You’ll never meet most of the people who will hear your music or encounter your creative work. Instead, what they’ll “meet” is your persona. Use these tips to create a genuine and engaging artist brand.
Most people who hear your music will never meet you in person. So what exactly are they “meeting” when they discover you? Outside of your music, they interact with your website, social media profiles, logo, photos, bio, images, videos, merch, and other public representations of who you are. The question is: Do these assets really represent what you want them to experience about you?
Recognizing the importance of your artist brand in today’s tech-driven music industry is critical. You’re a global musician the second you publish your music — you can’t possibly meet and talk to everyone who will discover you. So, whether you like it or not, you have an artist brand you have to create, cultivate, and maintain. Musicians who ignore branding end up getting perceived by the world in ways they never intended. This can distract from your music and message and interfere with your career goals. You’ll end up with a haphazard brand you didn’t create that is out of your control.
So what’s an artist brand made of? Your music, of course, but it’s more than that. It’s based on your personality, your look, your style, your worldview, and more. Call it your persona. The best personas are authentic, match your creative goals, and empower your brand elements. Your persona reflects who you are as an artist, but is not necessarily you.
In many ways, the reason you create a persona is to present an intentional, focused, and amplified version of yourself. Although your instinct might be to create a persona that paints you as a well-rounded person so you can appeal to as broad an audience as possible, the more targeted your persona, the better chance you have of connecting with an audience and standing out among the pack. When you think of some of your favorite popular artists, they all have a persona at the heart of their brand — think David Bowie, Jay-Z, Eminem, the Rolling Stones, and so many more.
Because a persona is at the heart of your artist brand, it does take some time and effort to put together. But once you define it, you can then create all the appropriate brand elements you need. Plus, once you develop your persona, you’ll find it’s easier to craft a message about who you are, handle publicity, develop merch create and release your music, and drive genuine engagement with your fans.
Here are a few exercises you can use to help uncover and define your persona.
Identify your story
What’s your story? Answering this question drives all the rest of the exercises that follow. The goal of creating your story — or your persona’s story — is to go beyond the music. It requires introspection. Often the first step is writing an in-depth autobiography where you think back to when you grew up and what drove you to create the type of music you do. Once you have your story, the next step is to take just a few key elements — those major points others can easily understand and relate to — and leave the rest behind. It’s these key moments that you want to amplify to create your persona and build a brand from.
What three adjectives best describe your persona?
If someone saw you from across the room, what are the top three adjectives you’d want them to use to describe you? Those adjectives should align with your story and help drive your decisions on how best to represent yourself as the person you want to be.
What emotions do you want people to feel when they experience your persona?
Choosing the emotions you want to evoke in other people can help guide you in very concrete ways when it comes to creating your brand elements. For example, if the emotions you want to evoke are “relaxed and care-free,” you wouldn’t want to write agitating messages on your social media. Your logo would be more rounded rather than have sharp edges, and you’ll probably want a calming color scheme instead of angry shades of red.
What is your high concept?
A high concept is a one-sentence statement that explains your persona in terms your audience can easily relate to and understand. The producers of the movie Alien pitched it as “Jaws in space” to their potential funders. While Alien wasn’t exactly like Jaws, it was accurate enough to get people to immediately understand what the movie would be like in just three words. This exercise helps you pull out the essence of your persona.
What does your persona look like?
Your style and appearance should be in tune with the persona you define. This doesn’t just mean when you’re playing live on stage. It’s also when you’re out publicly, when you’re interviewed by the press and media, and how you stage your photos, videos, and more. Fans often engage more with artists who stay in character, and the wilder your persona, the more important this is. For example, artists like The Residents, Blue Man Group, and Marilyn Manson always remain in character whenever they are performing or seen in public.
While the above exercises can help you define your persona, we also recommend using trusted people in your circle who can act as a “mirror” to help you make certain you are succeeding at creating the persona you are trying to project. Don’t tell your friends the three adjectives you’re trying to evoke — just ask them which words they’d use. Test your story out on other people to see if it produces a desired response. Ask what emotions your test group feels when they see your brand elements.
Finally, use this process to fuel your imagination. Once you know what your musical persona is, it should help you build all aspects of your artist brand, helping you choose fonts, colors, logos, graphics, song topics, and much more. It can drive just about everything else you do as a musician, including giving you the creative spark for new music, lyrics, videos, stage shows, merchandise, and even your attitude and how you answer interview questions from media.
Knowing your persona will give you control over how your fans experience you as an artist and the emotions they experience, even if you never get a chance to meet them in person.
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.
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