For a band to be successful, it must ultimately create its own brand, which presents its musical story both tangibly and intangibly. Your brand applies to every aspect of the band's activities, including visuals, sound, and presentation. Anything from its logo, website, and photos, to its recordings, performances, and merchandise counts. Even your silly social media posts, online interactions with fans, and clothing styles can impact your brand. It is the band’s persona that leaves an impression on people.
Though she initally created visuals for her Brooklyn, NY-based pop band, Rubblebucket, Kalmia Traver admits she didn’t even know what branding meant for the first three years of the group's existence. "I always associated music and visuals very closely – inextricably," she says. "I ended up creating the fundamental linchpins of the band by expressing my spirit in a [visual] way that resonated with the music."
Creating a brand for your band is a long process and presents its own set of unique challenges. To get you started, here are eight ways to build and strengthen your band's brand.
1. Express yourself
"It's always good to verge on the side of more personal," says Traver. "It's really important to have your heart behind every aspect – even the booking and social network. There is no room for anything but heartfelt, genuine expression if you want to cut through. Humans really connect with other human beings."
Also, don't worry about catering to your grandma. Use your best judgment, but, most importantly, just be yourself.
2. Be consistent across all channels
Your brand manifests when it's repeated consistently and pervades all aspects of your band, including posters, T-shirts, album art, videos, stage persona, etc. Once your brand is recognizable, it is yours.
Consistency also means frequent outreach. Update your website regularly, log onto social networks, and engage your fans in creative ways. Create a blog to share thoughts, stories, and photos, or start a mailing list and send out a newsletter once a month. Think of ways to give back to the community and be involved in a meaningful way.
3. Be unique and open to change
Keep it genuine, yet distinctive. Research your competition to generate ideas and stay on the cutting edge. Find ways to distinguish yourself from other artists, and make sure your brand relates to your personal and current experiences. Use your knowledge and research to help make your image unique, even if that means changing it up every once in a while.
"We are always open to change," says Traver. "We never feel like we are nailing anything down; we are always swimming around, trying to find the creativity that represents us. We glean from what we've done, and flesh it out as who we are now and what we’ve been through this recent year."
4. Every detail counts
Traver points out that branding includes "every facet of how you are perceived in the world – your attitude towards staff at a venue or an opening band, how nice you are, and activism and politics, too."
Choose a brand that reflects the mood of your music. You can't ignore the details, so have fun with the design process. Carefully develop your color palette, fonts, graphics, bio, photos, and clothing style.
5. Use social media to showcase your brand
Your persona and, in turn, your brand, comes through via your social media. Without being too self-conscious, take care and present yourself intentionally. There is a balance between being carefree and over-meticulous.
Though Rubblebucket knows the importance of social media, the pressure can sometimes be consuming. “When we are in the van during tours, we have many hours of discussion," explains Traver. "‘How should I post this? Heart or smiley face? Link to Facebook?’ It's group decision-making for these small details.... Social media is an amazing way to connect with the world."
6. Build a relationship with your fans
If your band is your brand, your fans are your investors. Read their comments and feedback, reflect, and build from there. Engage them by creating contests and asking questions on social media, and give them ways to be involved and join your team. If they run your merch table at a show, toss them some free swag. Invite fans to share your Facebook posts or retweet you to win tickets. The more your posts spread, the more people learn about you, your music, and your brand without even physically seeing you.
7. Trust your team
Always make sure to work closely with people and artists you admire and trust. "We have a loose team behind the design, but [the band has] creative control," says Traver. "For the album art, we had a sculptor, and we requested he make a wearable version [of the art] to incorporate into live shows and videos. We consult with the web designer and merch people all the time, and our manager helps connect the dots."
Also, utilize your band members' strengths and creativity in the process of creating the brand. In turn, you'll all have some responsibility when it comes to maintaining the band's image.
8. Be patient
Building a brand and fanbase takes time. Even though you're working your butt off, don't forget to enjoy watching the process unfold!
Christiana Usenza is musician and dancer with a master's degree in ethnomusicology from Tufts University. She has ventured as far as Argentina, Brazil, and Ghana to study music and dance, and has an endless curiosity for music genres, styles, and scenes across the world. She teaches music, writes music, and works in the booking office at Johnny D's in Somerville, MA. She is a member of the band Paper Waves, and they are currently working on their first album.