For the most part, musicians tend to stick to just selling music, merch, and tickets. But a few manage to branch off and make it in other related industries like book writing, apparel, podcasting, cosmetics, art, theater, acting, and even activism.
For many artists, just “making it” in music is hard enough, let alone trying to get traction in and manage a career in another industry as well. The key is to use your brand as the link that bridges you to these new opportunities. It’s not about forcing yourself into a new industry; between getting the new connections you need and finding an audience, it would be a lot of extra work and probably wouldn’t be worth it in the end. Instead, focus on industries that naturally fit with the brand you already have in place.
What is a brand?
The first step to expanding your music career to other industries is to understand your brand. I think a lot of musicians will consider their “brand” to be just their image: how they dress, what colors they use on their website, and what their photos look like. But branding actually goes much, much deeper than that.
As a musician, your brand is an all-encompassing term that describes who you are. At the simplest of levels, it includes your genre and your image. But it also includes your personality, beliefs, passions, attitudes, and how you communicate with your fans. If you feel strongly about environmental issues, that’s part of your brand. If you love fashion and try to incorporate that into your videos and photos, that’s part of your brand, too.
It’s these deeper aspects of your brand that provide the most natural connections to other industries. A lot of times, when you make your passions and beliefs known through your music, you’ll attract a fanbase that has a similar mindset or attitude. That connection is much deeper and goes way beyond just music, so a lot of your fans will come over with you and you’ll be building on a foundation you already have.
Sponsorships as a bridge
Another great way to start a bridge to a new industry is through sponsorships. Think about it like this: if you just put out a book on yoga out of the blue, you’ll be entering that industry completely unknown. But if you’ve partnered with a few yoga apparel companies in the past, you’ll at least have a foothold.
Your best bet is to try to find companies and organizations whose products and services coincide with your brand and your beliefs. Maybe you could work with PETA to do an ad campaign to break into the animal activism world. Or perhaps a local cosmetics company would sponsor your music video if you incorporate their products in the action.
Once you have that initial opportunity in the particular industry, and establish yourself as a player, it will be much easier to step out on your own.
Finding a balance
The key with this strategy is knowing your personal balance. The last thing you want to do is take too much time away from your music. How much time can you dedicate to these secondary careers while still maintaining your music? Ideally, you want your secondary creative career to enhance your music career, not take away from it.
There have been many popular musicians who have made the jump to other creative industries. Pharrell, Kanye West, Madonna, and Rihanna have all released fashion lines or fashion brands, and David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, and Patti Smith have all worked in visual arts in addition to their music careers. But let’s focus on a few indie examples so you can see how attainable this is on the indie level.
Parvati is a chart topping “celestial pop” artist, activist, yogi, and author from Canada. On the yoga side, she’s released a self-help book, Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie, yoga instruction videos, and co-founded the Active Integration Holistic Education program at the University of Toronto. As an activist, Parvati works to stop global warming and even performed at the North Pole to raise awareness.
Her brand, which is rooted in positivity and positive possibilities, has helped her establish a fanbase that travels with her through all her creative endeavours. You can read Parvati’s full story here.
Cali Conscious is a reggae band from California. They extend their “good vibes” beyond just the music to raise awareness for and donate to causes they believe in. They organize monthly beach clean-ups, work with Bombas to donate socks to people in need, and are donating all proceeds from their song “Water” to benefit the charity Gravity Water to provide water filtration systems to poor communities.
On top of that, they also avoid selling plastic CDs and instead offer plantable paper download cards embedded with carrot, lettuce, and tomato seeds. You can read Cali Conscious’s full story here.
If you want to learn about the possibilities of brand strategies in music, you can join the New Artist Model Essential music business program for just $29 and get started developing your own brand with the strategies and approaches in the course. Or, you can download my most popular ebook, Hack the Music Business, for free here.
Dave Kusek is the founder of the New Artist Model, an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers, and songwriters. He is also the founder of Berklee Online, co-author of The Future of Music, and a member of the team who brought midi to the market.