You might be an excellent lyricist and a spectacular singer, but without branding, you’ll struggle to stand out in a competitive market. Streaming platforms and social media have made it possible for unsigned artists to reach a global audience. According to some estimates, independent artists are putting out more than 8.5 times the amount of content as traditional labels. While it’s certainly a boom time for the unsigned artist, independent musicians have to go above and beyond to make themselves heard in a saturated industry.
Personal branding for independent musicians is pretty exhaustive. You’ll need to think about establishing and developing your brand identity, covering everything from visual branding and messaging to solidifying an online presence and ensuring consistency. It takes work, but the benefits are considerable. Effective branding can attract new fans, with audience building, and ensure you stand apart from the thousands of other aspiring musicians out there. Below, we’ll explore what personal branding for musicians entails, the tools you need to be using, and why music branding is so important for promotion.
Developing Your Brand Identity
While refining your sound is a key part of music career development, it’s the only thing you need to consider when branding yourself as an artist. In fact, visual branding is almost as important. Consider some of the most legendary artists of all time. Even before the internet age, the biggest chart-toppers set themselves apart with a unique brand identity. Start with mood boards to start visualizing your brand. Think about what motivates you as an artist and what message you’re trying to convey with your material. You can draw from artists who inspire you, but remember that you’re looking to create a singular identity, not a cloned one. All of this will inform your visual identity and can be used to define collateral like logos, typography, and color schemes.
Next, focus on messaging. What are you trying to say as an artist? Your brand messaging speaks volumes about the kind of musician you are, while setting you apart from others in the industry. Consider the core of your message. Look to other recording artists for inspiration. Some focus on philanthropy, using their music as a way to spotlight charitable causes. Others are more political, using their songs to drive social change.
How are you going to convey your message as an artist? Many musicians have plenty to say about political issues, but their opinions are rarely integrated into their music. If you want to be a force for change and your music to be your weapon of choice, your brand messaging should inform the content you create. You don’t have to be heavy-handed with this and make sweeping political statements with every song you write. Instead, the occasional lyrics or use of imagery in a music video can do the job nicely. However, you do need to be consistent with your messaging elsewhere. Use social media engagement to drive interest in the causes that you’re most passionate about.
Using Social Media Effectively
Now your branding has taken shape, you need to maintain a consistent online presence. This includes everything from your artist website to all those special media channels you’ve been using for fan engagement. Invest time and money into keeping your main website fresh. You need to be constantly updating it with information about new releases and live performances. Have you just spent a small fortune on an expensive photo shoot? Don’t let those digital assets go to waste.
Social media can be very time-consuming, so consider the channels which are most important to you. Most independent artists tend to focus on two or three platforms. Aim to remain active on these every day. You’ll want to up your posting frequency in the lead-up to major gigs or the drop of a new single or EP. You can also employ a few SEO best practices when maintaining your online presence. For a successful social media strategy, make use of trending hashtags. Back-linking is also useful when uploading new content to blogs.
As you become more established and have less time to commit to your website and social platforms, you’ll need to lighten the load. You can use social media scheduling tools to make your life easier, or even outsource the work to a social media manager as you build a team around you. Just ensure you’re taking some time out of your day to engage with fans.
Why Consistency Counts
Consistency is another cornerstone of branding. The more you deviate from your core values, the less credible you’ll appear as an artist. Many emerging musicians overlook consistency during the early stages of their careers. It’s tempting to give into your creativity when launching all those social media channels and creating all that music marketing material. At a minimum, you should be using the same logos, key artwork, colors, and fonts across all your key channels. Consistency not only helps cement your brand identity but also makes your platforms more credible, encouraging new and existing fans to click through and access your content.
Even if you’re keeping consistency at the forefront of your mind, it’s worth taking a step back and reassessing your collateral from time to time. Build this into your schedule so that once every couple of months, you can take stock of everything from album artwork to press packs. Are the design elements consistent across the board? If there are any outliers, make sure you quickly bring them into line.
Benefits of Personal Branding for Musicians
Taking note of music industry trends and best practices can help inform your personal branding. A strong personal brand also brings many benefits. As well as establishing yourself as a unique artist, you can attract new fans and nurture connections with existing ones. While an eye-catching identity will boost awareness and convince new listeners to engage with your music, only the most effective branding will convert that interest into an avid audience. In time, you build loyalty, with the most loyal fans becoming advocates for your music.
Even Established Artists Work Hard on Their Brand
However, even the most successful artists can’t rest on their laurels when it comes to branding. Once considered the golden girl of contemporary country music, Taylor Swift reinvented herself online in the leadup to the release of her sixth studio album, Reputation, in 2017. Many bands have to take a more creative approach to branding, especially when behind-the-scenes drama leads to lineup changes. Take Paramore as an example. Once content with falling into the emo-inspired punk camp, the band delved deep into 80s aesthetics to promote After Laughter. This album was a departure from their previous music, drawing heavily from the new wave and synth-pop genres.
Engagement Turns Casual Listeners into Loyal Fans
Consistent branding builds awareness, which in turn secures loyalty. If all goes well, a loyal fan is with you for life. Furthermore, they’re more likely to recommend your music to friends, boosting your listenership organically. However, it does pay to be proactive if you want to build a sizable following. Engaging with your audience takes relatively little effort, but the rewards are significant.
Maintaining an active social media presence can go a long way. Encourage your listeners to interact with you and other fans across all your channels. You can think about running contests and awarding limited-edition EPs or albums to winners. You should think about encouraging fans to engage creatively. Call out to all those budding creatives and ask them to send clips of your latest track. Browse your feeds for video content that fans have uploaded and retweet them.
The music industry is a crowded one. To stand out in this cutthroat industry, your branding needs to be memorable. Even multi-platinum artists work hard to keep their personal branding on point. In her heyday, Madonna’s brand was reimagined with the release of every album. More recently, Lady Gaga’s mercurial shifts have become as synonymous with the star as her music.
Leveraging Social Media for Branding
Just about every social media platform can be used to effectively brand and market yourself. Ideally, you’ll want to be using several of them. Before you start dedicating your time and energy to one, consider the strengths and drawbacks of each one. Visually-driven social platforms like Instagram are perfect if you’re looking to showcase visual design elements. You can use Instagram to tease new content by uploading artwork. You can also use it as a showcase for behind-the-scenes footage. While this shouldn’t be your big gun, it’s the go-to for reinforcing the visual elements of your brand identity.
The Best Social Platforms for Branding
Twitter is the obvious choice if you’re looking to engage with fans daily. In the United States, the average Twitter spends 31.4 minutes on the platform. There’s less of a focus on visuals here, meaning you’ll need to put in the time to think about what you’re writing. If those short comments aren’t catching fire, you’re using Twitter as well as you could be. Being proactive here involves more than sending out the occasional tweet. In fact, retweeting other messages and deploying tags are just as important.
YouTube is great for showcasing your content as a musician. You can upload entire music videos, as well as use it as a home for long-form content. Think about adding all your behind-the-scenes content here. By adding value to your tracks, you can enhance your branding and forge deeper connections with your audience.
Many aspiring musicians dream of going viral via TikTok. However, the vast majority of new talent is going to have to be more creative to make use of this social media platform. This network is geared toward short-form content. Those 15-second clips aren’t going to inspire if you’re sampling the least memorable segment of a track. However, TikTok’s algorithm does make it easy for you to get yourself noticed by the right kind of audience. Provided you’re active on this platform, you stand a good chance of getting your music heard by people with a keen interest in the style of music you’re creating.
Building a Successful Social Media Strategy
You’ll need to retool your content strategy, depending on which social media platform you’re using. However, some basic rules apply to all of them. For starters, mix it up when creating and posting content. The same old posts and short-form video clips aren’t going to do much to drive up your follower numbers. In the leadup to a new single drop, plan a varied slate of content. Think about adding sneak peeks and teases of music videos, or sharing candid snaps from recording sessions, stage Q&As, and so on.
You also need to think about posting frequency. If you have a huge number of followers, putting out two or three high-quality posts a day is sufficient. If your follower numbers are fairly modest, it’s tempting to overdo it with posting frequency. However, you’re only wasting time by shouting to an empty room. Instead of dedicating hours creating content that only a small number of people will see, redirect your efforts to growing your audience. One of the most successful strategies you can employ is interactivity. Social media gives you a direct line to your fans. What’s more, they get a direct line to you. Embrace and nurture this connection.
Many successful artists have forged careers for themselves by making a splash on social media. Ed Sheeran, one of the most celebrated singer-songwriters of his generation, began his career on YouTube. He still maintains an active presence on the platform today and has since branched out to become an Instagram legend. Lil Nas X began his musical career as a breakout TikTok star. While this viral sensation quickly became a recording artist in his own right, he’s still one of the most savvy social media users around.
The Role of Branding in Music Promotion and Marketing
You can’t nail a promotional campaign without a strong brand identity. Consistent branding makes it easier for audiences to recognize you as an artist and engage with your music. It streamlines a multimedia promotional campaign.
Recently, artists like Olivia Rodrigo have excelled in this area. Her SOUR album was teased with a two-part campaign. While the first part welcomed fans with sneak peeks of new content, the second half was an inanimate YouTube concert that played to the feelings of isolation many fans were feeling during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are many promotional strategies you can use to market your music. Paid advertising is something to consider if you have the budget to spare. For most independent musicians, paid ads are also worthwhile. It can be expensive, but even a small advertising campaign can attract legions of listeners to a newly-released video.
The Impact of Influencer Marketing
Want to make waves on TikTok or Instagram? Think about collaborating with influencers. The most successful influencers command five-figure fees for a single post. However, you can network with less-established, and more affordable, influencers to spotlight a new single or EP release. If you’re using a platform like TikTok, there’s always the chance a piece of content using one of your tracks will go viral.
Sometimes, the simplest marketing methods are the most rewarding. If influencer collaboration is cost-prohibitive, email marketing lets you reach the inboxes of thousands of fans daily. Make sure you’re including a CTA for fans to sign up for your newsletter. Add this to all your bios across every platform and close off every video you upload with a mention or direct link.
Common Marketing Strategies for Musicians
When it comes to marketing strategies, there are a few avenues you can explore. First, there’s content marketing. Admittedly, this is a pretty broad term. It can include everything from blog posts uploaded to your main website to providing free access to new material. Although you’ll want to protect revenue streams, it’s important to offer fans a way to access free content. Make sure you’re releasing new content regularly. If possible, aim to upload something of value every day. Beyond music videos, you can upload video diaries to chart your progress as you work on a new album. If you’re offering a fan meet or visit to the studio as a competition prize, capture footage and use this as part of your content marketing campaign.
What About PPC Advertising?
You can also use Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising to target specific markets. By now, you should have a firm idea about your audience demographics. A tailored PPC campaign lets you focus on this demographic, rather than wasting time and money on a more general campaign. It’s also relatively inexpensive, with low startup costs and a budget you can control.
Don’t forget about SEO best practices. High-quality content will go a long way in making your online material discoverable. As such, you should be investing time into creating captivating blog posts and commissioning in-depth articles. However, even your artist bio on social media needs to be finished with optimized wording. You also need to consider backlinks. You don’t have to wait around for high-authority domains to link to your sites. Simply connecting your socials and external platforms to main your website is a step in the right direction.
Now’s the Time To Take Charge of Your Branding
For aspiring artists, developing a strong brand identity is one thing that demands focus and investment. Start with visual branding, then work on your brand messaging. What sets you apart from other artists? What’s your angle? What do you have to say about the issues that you’re passionate about and why should people care? Whatever the answers, be consistent with how you’re presenting yourself. Make sure the brand you’re selling isn’t at odds with itself if you’re using multiple platforms to promote your music and yourself as an artist.
Social media is an effective way of building and nurturing your brand, but it’s time-consuming. Focus on the platforms that are most beneficial to you. If you want to spotlight aesthetics, use a visually-driven platform like Instagram. If you want to experiment with short-form video content, go for TikTok. Use Twitter for daily engagement with fans and stick to YouTube for uploading in-depth content like music videos, behind-the-scenes footage, Q&As, and more.
Taking the time to invest in your brand identity pays off. It helps you engage with fans and attract new audiences. Good branding turns interested listeners into avid fans. These in turn become loyal followers and, eventually, they become your advocates who will go out of their way to recommend your work to other people.