Music Branding Basics – A Guide for Musicians & Bands

Female guitarist stood against wall

Creating music takes time, patience, and creativity. After putting all that effort into refining your sound and writing tracks you’re proud of, don’t you want people to hear your music?

Of course you do.

One of the biggest reasons some artists can build a career in music and many can’t is that many musicians focus all their energies on the music and spend no time on what, for the purposes of this article, we’ll call ‘music branding’.

Music branding is hugely important for any artist no matter what stage of their career. In the 21st Century, talent without strategy more often than not leads to failure. Like it or not, music is a business. The music industry is massive with one of the most oversaturated markets in any creative field.

But we’re creatives, not business people, I hear you say! It’s true, approaching your music as a business may make you want to cringe as you might think it lacks artistic credibility and authenticity, turning your creativity into a commodity.

We’re here to tell you this doesn’t need to be the case.

In fact, many of the most successful music brands manage to come across as authentic and build a community around their music, yet they still have a ‘music strategy’ in the back of their minds. Do you think the late great Prince left it all to chance? Hmm, I don’t think so.

Prince in Concert At The Annual Sziget Festival
Prince in Concert At The Annual Sziget Festival

In this article, we walk you through the branding process to get your music career on a firm footing, and we’ll share some music industry best kept secrets.

What is a Brand?

Brands are something that are consciously constructed to define or represent an individual or business. We interact, consciously or unconsciously with brands all the time. Every product we consume has been branded to some degree successfully or otherwise.

At its most basic, a brand (or ‘brand identity’) can be considered a name and a logo along with a color palette that sets a product, company or in this case an artist apart from others who are similar. Good branding sets the expectation or can change the way people perceive you.

Though some people consider a brand to be much more than that. Many see branding as visually representing an identity, encompassing the story, image, beliefs, and values of the thing they represent.

We’ll leave you to decide how deep you want to dive when approaching your own music branding, but we’ve created an easy to follow five-step guide to artist branding that will help you at least hit the minimum of branding yourself and maybe give you some things to think about so you can take your branding to the next level.

How Do I Brand Myself as a Music Artist?

So now we’re going to walk you through the five steps to creating your own music brand.

1. Study the Brands of Other Artists You Like

Like anything else, one of the best places to start on your own brand journey is to look first at some good examples to aspire to.

Pick at least three of your favorite bands or musicians and then go through the shortlist below to begin to get an understanding of the ways they brand themselves.

Try to understand how they define themselves. This is ironically down, in large part to the way you have interpreted them. However, if you consider yourself a fan then it’s likely your understanding of their brand will be aligned with how they intended to be perceived.

Have they positioned themselves as counter-establishment, are they the ultimate in rags to riches story, are they a wholesome country belle or a strong, independent woman? How does your understanding of their story inform and reinforce this brand?

How does this reflect their music? If we think about the Miley Cyrus example, her musical output switched from a bubble gum country to the twerk inducing pop we all love today.

Miley Cyrus on stage for NBC Today Show Concert
Miley Cyrus on stage for NBC Today Show Concert

Her brand has shifted along with that, moving from squeaky clean tween to something raunchier and more sexualized. Now whether this has just been a natural evolution as she has grown up, or if it’s been guided by the clawed hands of music business moguls, it’s clear that her overall brand has consistently reflected her musical output.

Think about how do these musicians communicate their brand. Take a look at all the variety of different ways these artists communicate their brand and crucially, remain consistent across all the different ways. Does their logo (if they have one) reflect the style of music they produce, are their social media posts a consistent tone of voice and message? Do their performances reflect that brand too? There are countless ways artists can maintain a brand identity and it’s a good idea to identify some of the ones you like.

2. Defining Your Brand

Now comes the step where you begin to define your own brand. Here you need to decide if you’re cultivating a manufactured brand image or striving for authenticity. Constructed doesn’t need to mean contrived… think Ziggy Stardust. 

The best place to start is your music and what it says and reflects about you, then go from there.

How you want to present yourself should be reflected in the branding. Once you’ve decided how you want to portray yourself and what it is you’re trying to say, you can set about reflecting this in everything you do. Plan how to align your social media to this message, think about how you can embody this in your performances.

Think of all the ways the artists you looked at in step one communicate their brands and decide the things you will try.

If you’re striving to present yourself authentically to your audience then you need to identify the X-factor (not the TV show) that sets you apart from other artists and make that central to your brand. Everyone has their own unique story and you need to find the key moments in your own story that led you to this point. Make those the backbone of your branding.

A good exercise to uncover ‘your why’ is to check out the work by Simon Sinek work on the subject. Sinek is talking about marketing for brands (e.g. consumer giant Apple), but the methodology works just as well for musicians. If you want to delve deeper (you should), check out his classic TED talk on the subject where he walks you through the concept of the golden circle.

The golden circle spoken about by Simon Sinek

Finally, niche down if you can. Are you Iceland’s trip-hop queen or Romania’s answer to Snoop Dogg? If you can figure out a unique category or niche that you occupy, then you’ll have an easier time branding yourself.

If you can’t pin that down, look at other artists in your niche and find out how they brand themselves and figure out a way to stand out from the crowd.

3. The Visual Elements of Branding

Now it’s time to address the ‘fundamentals’ of visual branding. This is extremely important as it’s where you’ll set the tone for your brand. You want your brand to match with the sound of your music so keep that front of mind when you make these choices.

Name

Maybe you’re going with the name on your birth certificate, or you’re trying to come up with a name for your band. In any case, whatever you settle on, try to take a step back and decide if the name aligns with the way you want to build your brand. Why not try out our band name creator if you’re drawing a blank!

Logo

This one might trip a few people up. You’re not Nike or Starbucks, why would you need a logo? Well, a quick google search from Queen to Eminem to the Beatles and beyond will show you that everyone has a logo.

This can be as simple or as complex as you like, just make sure it says what you want it to say. You don’t need to hire designers either, online logo makers can generate an amazing result.

Color

Nothing is cut and dry with color. Different colors mean different things across the world. But you can carry a color palette across all your visual materials, including your album covers to promote brand recognition.

Look to other artists producing music in your genre for inspiration but ultimately, make sure whichever way you go reflects the direction you want your brand to follow.

4. Marketing and Promotion

You know what you want to say, and you have the visual language to say it, now’s the time to put yourself out there. Self-promotion is something that artists of all stripes are notoriously bad at, but it’s never been more important nor have there been so many different ways to get yourself and your message out there. Here are just a few different approaches we recommend.

Website

One of the best places to start is a website where you can house recordings, videos, have a tour schedule and even a retail function where people can buy your music or your merchandise.

Make your website will be the hub of all your online activity and really wrap your brand up into one accessible place for your fans to visit.

Merchandise

Merch is a great way for you to make a bit of extra money whilst giving your fans a way to show they support you. Put your newly designed logo and color scheme to good use on a whole variety of merchandising from t-shirts to tote bags.

Build a Community

It’s not just about promoting your work and getting out your message through direct channels. One of the best ways to build a loyal and engaged fan base is to create a community around your brand. If your message and branding is something people connect with, they are more likely to show their support financially and promote you to friends and family.

A couple of great ways to do this are through:

  • YouTube – Start making video content for your audience to consume. Creating music videos, vlogs, behind the scenes videos, or answering Q&A’s will help your audience feel like they have access to you and build a deeper connection between you and them. Just make sure your YouTube channel is properly branded up through things like the channel banners and thumbnails!
  • Social Media Schedule – Across all your social media channels, create a manageable schedule so you can regularly post on-brand content that will resonate with your audience. Take a bit of time to directly engage in comments and conversation, your fans will appreciate and hopefully reward the effort through shares (see our guide to promoting music on social media for more help with this).
  • Live shows – Carry your brand into your performances. Round out the whole brand with a performance that reflects your style and story.

5. Consistency

The final point to consider is to stick to the brand you establish and give it time to take root and start resonating with your audience. This consistency needs to manifest in a couple of ways:

  1. Remain consistent over all your platforms. Make sure that you’re ‘on-brand’ across all your platforms from the time you start. That means keeping your website, social platforms and YouTube channel all delivering content that has the same tone and messaging as well as visual style.
  2. Keep making music that is on-brand. We’re not saying you can’t try something new, but as you create new music, keep your newly established brand identity at the back of your mind and let its influence seep into what you create. That way, when your fans listen to your music, it will take on a whole new meaning.

Summary

Rome wasn’t built in a day and success is rarely found overnight. Make sure and give your brand time to take root and for audiences to find and engage with it. These are the foundations to building a solid personal brand and if you stick with it, results will eventually follow.

If you take the time to follow the steps in this guide it will create a great foundation that will position you in the best possible position for audiences to connect with you and your music.

Good luck!