Your music is solid, or at least getting there. You practice your DJing and mixing skills on the regular, and you’re making somewhat of a name in your local scene (you are building up a local scene, right?) While you probably won’t be the next Deadmau5, you think your upcoming EP could really put you on the map for smaller labels.
But wait! Your Soundcloud profile picture was made in Photoshop two years ago when you were bored in the computer lab. When your aunt wants to hear your tunes, you tell her to “Google [artist name] and then go to the second page and the fourth result is my Twitter which has a link to my Soundcloud.” Your Bandcamp page contains a splattering of old singles and your Facebook page only has 80 likes, which are mostly from your mother’s friends.
Face it: you have a branding problem.
Before we get started, here’s what we’re going to walk away with after reading this article:
- A basic understanding of artist branding online
- A brand-building checklist
What is an artist brand?
Effective artist brands are made up of three things: a simple image or icon that sums up your music, the listener’s experience with your music, and an ethos.
First, the image. Feed Me’s instantly-recognizable little green monster. KOAN’s painted circle. Aaron Wayne’s AW logo. What makes these great? They’re uniquely representative of the artist’s music, simple enough to be considered iconographic, and consistent. Every release by these artists and their Soundcloud profiles are littered with their icons. The effect: you know whose music you’re listening to instantly, and so does everyone else.
Second, the listener experience. This is something most people overlook far too often, even bigger names. In an age where the online music signal : noise ratio is so skewed, your music should be effortless to listen to. The more consistent and easy the path to your music is, the more people will listen. Let’s look at some examples.
The Importance of Accessibility and Consistency
Take your average hobbyist Soundcloud account. Most tracks can be streamed, but a fair few only have a snippet preview. A couple tracks can be downloaded directly for free, others you have to like their Facebook page, and for one of them you have to like someone else’s Facebook page. Accessing their music is full of obstacles and reaches, and not at all consistent. To a casual passing listener, this is poison. Your music has to be easy to consume.
What does that look like?
In 2011, before Popeska was picked up by Wolfgang Gartner, he built a strong following online.
Popeska didn’t have a fancy social media plan or even a Facebook page until 2012. However, Popeska was special because it was easy to become his fan.
Popeska put out roughly one track every two weeks, all of which were on his Soundcloud and directly downloadable in .wav format. The tone he used to write song descriptions and his artist profile was casual and down-to-earth.
The Soundcloud populace downloaded his tracks, “Followed” him because they could depend on him putting out more free music in the future, and then shared Popeska’s music with their friends.
Popeska blew up.
Make your music accessible, and make yourself easy to share. Protohype and Candyland also used this philosophy to double their followers and triple their Facebook “likes” in around two months in early 2012.
Your artist ethos is what you’re all about.
Kill Paris is all about the funky fusion of electronic and sounds of classic pop. Everything about his brand, from his album art to his interviews reflect that ethos.
Black Sun Empire is all about the tumbling violence of their basslines and other-worldly percussion, and again, everything about them reflects it.
Durante is all about groovy house sounds mixed with modern production. What are you all about? What stands out the second someone listens to a track of yours on Soundcloud and how does your logo or color scheme represent that?
Why is it important?
Achieving this cohesion with your artist brand is important in creating consistency and thus spreading your music to more people.
If your goals include joining a label or touring, the stronger your brand baseline is, the more likely you are to be noticed, and the more weight your word will have when approaching A&R managers and Artist Relations people.
In short, having a strong baseline shows you’re serious and capable of taking action.
But I just do this as a hobby!
If you’re not looking to make any sort of side-career in music, so what?
Why not have the best-organized and best-presented personal hobby? It shows those around you that you have passion for something in your life and are serious about that passion.
As Thomas L. Friedman said in a recent NYTimes Opinion piece, life is about the Passion Quotient as much as the Intelligence Quotient.
Taking Action with the Artist Branding Checklist
Unfortunately, your brand doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t grow naturally with your music like some sort of freaky plant.
However, there are ways to rapidly and easily build the foundations of your brand, for which we’ve made a checklist.
This checklist covers the two critical platforms: Facebook and Soundcloud. Download a .pdf copy of this checklist, print it off, and do one task every day (appropriately making motivating check marks for completed tasks).
1. Turn your Soundcloud into a Fan-Machine
When you’re a small artist, your Soundcloud is one of the few metrics you can use to get an idea of your fan-base.
Because your Soundcloud is where most potential fans will stumble upon your glorious tunes at first, you need to make it a conversion machine that takes casual listeners and converts them to fans in the shortest amount of time possible.
The core of this is all riding on the fact that your music is solid, but there are a lot of things you can do to increase your “conversion rate.”
A) Organize your tunes and remove clutter
If your Soundcloud looks like a music-bomb went off and threw unfinished WIP clips and reposts everywhere, that’s bad. Remove the reposts (unless they’re a project you were involved in), and get rid of the WIP clips.
This is a musical showcase. You wouldn’t fill your resume with other people’s accomplishments, no matter how cool they were. So don’t fill your musical gallery with other people’s work or unfinished things. If the WIP is so good that you just have put it out or else you’ll die, finish the track and post the full thing instead. Exercise some self-restraint and lose the vanity.
B) Make tracks downloadable and shareable
Don’t be afraid to give away your music. When a potential fan downloads your tune, they put it on their .mp3 player or phone and then literally carry it around with them in their life, associating it with new memories and experiences.
This is the best thing that could happen with your music. Why would you prevent that? Because someone might steal your track? First, if someone steals your music: great, it’s a sign you’re making sick tunes. Second, the next track is going to be better, and the next EP is going to be 5x as good as that track, so don’t worry about it (after getting your friends to post large amounts of comments on the stolen track about its true nature, of course).
Your career will never ride on one quality track. If it does, it’s not a career: it’s a fluke.
C) Write good track descriptions
Good track descriptions are difficult. A lot of people post odd inside jokes about music production or weird quotes or something quirky.
These types of descriptions don’t help you and they don’t help possible fans.
Instead, talk briefly about the track and then list a couple of links to your Facebook or your twitter. Don’t get too touchy-feely, that can be petty and will turn people off.
2. Engage Using Facebook
In his book on social media marketing, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook , Gary Vee talks about the two extremes of social media. One is “I just ate a bagel” and the other is “Buy the new BlaBla EP on iTunes or Beatport today.”
Jab (soft updates) vs. Right Hook (asking someone to do something that benefits you). In order to tell people what you’re all about and grow your fan base, you want a mix of both. Create a Facebook fan-page if you don’t have one already.
A) Create a clean header
One of the first things to do is create a clean, relevant header for your page. It could show your most recent release or it could be a larger version of your logo or some themed artwork (that you didn’t steal from someone’s deviantArt page).
B) Engage with your fans intelligently
At the minimum you should engage with a fan on a high level once per week. That means you post something interesting, a fan responds, and you respond to create a conversation about something interesting, not just “I love your music” “I do too, buy it!”
Have real conversations and build real relationships with real people. This is how you create long-lasting and hardcore fans.
C) Offer free bootlegs and mixes
Free goodies are always a good way to go. Bootlegs, side projects, short WIPs and the like should all be given away to people on Facebook occasionally.
It’ll make other DJs love you. Fans appreciate extra free content, which they share, and then everyone wins.
D) Use consistent tone/copy
Are you like Popeska whose Facebook and Twitter are entirely devoid of punctuation and capitalization? Or are you always formal but a little bit snarky in Coyote Kisses or Hybrid Minds -style?
Whichever it is, choose a tone and stick to it. Creative strategists call this a copy platform, as it is the reference point and guidelines from which all of your written interaction, or “copy” is created.
3. Be so Awesome they can’t not Become your Fan
This step isn’t so much a check as a mindset to hold. When you present a clear artist image, and you give out free music consistently, it’s easy for someone to justify clicking the “Follow” and “Like” buttons. Take that a step further, engage with your audience in clever ways and hold intelligent conversations, and people can’t help but love you for life.
Once people identify as your fan publicly, they spread your music and your ethos. That’s how huge movements are built. Artists like Savant, Arty, and Bro Safari all grew this way.
The Bottom Line
Make yourself easy to love. Use the checklist above to improve your brand over time. Creating a cohesive image and message to carry your music will put you ahead of the rest, and even if you make music for yourself, put the effort in, learn some new skills, and show you’re serious about your hobbies.