Why do we hate so much branding and social media?
The easiest and most used answer is : ”I’m an artist, I shouldn’t really be wasting my time trying to beg for someone’s attention in the pursuit of fans”. There’s indeed something that totally makes sense in this sentence and I’m not being ironic. However, like literally anything else in life, artists are not spared from evolving and understanding that concepts and theory are amazing; though, reality always differs. Let’s see why remaining chained to past or false ideas will lead you to nothing but giving up your passion.
Now, before getting started: like many things we will be discussing throughout the blog, I always try to remind myself that when we compare the “before and now” we tend to exclude almost everything before the music industry was born, around the 50s. I won’t deepen how many false idols we have built around the “it was ALWAYS better back in the day” so I’d simply point this out: why do we never talk about the fact that for centuries, the average artist was starving, overlooked and poorly considered? In other words, are we aware that the golden era has been an anomaly?
I feel our minds got clouded as we started to take for granted that being an artist was equal to being famous and rich. It was almost NEVER the case for centuries, so we shouldn’t really take the last 50/70 years as the most frequent example. It might seem a digression, but what I’m about to point out is crucial for the next topics to come: as the music industry was born, so did the MUSIC BUSINESS. As the word clearly states, it’s a business. Whoever thinks or thought that the business was promoting and cherishing art is way out of line. It’s always been meant to sell and make money (thus, profit) out of what was the actual product: the vinyl at first, tapes and CDs then.
Marketing and communication were aimed to create awareness among the people (otherwise how could I ever buy an Elvis Presley’s record if I never heard/saw him before?) and to do that, radios, press and TVs used to be the sole playground. In this article I won’t crash my head analyzing if it was talent who made the star shine or if it was fame who created all that: either way, it is important to observe that the star had to be a star, be perceived as alike, put at a significantly higher level than the average human being. It’s too late (and frankly useless, in my opinion) to wonder if that was the only way to let everyone thrive, both the industry and the artist, both people’s admiration and the artistic evolution itself.
What we mentioned above is only useful to realize that music had been turned into a product and business much sooner than now. Does it mean that it’s more or less still the same? Absolutely not. Today’s music industry has changed dramatically over the past two decades; but whereas the tools and the way to create and maintain value have changed, the basic concept is still the same. People do not listen and stream your music for the sake of it but rather for what you represent and the feelings/value that your whole persona is bringing to them.
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. This quote by Jeff Bezos says it beautifully: your brand is like your soul, an omnipresent energy that shall impress into people’s feelings and trigger an idea. That is BRANDING NEVER ENDS. It might hurt and shake many artists’ feelings but that’s simply the truth. You can’t expect to represent an idea if you’re not present, if you don’t communicate properly and consistently. Hey fellas: we chose the path of being a public character so we can’t expect to jump out of our cave whenever we want and have thousands of people waiting for us, before we sneak back into anonymity. In the end, we chose the “public person’s way” so we can’t turn it on and off as if it were a light switch.
Of course, branding in the social media era became more overwhelming than in the past, simply because the window is potentially open on us 24/7 and fans, in order to become so, are no longer satisfied with just our music. Without even considering how much we are penalized by the platform itself if we don’t post regularly, the question doesn’t change the fact that neglecting our communication and branding on these platforms won’t harm no one else but us. If you don’t find the way to fall in love with your storytelling, why should anyone else do it? We have been craving to get visibility and attention and now that we’re potentially exposed to the entire globe daily, we’re whining that it's too stressful?
Aren’t we marvelous contradictory creatures, us artists? I have a lot of suggestions when it comes to how to do branding but it’s actually very difficult (at least for me) to help an artist get to love his/her branding. All I can say is that, if you don’t find the way to genuinely enjoy this (because it is YOUR project, YOUR story, YOUR life) chances are your music career won’t be successful for two reasons: 1) you can’t engage people’s mind if you’re not clear, coherent and consistent; 2) you can’t be successful in something as long as you don’t embrace all aspects of that. No professional loves every single aspect of his job; yet there’s no doubt he shall never make it as a professional, if he doesn’t handle the whole package.
Once this is clarified, how do we approach branding? Yes, because before even starting it, it’s vitally important to define the pillars of how you’ll brand your music project. Setting up a random communication is almost equivalent to not doing it at all (or sometimes even worse, since we may generate a feeling of repulsion). Once the brand’s concept is solid and narrowed down, social media contents and communication in general will be much easier, that I can guarantee.
There are entire conferences, books and material about branding; I’ll try to summarize the most important things I studied and learned while practicing on my own projects.
Your brand is about feelings. It’s about the vibration and sensation (conscious and unconscious) that you shall be causing to people and fans. The sooner you’ll define it and address it, the better your career will go. So, ask yourself: how do I wanna make people feel, whenever they’re getting in touch with anything related to me? What could I be authentically representing for my fans and listeners?
Let me anticipate that although the questions might seem pretty straightforward, the answers are not. If you saw the movie Inception, you’ll know that in order to create an idea in somebody else’s mind and subconscious, it takes a lot of work, consistency and depth. At the beginning, you'll likely come up with “I wanna make them feel happy - I want to tell people about my woes and problems so that people can relate and feel ok with - etc”. This is good to start but it’s far from final.
I won’t tell you how much it took me to find the core of my brand but I can definitely assure it wasn’t easy and the more you’ll dig and won’t accept the generic answers, the more you’ll make it through the core. In any case, I urge you to start from the beginning, because this part is crucial for any project that aims to establish a long term presence.
“For me, marketing is about values” said Steve Jobs during a very famous speech about two decades ago. Now, let’s break it down: Jobs understood that a strong brand must focus and represent values. This concept is strictly connected to the above mentioned topic, though branding, marketing and values are not the same things. We can say that values are the compasses of your branding fleet.
In the 90s, where everybody was frantically producing and talking more and more about the product, what they did, all the features they were able to add to the next model, Jobs started to speak about HOW Apple should make people feel, when using any of their devices. I suggest you watch a very groundbreaking video by Simon Sinek, about the three circles.
This video should shed a light on a concept that still today goes pretty much overlooked: what you do is what people care less. The how and the why will make all the difference.
This concept applies to literally anything, music business included. If you think of any of your music idols, they represent something to you, whether you are conscious or not. That “something” is strengthened and reiterated every day by their communication through social media, radios, TVs, press etc. Anytime you have the chance to “get in touch” with their living brand, you’ll get a boost to that feeling that made you love them and follow them.
Said all this, how do you find your values? Same as for the branding, it starts with questioning yourselves essentially what YOUR values are. A personal brand such as an artist should aim for values that are truly matching with the person behind. Several times I produced artists who wanted to rap, sing and act like the bad boy, stuff their lyrics with alpha man slang and concepts but their persona and look was aiming way far from that. I know it is hard to think out of your personal music tastes but, again, when it comes to who you are and what your values are, the research must be thorough and deep. At first, we usually tend to identify with what we like; although that surely sets a heading, we might discover that most of the time, our values are quite different from what we first identify with. We all spend a significant amount of time in our lives, wanting to be someone without realizing we’re definitely not alike.
Therefore, start writing on a piece of paper what you think your values are, be honest (!!!) with yourself and involve your inner circle during this pursuit: ask them how they perceive you, what they recognize in you etc. This will paint a bigger picture in which you can start comparing whether your self perception is coinciding with your friends’. It’s ok to begin with jotting down a lot of words and concepts but remember: the simpler the better.
Let’s do it with an example. One of my personal and my brand’s values is “to inspire, educate and create awareness” around music. This is one of the characteristics that compose my why. This article represents one of the ways (how) I identified useful to pursue my why. I happen to sing and do music (what). See how it’s all backwards?
This brief example wants to talk about another extremely important aspect in today's communication: anything that is too much self-referential and screams nothing but “look at me, validate me, see how great I am” won’t probably last long. Thus, after I know what my values are, I must be able to create values in other people’s lives. Especially in show business and entertainment, let’s face it: nobody needs (meaning a true need, not a commercial one) a new superstar, a new idol etc. We're flooded with icons and VIP who should represent a status. Despite the fact that the industry is always looking for someone to make money with, we (should) no longer follow somebody just because he/she is famous but rather because that person is actually adding value to our lives.
In an era of influencers and people who have millions of followers doing/saying crappy stuff, this sentence of mine might appear out of line. Well, it’s not. Same as when Jobs spoke like that in the 90s, most tech companies were laughing at his face and telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about, until history proved him right. I am completely aware that being famous doing what everybody else does and following today’s trends is much easier than building a long lasting brand who relies on solid and valuable content. In all cases, it’ll all come down to a personal question: do you want people to praise you because you’re famous or do you want to be famous and loved because you actually create tangible values in people’s lives?
Although both options are legit, I have no doubt about what my answer is.
SOLVING THE SOCIAL MEDIA DILEMMA
The above mentioned concepts are very, very difficult to apply to reality. If, in theory, we all get the meaning, putting them into practice is the real deal. Let me also tell you that more than 50% of any business project isn’t even working thoroughly on this. But instead of taking it seriously, they’d rather blame the digital era, the competitors who drop the prices etc.
The bright side of all this is, at least for me, that the repulsion about social media shall be turned into enthusiasm whenever values and branding strategies are defined. Why is that? Well, it’s pretty simple: once you “find yourself” in terms of how and why your story should be told, what to do will magically reveal before your eyes. Ideas will start to flow in the same way you get inspiration for a new song because you know what your style is and what topic the song will be about.
In other words, I believe the social media love/hate dilemma depends on two very simple things:
1) acceptance that your draw and public persona is and will be played there, period. As we said before, you can’t demand to be public unless you are public. Struggling or wanting to change this won’t take you anywhere.
2) if you don’t know why you’re doing things and who you are (artistically speaking), anytime you’ll need to post something on media you’ll either do it randomly or forcedly. On the other hand, whenever the why and the how of your values are strong, what to post will be as fun as making music; because it’ll still be part of your storytelling and one of the many ways you wish it to be told.
I hope this article could reconcile you a little with the power of storytelling and how important it is that you start addressing your brand strategy right away. After all, making a living out of music depends almost entirely on this.