There are plenty of confusing messages out there when it comes to the personal brand. Personal branding is dead, according to one Forbes article, but at the same time, it’s more important than ever. Your brand is supposed to help you stand out from the crowd, but overused branding advice like, “post to social media” doesn’t sound different from what everyone else is doing.
It’s time to get back to basics. Let’s get to the heart of what personal branding is, why you need it to succeed, and how to take meaningful action to build your brand as a musician.
What Personal Branding Means, and Why It Matters
“Personal branding” isn’t a nonsense business buzzword that means, “post your every thought online.” At its heart, branding is a form of storytelling. Personal branding is about framing your story in a way that allows you to form a genuine connection with fans.
First off, drop any idea that branding comes down to hanging up a mission statement full of meaningless motivational jargon like, “Innovation Synergy.” The authors of Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, write, “Brand identity is tangible and appeals to the senses. You can see it, touch it, hear it, hold it, watch it move.”
A personal brand gives your listeners a clear, concrete idea of who you are and what you stand for. It’s a helpful guide for you, too, keeping you focused on what’s most important as your career progresses.
4 Steps to Build a Personal Brand From Scratch
Putting yourself on paper as a “brand” can be tough. Try these exercises to get ideas together.
Step 1: Know who you are
List your values, strongest personality traits, and the personal and professional passions that are most important to you.
Family, ambition, optimism, “life of the party” extraversion, or intelligence may all be values and traits you want your brand to represent.
Embracing contradictions can work in some cases, too. Pop artist Sia managed to combine introversion and a dramatic flair in her personal brand, hiding her face with outlandish wigs and performing facing backward.
Step 2: Define your visual style
Supposedly, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The truth is that appearances absolutely matter!
Jay-Z has brought the idea of “the clothes make the man” into his music. Eschewing more casual hip-hop garb for crisp suits was a way of claiming respect and announcing maturity and professionalism. Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae sport pompadours that nod to retro and soul themes in their music. You’ll probably use your image in album cover art, social media posts, and merchandise, so consider the message you send.
Step 3: Engineer your social media presence
Corporations use color, design, typography, and other visual elements to communicate their brand to customers.
Your design choices can do the same. Think about color in terms of palettes. Are you into bold primary colors or neon? Luxe jewel tones or earthy neutrals? Nicki Minaj favors lots of cotton-candy pastels and tropical brights, which contribute toward a hyper-feminine, wild child image.
For typography, a lot of rap and R&B artists favor either strong, blocky fonts or handwriting and graffiti-inspired fonts. Handle design yourself or hire a professional, but establish a consistent style across all your social media platforms.
Step 4: Distinguish yourself from competitors
Your list of personal brand qualities should give you clues for how to stand out from the other performers out there.
What combination of values is unexpected and fresh? Are you poised and professional, or do you embrace your wild side? If you can find a niche that only you can fill, it may be a key ingredient for success.
Keys to Personal Brand Success in Music
Many of the personal branding articles you’ll find online relate to entrepreneurs and other corporate leaders. Musicians have a different relationship with fans than businesses do with customers. Let’s cover the top three factors musicians in particular need to consider.
Sure, you want your music to appeal to a variety of people. But it’s smart to understand key demographics in your core fan base. Working moms in their thirties and teens living in major cities both listen to music, but they have different preferences for how to access music, how much to spend, and more. Develop your audience marketing strategy using these techniques:
- Note who comes to your shows.
- Cruise similar artists’ social media feeds to learn about their most devoted audience, which may be similar to yours.
- Run targeted Facebook ads and track which demographic shows the strongest response.
- Create a “typical fan” profile with info about age, region, political outlook, education, favorite brands — anything that helps you get inside a fan’s head.
- Take particular note of your fans’ favorite social media platforms and preferred ways to access music. Don’t waste time obsessing over iTunes sales if your fan base loves streaming music off of SoundCloud.
What are you sharing about yourself and your life, both through your music and beyond? Many artists draw on personal struggles to communicate a genuine story to fans. Surviving violence, facing addiction, and struggling in relationships are all fair game for artists. Good questions to ask yourself include:
- Where do I draw the line for privacy? What areas of my life are sources of inspiration, and what’s off-limits to fans?
- What emotions do I hope fans connect to in my music?
- How will social media expand the story of my music to form a stronger connection?
Your offstage life can showcase personal brand values that aren’t represented as much in your songs. Linkin Park’s signature sound focuses on darker moments in life, so their Instagram creates a more relaxed connection, with clips of the band goofing around.
Your outlook in life and the mood of your music combine into a signature tone. How are you going to communicate your story? It can help to consider a number of opposite traits and decide which end of the spectrum you fall on:
- Serious vs. humorous
- Positive vs. negative emotions
- Street cred vs. corporate
- Mysterious vs. open
- Mature vs. youthful
- Clean vs. dirty
Everything from your music videos to your real-life conduct reinforces your tone. Managing your reputation is critical. If you have a habit of getting into profanity-laced arguments online with anyone who criticizes your work, you’re going to get a reputation for a short temper, like it or not.
A story is only meaningful when it reaches an audience. In the same way, your perfectly defined brand isn’t doing you much good until you’re communicating it effectively to fans. Managing your personal brand involves continuous evaluation of your marketing strategy:
- Be consistent, clear, and active on social media.
- Discuss personal brand development with people who work with you, including agents and producers.
- Build relationships with other artists who lift you up.
- Look for new avenues to put the word out about your music.
- Attend festivals, conferences, and workshops where you can connect with fans, other artists, and music industry pros.
- Set aside mandatory, regular time to review the results of your marketing efforts and make needed adjustments to your targets.
A strong personal brand is more than a business tool. It’s a foundation for the story you tell as an artist and the basis of your connection with fans. Build your brand right, and it will help guide you forward as an artist.