Marketing Brand Band

Published on November 30th, 2012 | by Hugh Hession


Brand Your Band Pt 1: What is a brand?

There’s no doubt that the biggest challenge music artists face today, is getting more exposure and ultimately, sticking out over the masses. And while online music services and social media make it possible to reach a global audience – you know by now, that creating awareness and connecting with that audience is (still) the biggest obstacle. Wait a second. I thought that the internet was supposed to level the playing field for music artists? Ha!

With all the music 2.0 hype within the past several years, it’s easy to get amnesia. Remember? Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come! So…even though the places you promote and distribute your music have drastically changed, the underlying principles of marketing have not. This is why I decided to write about a crucial piece of your music career puzzle which may very well be the reason why you aren’t achieving the results you want. That missing piece is known as your brand.

What’s a brand?

You’ve seen Sean Combs, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, 50 Cent, and of course Gene Simmons all capitalize on their recognition by selling merchandise and retail products that center around their name. These specific celebrities are no longer just musicians, they are entrepreneurs and more specifically, a brand! Each has distinct features that separates them from others. Those features serve to support an image and/or attitude of how we perceive them in our mind.

You have to understand that successful music artists don’t just happen by accident. There is a massive marketing machine that drives that success. From Lady Gaga to Lil Wayne, it’s not by chance that these music artists have such prominence in the entertainment world and beyond.

The Marketing Spot defines a brand as “the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers (or in your case, your fans). Strong brands elicit opinions, emotions, and sometimes physiological responses from customers.”  Forbes describes a brand as “a specific combination of logo, words, type font, design, colors, personality, price, service, etc. or a bundle of attributes. Think of Volvo, for instance, and your first thoughts are probably going to be something like well built, comfortable, Swedish and, most of all, safety.”

Starbucks is a brand who rose to prominence by teaching us to hate store-bought coffee (yes, there was a time when you couldn’t buy Starbucks at the grocery store). Marketing guru Sergio Zyman (former Chief Marketing Officer of Coca-Cola) in his book The End of Marketing As We Know It, says “One of the reasons that I think the local grocery store has lousy coffee is that Starbucks told me so. It has trained me to expect something better, something different from what I can buy in the supermarket. Starbucks has seized control of the dialogue in the marketplace for coffee…through it’s advertising, its stores, its chirpy but professional young workers, its lattes, cappuccinos, dark wooden counters and fresh roasted distribution system.”

Perception is what drives brand recognition. As a music artist, If you’re perceived as having value, then others will buy into you. You create this value through branding or more specifically, positioning. It’s the very reason why someone might spend more money on a pair of jeans, a guitar or shampoo for that matter. Who do you think has more prestige, Polo or Old Navy? Most of you will answer Polo. It’s because they have successfully positioned themselves in the marketplace as a prestigious brand and as a person who wears Polo, it’s how you’ll be perceived as well, no matter how much money you have.

Here’s my definition of branding as it relates to the music artist. Branding is the process of increasing the perceived value of a musical artist through positive associations to the brand name. The goal is to maximize brand equity – a term used to define what your stake is in the minds of the consumer; which in case would be your fans. (Related Post: Image Branding and Artist Promotion).

Branding = Identity

A brand is developed around a combination of factors that serve to differentiate one from another. It’s the very reason why you might think Coke is better than Pepsi or why AC/DC are the kings of the guitar riff. From Rihanna and Eminem to Ozzy Osbourne and KISS, they all have distinct elements that make them unique. Whether that is a logo, a mannerism, a saying or slogan, their voice, an image or even a certain attitude, these elements all create an identity. I’ll be talking more about brand elements and how they serve to support your brand within the Brand Your Brand series.

Ok. So I’m overhearing some of you say: “Brand…marketing? We want to be real, not some crappy band that was created for the sole purpose of feeding the mainstream, commercial appetites of the teenage demographic.”  Ok. You can always settle for playing local gigs, remaining virtually unknown and being broke. Just sayin! Really, branding isn’t just about the mainstream. You brand yourself to be relevant to your target market.

One of my favorite books is “Why I Failed in the Music Business” by Steve Grossman. In Chapter 3, Steve talks about a time when he was part of the touring band for Wayne Massey and Charly McClain, a successful, Top 40 country duo from the 1980’s. Steve was sitting around with his band making fun of Billy Ray Cyrus (who had just come out with Achy Breaky Heart) and commenting about how stupid he was. Massey overheard them talking and quickly told them that it didn’t matter what they thought. “Billy Ray Cyrus had made 16 million people spend their hard earned money for his music and he was therefore a valid artist and a success in the entertainment industry.” Grossman goes on to say “when we were alone, all we talked about was how he was wrong. It was as if we were encouraging each other to stick with what we knew. But at the end of the trip, we would happily go home to our little homes and our little cars while Wayne and Charly drove their $750,000 bus to their mansion.”

Enough said.

Here’s a great video to leave you with, on artist branding featuring KISS, Soulja Boy and Cee Lo Green, from WSJ. It’s over 30 minutes long, but it’s well worth the watch.  More to come!

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About the Author

owns and operates Emerging Artists Entertainment Marketing & Consulting, LLC - a company devoted to cultivating aspiring music artists, He is also the head of Hession Entertainment Group, LLC (artist management) and the Music Industry Liaison for the artist discovery site, TalentWatch ( He has over 25 years experience in the music business as a performer, composer, producer and artist manager. Hugh holds a BA in Marketing and is a professional member of NARIP and a voting member of The Recording Academy. He often speaks at seminars and workshops on artist development.

2 Responses to Brand Your Band Pt 1: What is a brand?

  1. Jay Ehret says:

    The myth about branding is that it’s something you dream up on a storyboard. Really, branding is just an extension of your entrepreneurial soul. True branding is taking the real you and making it more interesting. You don’t have to sell your soul to a meat dress to get good branding. Lady Gaga is a gimmick, not a brand (I guess that is really her brand). But you do have to have qualities other than your music with which fans can have a relationship. Otherwise you just have some music, not a band brand.

    Thanks for sharing a link to my post on branding.

    Jay Ehret
    Dean of Marketing Know-How

    • Hugh Hession says:

      Hello Jay. Thanks so much for stopping by. I agree with what you say regarding how branding is an extension of who you are. As Russell Simmons says, “any kind of lasting change is rooted in honesty. If people think you are being authentic, they are going to support you.” In this day, the record business has turned into the “entertainment business.” As you say, to be relevant, artists need to create a connection with their fans. To me, when that connection is established through those other “qualities,” that in turn creates demand for the music. What I often see happening, is that musician’s tend to push the music, then the brand. It’s the other way around!

      Spot on commentary, Jay. To learn more about marketing, please visit Jay’s site at

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