When it comes to the music industry, the idea of branding isn’t meant to be gimmicky or even a sales strategy. Instead, it’s about showing the core of who you are and finding others who can connect to that authentically. It’s about ensuring that everything you put into the world reflects that authenticity and attracts those fans to you. ‘
Still, there is so much confusion (and stress!) about what branding is, so today we’re bringing together two experts, singer-songwriter Kristen Graves and New York City musician Samantha Echo, to share their insights and experiences on branding.
Graves, known for her optimistic, social justice-focused music, initially struggled to comprehend and convey her personal brand. The whole thing kind of frustrated her, actually! She discovered that people not only associated her music with her but also with her distinctive appearance – her dreadlocks.
At a conference, she was pointed out for this very reason, something that initially bothered her but eventually led her to realize the power of her distinct image and how she could use it to shape her brand.
On the other hand, Echo, a singer born in New York City with a love of mythology and psychology, has always found it effortless to weave her interests into her brand and fills her social media with these things.
Can you see why we brought these two together to share some of their best branding secrets?
The Call To Be You
During the seminar, Michael Whalen talked a great deal about the importance of authenticity when interacting with people on social media. When I heard this I almost laughed, because this is something I was immensely relieved to learn. On my Twitter, Pinterest, and blog I feature content about my interests such as Greek mythology, Hamlet, fairy tales, and psychology.
When I share content about topics I am interested in I am surprised at how naturally utilizing social media comes to me. Sharing beautiful photos and blogging about my interest in mythology, psychology and Peter Pan feels almost indulgent. Michael Whalen has essentially instructed us, independent artists, to be human.
Branding: Communicating Who You Are Online
Ariel Hyatt led the marketing and PR panel which included the powerful voices of Jo-Na Williams (The Artist Empowerment Firm), Pamela Workman (Workman Group Communications), and Patrice Fehlen (September Gurl). An important theme that ran throughout the panel was branding.
The way I interpreted the conversation is that branding can be described as creating a unique, recognizable type of product that you offer. Jo-Na Williams suggested having, what she referred to as, a branding manifesto in which you declare what it is that you stand for and what it is you believe in.
Your manifesto serves as your underlying focus as you address all the other parts of being an artist. Having what you stand for clearly defined for yourself will help when it comes time to hire a professional publicist to help you promote your art. You will be able to communicate more effectively to your publicist what sets you apart.
Play To Your Strengths
What I realized after I began to attend more networking events is that pursuing success in the music industry, in this day and age, is not about indulging yourself or torturing yourself. It’s not about being self-indulgent or about forcing yourself to be something you’re not.
What it means to be an independent artist has increased in complexity, but the redefining of the role has also opened up new opportunities for us to play to our strengths as well as more opportunities to challenge ourselves and step outside our comfort zones.
For me, posting about my interests and personal information and identifying openly as a human being, not just a musician, is the easy part. I can’t deny the extent of my relief at discovering that posting pretty pictures on Pinterest and schmoozing virtually about Disney movies and Greek mythology is actually part of my job now as an independent artist!
What’s difficult for me is going out to network with people I’ve never met before. For someone else, it might be the reverse, but what I realized at YOUR MUSIC, YOUR RIGHTS, YOUR CAREER is that it’s okay to be either way, because there will be opportunities for all of us to play to our strengths.
About Samantha Echo:
Samantha Echo was born in the made-up place with poison skies–New York City, to you mortals. She was likely the result of an acid-fused one-night-stand between Leonard Cohen and one of the Disney Princesses (at the Chelsea Hotel!), although this is unconfirmed. She was reincarnated from an Ancient Greek Mountain Spirit.
She is a hub of gauzy snark and a fallen Disney heroine with a foul mouth, a soprano, and quite possibly the millennium’s worst case of arrested development. She has lots of feelings. She has been described as “Comic Con’s Kate Bush” (Janna Pelle), meaning that she is a distinctive high soprano who is almost too nerdy to function; an NYC female incarnation of Morrissey (Siv Disa), meaning that her lyrics will really bum you out, but it a fun and hilarious way.
Echo has also been described as a “gay icon” (Liam Lyon, singer-songwriter), a “doll-faced illusionist” (Jody Borhani, visual artist), and “a Salvador Dali of sound, challenging and disrupting perspective”(Heather Jacks, writer)
“Samantha’s songs are profound, brave, haunting and true. Samantha is perhaps one of the smartest, most poetic, exciting, engaging young singers out there today” –Suzanne W. Stout, Playwright in Residence at Theater 80 St Marks.
Echo likes to think of her work as children’s music for adults; the songs of a consummate outcast seeking redemption and dignity through humor and escapism and nostalgia.
Branding Yourself Is Not Selling Into Some Gimmick
I remember the first time that a business coach-type told me that I needed to pay more attention to my branding…I had no idea what she was talking about.
I thought that brands were for companies, make sure that they (the companies) were defined and able to reach their target market…blah blah…I had no idea why it was important for me. But she persisted and continued to explain – that when people described my music, they were really describing me, and so I needed to give them something to hold on to.
Branding – the thing that songwriters think they’re too talented for…
I’m an optimistic, social justice-focused singer/songwriter, and people know this when they listen to my music. I also have my own (faux) political party called the Just Be Nice Party. I’m really all about the hope. And yet, while people will sometimes use these phrases or words to describe me, more often than not – I’m the singer/songwriter with dreadlocks.
At YOUR MUSIC, YOUR RIGHTS, YOUR CAREER seminar with and a bunch of other wonderful music business folks, she called me out in the auditorium because of my hair – mentioning that I could never cut my dreads.
A few years ago, this would have bothered me, but now – I know that she’s totally right…and I’m fine with it!
I decided on dreads a few years ago out of convenience, (it’s a story for another time that has to do with spending months in Mexico and bathing in a waterfall) have kept them out of love, and have benefitted from them out of branding.
Branding Yourself Is Not Selling Into Some Gimmick
I used to think of branding and marketing along the lines of a gimmick – thinking that it was for people who needed some kind of trick to get customers to buy their music. (I really wasn’t trying to judge, I was just deciding that my time was best spent on creating music.)
I now realize that while yes, my time is best spent creating music, branding is merely an extension of songwriting and being creative.
When I walk down the street, I get a lot of compliments on my hair (even on NYC’s sidewalks, where attention is hard-earned), and I get a lot of smiles.
I’m pretty sure this is simply because my outside looks like what and how I feel inside.
Meaning – I’m a carefree, optimistic and flexible person – people can tell this by the way I dress, walk, and wear my hair.
Ariel & Michael’s seminar retaught me that branding is simply letting people know what my music sounds like through other senses – and when I think of it that way, it’s actually fun and very cool.
Branding isn’t a cheap gimmick, it’s refusing to compromise on who I am. Making sure that everything I do looks, sounds, smells, tastes and feels like me.
Ariel, Michael and all – thank you for the amazingly helpful information, and thank you for reminding us to be fiercely true to ourselves.
About Kristen Graves:
Kristen Graves is a singer/songwriter and humanitarian from Fairfield, Connecticut who was recently listed as part of the “new generation of folk music” in the New York Times and had a recent mention in Rolling Stone for her participation in the compilation album, ‘Buy This Fracking Album’, produced by Movement Music Records.
With catchy songs, a penchant for story telling, and inspiring lyrics, Kristen delights audiences across the country.
Constantly traveling and touring, Kristen plays nearly 200 shows per year having shared stages with Rusted Root, Dar Williams, David Amram, Noel (Paul) Stookey, Guy Davis, Peter Yarrow, Harry Belafonte and the late Pete Seeger.
Kristen has six albums and two EPs to her credit. Her newest release, Now Ain’t the Time for Tears, is available on iTunes.
In addition to her touring and recording schedule, Kristen makes sure that there is always time to be part of the humanitarian organizations whose work she admires and is inspired by. Spending months living and working with Simply Smiles in Mexico and on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota creates the signature chemistry of Kristen’s performances: a stirring combination of music and justice.
Need a little help finding your brand? Check out our Social Media Tuneup for all the tools you need to improve your social media presence.