Music Marketing for the DIY Musician

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Business Basics for Musicians

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Copyright © 2016 By Bobby Borg 


When many musicians think about promoting their careers, they think solely about accomplishing certain tasks, such as creating Youtube videos, building profiles on social media sites, and building personal Websites. But without first thinking long and hard about what you’re trying to communicate to your target audience, your precious time and hard-earned promotional dollars can result in zilch, nada, or nothing! And needless to say, that would totally suck. This is why interpreting and defining a brand identity is so crucial to your career. 

            What follows is a brief summary of what interpreting and defining your brand identity entails, how branding can benefit your career, and how you can start to construct a brand identity of your own (or just polish up the one you already have). To close the article, we’ll examine three different groups (world, rap, and alternative rock) and showcase their branding strategies.



Interpreting and defining your brand identity involves thinking clearly about the image that best resonates with your target fans, making decisions about important elements (like your genre, name, logo, personality, looks, and product packaging), and then conveying one consistent, honest, and believable message in all of your marketing communications.

         By interpreting and defining your brand identity, you’re promotional messages will not only be more engaging and persuasive, your brand will appear be more relatable to your target audience and stand for something clear and unique in their minds. This is the essence of smart promotion, building awareness, and ultimately making healthy sales. Always remember, “The clearer the communication, the greater the renumeration.”

         Understand that without a clear brand identity to guide you, you’ll appear lost in the marketplace, like a tree without roots, reaching out in several different directions but without a firm hold on solid ground. You’ll also appear unpredictable—something customers recognize easily and see as a reason to withdraw their allegiance to you, or never pledge their allegiance to you in the first place.

         Make no mistake: Interpreting and identifying your brand identity is crucial to your career.



To build a strong company brand and increase your promotion effectiveness, answer the following eight questions and make adjustments to your career as you see necessary:  


       Do your songs all have one cohesive style, and can you describe that style clearly (e.g., World, rap, country, pop, reggae, or some unique combination of styles)?

       Do your lyrics communicate a coherent message, and can you summarize that message in a few words (world peace, civil rights, life in the hood, having fun, etc.)?

       Does your band name project the vibe of your music and lyrics, and can you explain the meaning behind that name concisely (e.g., Marilyn Manson is composed of the names Marilyn Monroe [a beautiful movie star] and Charles Manson [a jailed murderer] to reinforce his glam/metal sound)?

       Do the typefaces, colors, and images associated with your logo set a consistent mood, and can that mood be easily described (e.g., Pink uses a bold typeface and pink colors in her logo to convey her femininity and strong personality, and Mariah Carey displays her name in an elegant typeface with a small butterfly to convey her soft,  feminine vibe)?

       Do you have a fashion style that matches your music and can it be described distinctly (e.g., Nicki Minaj’s colorful” costumes and wigs match her over the top alter ego personality and animated rap style, and Tony Bennett’s well-pressed suits and ties match his classy behavior and his elegant jazz style)?

       Are your stage designs for your live performances intended to offer fans a certain experience, and can that experience be summed up clearly (e.g., visually amazing” like Pretty Lights, or intimate and stripped down” like Arthur Lee Land)?

       Do the organizations (charities, fund-raisers, foundations, etc.) with which you are associated with reinforce your overall values in life and song, and can these values be expressed easily in interviews (e.g., Ani DiFranco sang about contemporary social issues and supported certain political campaigns and human rights groups)? And finally…

       Is the brand identity you communicate to your audience overall cohesive in all aspects of your career, and is it something that will appear to be honest, believable, unique, interesting, and consistent compared to your musical competitors?


            The above elements should help you to understand more about who you are and what you’d like to project, while also helping you better align your identity with that of your fans.               

To be sure, whether you’re a county/pop rocker with Christian/family values,” or a metal madman with a passion for mayhem,” interpreting and defining your brand will help you choose the right words and graphics in your advertisements, feature the right colors on your website pages, use appropriate font families on your promotional flyers, arrange sponsorships with the right product brands, and look the part” in publicity photos and videos. Overall, you’ll be more relatable. You’ll stand for something clear that the fans can come to depend on time and time again.

            Now, let’s conduct a very brief brand analysis by looking at three different artists: Gabby Moreno, Cypress Hill, and Ani DeFranco.


Case Study 1: Singer/Songwriter Gaby Moreno

Gaby Moreno’s core audience consists of Guatemalan/American music fans who appreciate quality music, meaningful lyrics, family values, art, and travel. 

            Her genre is World,” a blend of Latin, blues, pop, soul, and jazz music. Her lyrics are real-world sung in both Spanish and English. Her look is classy and retro---she wears vintage flapper dresses, beaded headbands, and fancy hats. Her personality is friendly, warm, and gentle.

            Gaby posts pictures of her travels around the globe on social networks, seeks interviews in a variety of cultural magazines, and performs on radio stations with world music formats (such as the National Public Radio station KCRW in Santa Monica).

            Additionally, Gaby performs in art galleries and at world music festivals, her album artwork features scenic paintings and photographs, and her performances feature a variety of musicians and instruments. What’s more, Gaby supports charities for needy kids in Guatemala.

            Bottom line: Gaby’s brand is seamless. From her products to her promotion---she conveys a consistent, clear, relevant, believable, and endearing brand identity to her audience in everything that she does. She is a worldly, sophisticated, bi-lingual artists. Her fans are extremely loyal and view her as one of their tribe.


Case Study 2: Cypress Hill

Dedicated to meeting the needs of those who want more than just your typical hip hop band, Cypress Hill targets young, harder-edged hip hop fans who are heavily into the marijuana culture. Be clear that I am not advocating the group’s behavior, but rather attempting to show that their band’s brand is strong, clear, and rather consistent. Read on.

            Since its first record in 1991, Cypress Hill has sent out very powerful and direct brand messages to its target market advocating (or celebrating) marijuana use as a lifestyle and attitude, from releasing songs titled, Mr. Green Thumb,” to getting banned from Saturday Night Live for lighting up a joint on the air, to securing interviews in magazines like High Times. Additionally the band has manufactured a number of T-shirt designs incorporating a marijuana leaf.

            In October 2010, the band organized the Cypress Hill SmokeOut—an event positioned as an all-day, mind-opening music festival” featuring several high-energy bands, as well as panel discussions advocating for Prop 19 and the legalization of medical marijuana in California. The event has been hugely successful and has been reoccurring every year with a new line up of bands and panel topics.

            Cypress Hill not only knows and understands its fans, it knows how to customize its products/services to appeal powerfully to the market, how to place its products/services where its audience wants and expects them, and how to craft emotionally appealing brand communications across all media to connect with its audience. With 18 million albums sold worldwide, and 11 million records sold in the U.S. alone, Cypress Hill is a strong brand that hits its market bulls-eye.


Case Study 3: Singer/Songwriter Ani DeFranco

Singer/songwriter Ani DeFranco is the voice of those who lack an outlet for expressing their political and social views. Her core audience consists of politically active college students, particularly those of the left wing, who believe in social change and equality for all.

            Her musical style is real, natural, and alternative folk/rock—-certainly not the typical pop bubblegum one might hear on commercial radio stations. Her look is anti-corporate—-she often sports a shaved head and wears muscle T-shirts giving off more masculine and powerful look.

            Being a very opinionated and openly bi-sexual person, DeFranco also writes songs about homophobia, racism, and reproductive rights. In 2004, she organized her own tour called Vote Damn it” to urge people to vote for the rights of the oppressed and marginalized.

            As a testament to her strong brand, DiFranco received the "Woman of Courage Award" in 2006 at the National Organization for Women Conference and Young Feminist Summit in Albany, New York. In 2009, she became a Woody Guthrie Award recipient, as a voice of positive social change. Needless to say, these awards only further established her already strong brand.

            DoFranco executes one clear and consistent brand across multiple media channels and she scores big with her fans. Amongst all of the clutter in the music business and the thousands of other artists in which she must compete for attention, DiFranco stands for something clear and distinctive in the minds of her target fans.



Interpreting and defining your brand identity involves thinking about the image that best resonates with your target fans, deciding on important elements (like your genre, name, logo, personality, looks, and product packaging), and then making sure to convey one consistent, honest, and believable message in all of your marketing communications. Make no mistake, this an important step in preparing to promote your music. Remember, without a clear idea of what you are trying to communicate to your audience, you could very easily go unnoticed in the overcrowded marketplace. And needless to say, that would suck.

            So quit saying, no image is your image.” If you need help with deciding what your brand is all about, you can always look at other artists in your genre to see what they are doing or  ask people who fit your target audience what they think of your brand. You can also consult with professionals, like graphic designers, stylists, and music business consultants who come highly recommended by people you trust. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me as well at Peace and Good luck!


Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician, Business Basics For Musicians, and Five Star Music Makeover (Published By Hal Leonard Books). All of these books available at fine book stores and at AMAZON in both physical and kindle version.







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