Music Branding 101 (Part One) - Putting the ® in Band

Long gone are the days when a band could just be a band – when the record label executive whispers in your ear, “I hope you’re ready, kid, because you’re about to go on one hell of a ride” (quote from Roulette Records founder Morris Levy, from the book “Me, the Mob, and the Music” by Tommy James). While the band recorded and performed the music, it was the record label behind the scenes transforming songs into hits – tour support (sort of), money for production (sort of), and most importantly, radio “promotion” (most definitely). The musician’s psyche was to play music, be a performer, find hit songs and record them; it was not directly focused on developing an identity, a brand.

And while there are always exceptions to the rule, the accepted paradigm has been that bands play music and companies (brands themselves) develop band awareness. But these days, the band is just another commodity to the company (record label, production house, corporate sponsor, etc…). Sure, if you provide a return on the investment, the company will keep you around; but fail to deliver financial returns, and you’ll soon be back in the land of anonymity. And while the DIY era empowered artists and bands to develop their own identities through access to relatively inexpensive recording equipment, online merchandise stores, and millions of fans waiting in the wings on the Internet, most DIY’ers and signed artists are still missing the most important aspect of these new found freedoms and abilities – b®anding.

A band is a business, an entity that needs to create, develop, and sustain a brand identity. There are three main reasons for creating brand identity:

  1. Establish a consistent, uniform identity so that fans can remain loyal. This doesn’t mean that a band must be pigeon-holed into a particular style of musicality. Your music, first and foremost, and then your design features are what attracts and retains fans. They want to be a part of something bigger then themselves.
  2. Separate your band from the clutter. The statistics are staggering: according to Soundscan, of the 200,000 album releases in 2009, only 1,319 sold 10,000 copies or more – a good benchmark for sustaining longevity. That’s .65%! Less than 1%. Its not good enough to simply distribute your album on iTunes or set up a website. No one will find you. The music business is very crowded right out of the gates. Your band needs to rise above the clutter – a brand identity  (along with great songs) should be your driving force. And like success in any industry, developing your brand and, ultimately your band, takes time and consistency. The music business is a marathon, not a sprint. Start thinking long term.
  3. Develop merchandise and endorsement deals. Great music and show performance assists in creating your band’s identity. It helps you sell your music. But these days, music sales aren’t enough. It is the music that enables your band to do so much more. Music = Band Identity = Brand = Merchandise and Sponsorships. While t-shirts, hoodies, and other clothing options are important, you have to begin thinking about merchandising opportunities that are unique, consistent with the brand awareness you are trying to establish, and will enable to you separate your band from the rest. It is also crucial that your band seek out synergistic sponsorship opportunities.
    Think creatively. And while endorsements are best left to a band manager to work on, you might not have that luxury when first starting out. Back when Run-DMC recorded the song, “My Adidas”, Run asked all the fans at the concert to show him their Adidas. Run-DMC’s manager recorded it, sent the video to Adidas. Adidas offered them a $5 million dollar endorsement deal. The point, however, is not to sell out for money. It is to establish your band’s identity through brands that you already support, brands that have a loyal fan base, brands that you promote you to that fan base – its called natural synergy. And while it doesn’t start at Run-DMC levels, it should start somewhere.

This is the music business. Passion should drive your music. Branding must drive your business. It requires thought and planning. Focus on quality and appearance. Hire a graphic artist to select a distinguishing font for the band name, create a sick logo. You are responsible for your identity. Long gone are the days where you can sit back and wait to be taken on that “one hell of a ride”.

From a legal standpoint, a lot of thinking needs to be done before your band name is selected or a logo is pressed onto hundreds of t-shirts. The world of branding revolves closely around trademark law. In Part Two, we’ll take a closer look at the importance of obtaining a registration for your brand with the United States Patent & Trademark Office.

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