How To Build Your Brand As A Musician
There are over 2 million artists on Spotify and millions more earn their trade outside of this platform.
Music is one of the most diverse professions in the world and can be incredibly hard to break into.
The majority of musicians are unsigned. They either earn a living playing pubs, clubs, and events, or they spend their days writing music, recording songs, and trying to get the attention of a major label.
The social media age has made it easier than ever to get your name and your music out there, but it has also increased the competition.
Trying to get noticed in a sea of professional musicians, talent show contestants, and YouTube stars can feel like swimming against the tide.
It doesn’t matter how hard you work and how much you push yourself; you always seem to end up right where you started.
This week’s episode can benefit everyone trying to establish a personal brand, whether you’re a published author, an aspiring painter, or a renowned poet.
The processes and techniques are the same and the tips apply to all artists. However, we will be leaning slightly toward the musician side of things. It’s one of the toughest industries and it’s also the one that lends itself perfectly to personal branding.
If you’re trying to get signed, increase your global exposure, or just want to cement your reputation as a local performer, take a look at the following advice.
Which Platforms Should You Prioritize?
When it comes to which platform you should prioritize, Jordan’s advice is similar to the advice of Kristina Bucaram and other superstars of social media, which is that you should join all platforms but focus on one.
You spread yourself thin, to begin with, but in time, and usually in the space of just a few weeks, you’ll find that one or two platforms provide you with more exposure and more engagement than the others.
Once you see those results and can back them with actual metrics, as opposed to just assumptions, you focus on those platforms a little more.
For example, let’s say that I am a guitar god with the voice of an angel.
It’s a stretch, but let’s run with it.
My goal is to sell myself as a session musician and a solo artist while potentially attracting the attention of an established band in need of a frontman.
I might begin my journey by joining Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram—covering all bases.
I create videos showcasing my skills as a virtuoso and follow these with the occasional picture of me strutting my stuff on stage.
After two weeks, I post a video that shows me busking on the streets (even rock gods have to give a little back). The video goes viral on Facebook and I see a surge in both Facebook and YouTube traffic, with very little activity on other networks.
At this point, it makes sense to stick with Facebook and YouTube. This is where I would spend more of my time, whether that means creating unique content, updating fans, and/or responding to comments.
But that doesn’t mean that the others should be dismissed entirely.
A viral video that worked well on Facebook can be tried on TikTok. A song that blew up on YouTube can be posted to Instagram, and as your followers grow, you can encourage them to join you on other networks.
However, there is no point devoting your limited time and resources to platforms that just aren’t working for you.
It’s not just about virality, either. You shouldn’t wait for a viral video/post before making that decision. If you find that you’re struggling to keep up with the demands of so many platforms, focus more on the ones that seem to be working, as well as the ones that are best suited to your style of content.
For instance, if you’re all about short video snippets and your music targets a younger audience, TikTok is ideal. If you prefer long-form and wide-ranging videos, focus on YouTube.
As Jordan described during the episode, you go wide and then you go deep.
In terms of promoting your music, more is better.
You’re not creating exclusive content for Spotify and iTunes and you don’t need to post that content every day or even every week. You release music, you make it available, and then you focus on promoting it.
It makes sense to use all available music platforms.
It can be a little different for artists and authors, however.
As an author on the Amazon Publishing platform, you’re given benefits when you make your book exclusive to them, and because Amazon accounts for more than 95% of total eBook sales, it makes sense to stick with them.
You may find similar benefits when working with online art galleries and photography websites, in which case you need to compare the benefits they’re offering with their total market share.
As an example, many desktop gaming developers focus purely on Windows, as it can be tricky to make their games compatible with other platforms. They’ve determined that the cost of compatibility is not worth the additional sales that Mac/Linux support could bring.
What If It Doesn’t Happen For Me?
The music industry is incredibly competitive. In every town, there are dozens of bands and solo artists trying to make it and they all have access to social media.
Simply putting yourself out there and creating some unique pieces of content won’t guarantee your success. It’s a long and difficult road, but if you persist, you’ll get there eventually.
Think of it this way: Every time that you post a video or image, there is a chance it could be seen by an executive who likes what they see and is willing to take a chance on you.
You’re buying a lottery ticket with every post that you create and eventually, your numbers could come in.
And just like the lottery, the jackpot isn’t the only prize.
Maybe that post will be seen and shared by another artist or celebrity. Maybe a big brand will purchase the rights to your song so they can use it in a commercial. Maybe none of that will happen, but you’ll develop a cult following and sell a lot of music and merchandise.
Just persist, work hard, keep going, and if your music is good and your content is solid, it will happen eventually.
You might not be the next Justin Bieber, but you’ll certainly grow your following and your reputation and take things to the next level.
Of course, it can be hard to take if your first few songs flop completely, especially if you were confident of their success and consider them to be your best work.
But rather than seeing those songs as failures, consider them as a part of your growing portfolio.
When you eventually do have a breakout song, everything that went before will be crucial for your success.
As an example, a friend of mine spent over 10 years trying to make it as an author. He wrote novel after novel and with every successive story, he tried and failed to get representation.
Rather than letting it get to him, he just moved onto the next book. He kept working hard, focusing on the future and not the past, and eventually, he got the publishing contract he had always wanted.
At that point, any other first-time author might have signed a 2 or 3 book deal and then spent the next few years writing those books while worrying about the sales and being hassled with edits and marketing requests.
But because he had all of that previous work, he was able to sign an 8 book contract, pocket a sizeable advance, and look forward to a 4-year period in which he would publish 2 books a year without needing to write anything new.
As a musician, it’s great if your first song is a massive success, but when the record companies knock on your door, they’ll want you to write many more, they’ll expect them to be just as good, and because you’ll have money and expectations behind you, it will be harder for you to create to the same high standard and with the same degree of freedom.
On the other hand, if you already have that portfolio, you can give them those songs, record your album, and spend the next few months relatively stress-free.
Be Creative, Different, And Unique
Whether you’re an aspiring musician or an established artist, you need to create engaging, meaningful, and unique content.
If you have a voice or skill that stands out on its own, one that is truly better than anything else out there, that should be your main focus.
But let’s be honest, for every truly extraordinarily talented musician, there are a hundred others who make it because they work hard, have a knack for songwriting, are completely unique, or have a personality that speaks to people.
And even if you do have a great voice or talent, does that mean you should only post videos showcasing your talent? Of course not.
Many brands and individuals make the mistake of seeing social media as a platform to sell themselves.
As I discussed with Brittany Krystle, they treat social media like a free billboard that the world can see. But that’s not how it works.
Just because you sell soft drinks, doesn’t mean your feed should be filled with promotions for your latest drinks and your upcoming flavors. And by the same token, just because you’re a musician doesn’t mean you should only post yourself playing music.
There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, if your content consists of little more than acoustic videos, it gets very boring very quickly. Secondly, even if the content is well-produced and super stylish, the whole point of social media is to connect to your followers, and you can’t do that if you don’t speak to them and welcome them into your life.
Mix things up. Do something different, and if you’re struggling for ideas, see what others are doing.
Just make sure you look at up-and-coming creators as opposed to established ones. When you’re an established artist like Lady Gaga, you have a legion of fans that will hang onto your every word and appreciate everything that you do.
If you give them a free performance, they’ll get excited and will share it like crazy. But they’re professional, award-winning, platinum-selling artists who typically charge $50+ for tickets to their show. You’re just one of the millions of amateur artists giving it away for free.
Kim Kardashian is another great example. She could spend the next year posting nothing but pictures of her breakfast and she would still get millions of likes.
You can’t do that when you’re unknown.
People care about what Kim Kardashian eats, likes, and says, but they don’t care about you.
Your content doesn’t have to revolve around music. It helps to throw plenty of cover songs and original music into the mix, along with some original music videos and live shows, but you can also vlog, talk about controversial topics, review other performances/albums, and do anything that will appeal to your target audience and incentivize them to follow you.
It also helps to change things up every now and then.
If you already have an established following, it’s the only way to stay relevant when trends change, your audience looks for new and exciting things, and the next generation is no longer interested in what you’re doing.
You only need to look at the history of YouTube to see this.
Of the many big names that dominated the site in the early years, only a small percentage remains. They have the experience and they know the platform better than anyone, so they should be perfectly placed to succeed, but more often than not, they lost their followers and it’s because they get stuck in a rut.
They continue doing what they have always done because that’s what worked for them. When they finally realize that they need to change, it’s already too late.
In the past, I’ve used the TV show Kitchen Nightmares as an example and it’s one that works here as well.
When money is at stake, people are very scared to take a risk and make a change. Those failing restaurant owners refuse to change their menus and insist that doing so would alienate their customers, even though they don’t have many customers left to alienate.
They’re scared that they’ll lose the limited customers they have, and so they dig their heels in, bury their heads, and eventually just fade into obscurity.
If you’re still trying to build a following, changing things every now and then ensures you’re staying on top of the latest trends, appealing to the latest generation, and doing something that could give you the exposure that you need.
Jordan used Will Smith as an example.
He’s a household name. A superstar. And when he joined YouTube and other social media sites, he benefited from an instant following as people wanted some insights into his life and his personality.
But rather than resting on his laurels and keeping things simple, he injected some life and creativity into his videos.
He hired video editors and a creative team, and he approached it in the same way that an established YouTube channel would. As a result, he quickly became one of the biggest names on the site and while many other celebrities have seen their mainstream followings stagnant, his is growing at a phenomenal rate.
Don’t Fake It
In the old days, celebrities could be anything they wanted to be. They molded their public personalities with help from PR gurus while ensuring that nothing too controversial or damaging ended up in the tabloids.
Today, it’s a different story entirely.
We’re connected to the celebrities that we admire. We have direct insight into their lives, and as a result, we’ve become better at spotting frauds.
If you want to follow in the footsteps of your idols, you need to be honest and genuine. You can’t try to sculpt what you think is the ideal personality because even if you get away with it now, you’ll be exposed further down the line.
The great thing about the modern world and its need for honesty is that no one really cares what you like or what you do, as long as you’re genuine and kind.
Some of the most successful pop stars are anxious and awkward. They are the geeky and slightly weird personalities that would have been derided by the tabloids in the 80s and 90s but are adored in the 2020s.
In other words, if you’re a little awkward and shy, don’t hide it behind a veil of fake confidence and arrogance, embrace it, because that’s what people want to see.
As your following grows, expose more of your life and your personality. Of course, there are limits, and while most people are good, there is a small percentage who only seek to do harm and cause trouble.
In recent years, we have seen an alarming increase in the number of influencers being stalked by obsessive fans.
When you invite people into your lives and try to simulate that one-on-one personal connection, you will inevitably get a few people who take it too far and think that a relationship exists when it does not.
It works both ways, as well. Influencers live in their own little bubbles. They have a dedicated fanbase following everything that they do and praising everything that they create. They seek that validation, and they start believing that those millions of followers genuinely love them, care for them, and will protect them.
But while that might be true for the majority, there will always be a few rotten apples in the bunch.
As a result, it’s important not to overshare, especially if your personality is controversial.
By all means, tell people about yourself, show them your pets and your creation process, but be wary about exposing your children, your home address, and other highly personal information.
It can be pretty daunting to manage all of those social media accounts yourself, and if your grammar isn’t great, your editing skills are terrible, and you’re not accustomed to running social media accounts, it feels like an impossibility.
But there are always ways to make it work.
In the first instance, you have a wealth of guides, podcasts, and videos to help you out. I’ve recorded 24 hours of This Week With Sabir episodes, highlighting everything from personal branding tips to e-commerce advice and more.
Those videos also have 2,000- to 5,000-word guides attached, going into further detail about each topic and spanning over 100,000 words in total.
If you have the time and the will, you can learn about every facet of this industry and acquire the tools you need to grow.
If you’re lacking specialist skills or time, you can hire someone else to do the work for you. For instance, you can hire a writer to deal with the copy while you focus on the videos.
There’s no point wasting several hours writing something that would take a professional just a few minutes.
If you have a sizeable budget behind you, hire someone like Jordan, who has all of the knowledge and experience needed to take your personal brand into the stratosphere. If not, delegate the work carefully, focusing on the things that you do best and hiring cheap freelancers to do the rest.
For less than $8 an hour, you can hire experienced remote workers from countries like the Philippines and India. They’ll take over the menial tasks, free up some of your time, and allow you to focus on doing the things you do best.
You can use sites like Upwork to find capable writers, and these are always preferable to hiring your friends and family, which is something that Jordan specifically warns against.
Musicians like to keep their friends and family close, often hiring them as part of their marketing teams and keeping them in their entourage. But they don’t have the skills you need to succeed, and they are more inclined to take advantage of you.
It doesn’t matter how close you are and how much you love them; if they don’t want to work, they’ll feed you an excuse knowing that you’ll take it. If they make a mistake, they know you’ll forgive them.
What’s more, when you realize that things aren’t working and you need to hire someone else, it will be hard to get rid of them.
If you insist on hiring people you know and love and you have the budget for it, give them tasks that don’t impact your reputation or your profits, and leave all of that for the experts.
Differences In Branding For Businesses Vs Celebrities
I’ve spoken a lot about branding here on This Week With Sabir.
You could be forgiven for thinking that it all falls under the same umbrella and that what applies to a business should apply to the individual.
To quote an old expression, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Right? Well, not quite.
Jordan explained it briefly, but we can also use previous episodes as an example.
For instance, in Episode 9 I spoke with fitness influencer, wrestler, and entrepreneur Nick Aldis. He talked about how he slowly established a following, built his personal brand from the ground up, and used his reputation and followers to launch new products and services.
Throughout this process, he had to maintain close contact with those followers. They were his audience, his beta testers, and his critics all in one.
If he launched a product that they all hated, he couldn’t simply shrug off their comments and carry on regardless.
On the flip side, you have the brand marketing side of things.
Established brands have a following of sorts, but it’s a following of interested consumers and not diehard fans.
If Nick messes up, his fans will heed his apology, trust his sincerity, and give him another chance. If a major brand makes the same mistake, customers will leave in search of greener pastures.
Those customers won’t buy everything that the brand sells, nor will they support everything that it does. To get its products out there, it needs to invest money, target new and old customers, and cover all bases.
Personal branding and business branding are vastly different and need equally unique approaches.
Imagine that you’re trying to build a house that you intend to sell for a profit.
On one site, you have a complete foundation and frame, along with a property boundary. You’re limited in what type of property you can build and have to work within those constraints, but as most of the work is done for you, it’s a much cheaper process and means you have a greater margin of profit.
On the other site, you have nothing but a vast open space. There’s no foundation, no boundary, nothing. You have the freedom to build whatever you want but doing so is going to cost you a lot of money and the risk of complete financial failure is much greater.
As noted by Jordan, the time that brands and celebrities invest in a product also differs greatly.
If you’re running an ad campaign for Coca-Cola, it can provide you with all of the resources that you need, including cash, employees, and whatever industry connections it has. There’s always someone on the end of the phone; there’s always an answer to the most pertinent questions.
If you’re helping a major pop star to launch a new beauty product or fragrance, they won’t always be on the end of the phone, and they’ll be too busy writing, recording, and performing to devote their time to a new project.
As someone looking to promote your own products, you can learn from this.
In many ways, when brands throw money at the launch of new products and services, they’re trying to build the kind of support that influencers and celebrities already have.
If Taylor Swift announced a product, news outlets will cover it, her fans will spread it by word of mouth, and by the time it hits the shelves, it will already have a wave of PR and support behind it.
If Coca-Cola launches a new flavor of soft drink, no one cares, and all of that support needs to be carefully orchestrated.
As someone with a following, you’re in a very powerful position and your success is dependent on how you exploit that position.
If you have money, you can invest in a PR drive and get people like Jordan behind you. If not, your time is just as valuable, if not more so.
When Taylor Swift’s product hits the shelves, Jordan can encourage news channels and newspapers to promote it, but they’re going to want some incentive, whether it’s a unique story or money.
But if Taylor is the one establishing contact and promising an interview, they’ll bow down and do what she says.
Take late-night TV shows and chat shows as an example.
A major brand would kill to be able to go on one of these shows and talk about their products, but that’s not what the people want to see.
However, if Taylor Swift offers to make an appearance and sing a couple of songs in exchange for talking about her new product launch for an hour, they’ll throw themselves at her feet!
Do Record Labels Really Discover Artists Online?
The idea of record executives scouring YouTube for the next biggest star might seem a little far-fetched. It’s how Justin Bieber, James Bay, and Charlie Puth were discovered, but surely, it’s not that common?
Not only is it common, but in 2020, it’s one of the few ways for record labels to discover new acts.
Those scouts still have quotas to meet, they still need to find X number of acts every year, and because they don’t have the freedom to attend gigs and fly around the world, they have to rely on online discoveries.
It’s not just about necessity, either, as this is often the best way to find new acts.
They don’t need to spend hours on the road. They don’t need to travel halfway around the world, and rather than spending their nights in stuffy venues, they can relax at home with their feet up.
Furthermore, you can learn much more about a band or solo artist through sites like Facebook and YouTube. You have their complete discography at your fingertips and can also see how they interact with their fans, where they perform, and what sort of following they have.
Many musicians also post live performances on their social media page, so the scout can judge how well they do when they don’t have the benefit of post-production software.
Even before the pandemic, we were seeing an increasing number of acts being discovered on social media, and thanks to the chaos of 2020, we’ll see that increase in the future.
It still helps to put yourself out there and do a few live performances. Not only does it increase your chances of being spotted, but it gives you something extra to add to your portfolio and provides you with invaluable experience.
It’s a huge step to go from playing acoustic covers in your bedroom to performing live in front of thousands. It’s enough to send anyone into a mad panic.
But if you get a few gigs under your belt, that transition will be easier. You’ll toughen up, learn how to handle yourself on stage, and will be more of a complete package when those labels come calling.
The $100,000 Question
Jordan shared a lot of valuable insights during our hour-long conversion.
If you’re a musician or any other kind of creator, and you’re looking to establish a following, his advice is priceless.
It could literally be the difference between success and failure, and that’s not hyperbole, as that’s how it has been for countless influencers in the past.
But despite all of this, I wanted to squeeze a little more information out of him. At the end of the show, I asked him for his most valuable piece of advice, the information that can generate over $100,000 in value for viewers of This Week With Sabir.
His advice was to be a storyteller and stay hopeful.
The storytelling side of things has already been discussed above and it was a topic that came up several times during our conversion.
Simply put, if you want people to follow you, you need to entice them and engage them. So, tell them stories about your life, your music, and your creative process. Be entertaining, be different, and give them what they want to see.
The second part of Jordan’s advice is just as essential.
It can be hard when you’re working around the clock and giving it your all, and yet you’re just not seeing the results that you need.
It’s a path that countless artists have gone down.
Some of the biggest bands in the world spent years perfecting their craft by performing to half-empty pubs and getting beer bottles thrown at them in undersold festivals.
They persisted because they were doing what they loved, and they believed that their time would come. You need to adopt the same attitude.
You need to tell yourself that every failure is just another step in your journey; every song is part of your portfolio, whether it fails or succeeds, and every gig gives you valuable experience.
That hope is the thing that keeps you going and, ultimately, it’s the thing that will give you the success you seek.
In previous This Week With Sabir episodes, including my chat with B2B YouTube expert Habib Salo, I spoke about the formula for social media success, one that revolves around creating pillar content, segmenting that contenting into hundreds of posts, and persisting until it works.
One of the criticisms I often hear following this advice is, “If it works for everyone, why isn’t everyone successful on YouTube?”
Well, for one thing, not everyone knows what they’re doing; not everyone is willing to spend their time creating quality content.
Most importantly, however, the majority of them give up long before they see results.
The truth is, you will always see some success if you continue producing quality content and take on board the tips provided in this guide.
You might not be the next Justin Bieber, but you’ll have enough to make a living out of your music.
You just need to keep the faith and keep working hard.
This Week With Sabir is streamed on the Restream platform (click the link to get a free account) and is available on YouTube and GrowthBySabir.com. The latest episode was the 24th in total, which means you have 23 more hours of content to peruse through when you have some free time.
And there is plenty more where that came from!
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