a question… what was his second single called? Anybody? I’ll give you a second… Don’t you go googling!

So, what went wrong? Well, having great songs and being a great performer aren’t positions. There are too many of each. It’s all about unique identity. What was Howie Day’s? I would argue nothing. Don’t get me wrong… he has a very nice track record. But, we are talking about his ability to grab a position in the Top 40 fan’s mind, and hunker down for the long haul. That was his and his label’s goal. That’s why they pushed the single to Top 40 radio in the first place.

In the end, Howie didn’t have a memorable enough brand, and he was just visiting that potential fan’s mind. Unfortunately, he ended up occupying one of the most un-enviable positions of all…“One Hit Wonder.”

Sorted Noise guides the artist from day 1 on the journey to find this identity that is so crucial to longevity and success. Before recording, Thad and Jason like to write with artists to get an understanding of who they are and where they want to be. This process helps them to know the inside of an artist’s brain. The artist says things in writing sessions they might not mention just in production. This helps the artist to find their voice and identity.

Once that identity is discovered, it determines all that follows. What TV show’s audience would best connect with this song? Should the artist release an EP or full length album? Should the album be released digitally or on vinyl. What social media sites should the artist concentrate on? What web designer can best capture the artist’s identity? What labels should we connect the artist with?

Bottom line… the old school way of doing things isn’t working anymore.

The future is targeted. The future is a clear identity. The future is Artist Positioning. 

Find out more…at


Reader Comments (10)

So you're basically making up a new term for "branding" so you can claim it's proprietary and innovative, right?

August 14 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

^^^ what he said. lol.

August 14 | Registered CommenterChris Bracco

There is a big difference between "branding" and "positioning." "Branding" refers to where a product stands in the marketplace. "Positioning" refers to where a product stands in a consumer's mind. Very different. "Branding" is corporate and selfish. "Positioning" is personal and selfless. I recommend reading the book, Positioning, by Ries and Trout.

I'm not suggesting that I'm creating a new concept. I'm simply suggesting that this marketing concept can and should be applied to, and practiced with artists. Up to this point, it hasn't. Not in the true sense of the term.

August 14 | Unregistered Commenterjosh collum

Josh, I think you're right on point. There is so much noise in our environment today. The name of the game isn't just about making more noise, it's about clarity. If you're going to occupy space in people's minds then you have to bring a clear identity, otherwise you will fade into the background with everyone else who's making noise trying to be heard. As an artist you need to know what your identity is and be able to articulate it clearly and concisely. Be something or be nothing. There isn't much room in between.

And for anyone out there who doesn't know who Al Reiss and Jack Trout are - I highly recommend you check them out. "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing" was the first book about marketing I ever read and I consider it to be a great place to start. Short book, easy read, very eye opening.

August 14 | Unregistered CommenterScott James

Huh.. I saw this earlier in the day and I was going to write a post on the difference between branding and positioning. I still might get around to doing that...

Josh - I like your sentence "Artists might only get one shot to find a “position” in a potential fan’s mind..."

Not sure I agree that branding is "corporate" and "selfish". However I do agree that one could make a distinction between branding and positioning.

For me, positioning is pointing out or carving out distinctions between competing alternatives. Apple positions (via quality and price) its' Macintosh computers as superior to (over and above) PCs. As for Apple's branding, it's chic, cool, hip, sleek, modern, etc, and this is accomplished via packaging, design, marketing communications, and etc..

You can actually brand something as cool or hip, and then position it (via price and features) below (undercutting) competitors in March, and then in April, add features, raise the price, and then reposition the same (upgraded) product as the segment leader.

As far as branding goes, it's a word that's way overused in this industry. Pepsi is a brand. Johny Rock Band probably will never be. It takes YEARS to build a brand. That does not mean that a artist can't engage in the act of branding. I just get tired of hearing certain people wag on about their unknown brands.

How many times have you heard an artist say that he or she does not want to walk away from all the work they did building his or her 'brand'? Get over yourself dude. You have an audience of ten; you've positioned yourself all wrong; and your not going to be brand until your name is in the forefront of 100,000 minds (at least). YOUR NOT A BRAND.

Back to positioning. You have 1,000 CDs scattered all over the floor. Tell an artist to make 100 stacks of 10, and then to explain / justify each stack. Now tell him/her to put his/her CD into one of those stacks and explain why. Now that's positioning (to me at least)..

I like what you guys are doing at Sorted Noise. It's great positioning (for yourselves as producers)..

As far as the negative comments here - whatever does not kill, shall make you stronger. It shows that you have people thinking. Thanks for the post and the opportunity to discuss this important topic.



August 14 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Well, anyone invoking Ries/Trout is doing good in my book.

My skepticism comes from a process standpoint -- what's different about the process for "artist positioning" that separates it from branding?

August 15 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

yeah, it might be useful to make two columns of verbs...

It's cut and dry when you can price 'things'. It probably not as simple when it comes to artists?

It seem like more of a process thing to me: position first, brand second.

August 15 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

When I was an earnest little marketing intern, I was really struck by how much proprietary language had muddied the waters. Since you can't put a "TM" next to the common language that already exists, marketers have been in the habit (for 20+ years at least) of making up new terms for every possible variation on the basic, simple, unchanging processes of marketing.

Clarity matters a lot and I've seen the process of branding called about 10,000 different names, but the core process is basically just something you do on an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of blank paper.

So to clarify my critique, and I am sorry for being flippant but that's how I bring Joy to Earth, my issue is this: I don't think this is significantly "new" enough to justify a new noun in the music business dictionary. What you're doing is something every label and management team I know is doing, to varying degrees of success.

And I didn't mention: you gave zero evidence on Howie Day. You're really saying he dropped off because his "Artist Positioning" statement was off? I can see why you're telling people not to google, man, because I bet there's other reasons for Howie's faceplant.

August 15 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Positioning is not a new term, nor is it a synonym for branding. I don't think this example illustrates positioning, either. To my understanding, positioning is what the company is poised to do. One example I've seen: "Avis. we try harder." The company is communicating, "We're the underdog. We're poised to go the extra mile in order to win your business from the top dog resting on his laurels."

September 14 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Saunders

Branding would likely follow the positioning process. Finding what position the artist can assume in the minds of potential listeners would dictate the look, feel and identity the artist would nurture (their unique brand). Positioning and branding are *not* the same thing, though they are both important in an artist's longevity.

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