Brand Strategy for Musicians: Personality

David Bawiec, Spire Contributor | January 10, 2019

musician branding short hair

Welcome back to Branding for Musicians! In this segment, we will look at how the final element of branding yourself—your personality—brings everything together.

At this point, you already know that your music, aka "your sound" is just one of the three main building blocks of successful branding. Paired with consistent visuals through all your media, you're on your way to becoming a legend. The final piece to creating a recognizable brand that people will connect with is identity. This is the glue that brings all the individual elements together.

Every successful artist has a unique identity, and oftentimes it's what attracts fans. Sure, Michael Jackson made amazing music, but it was his personality that made people go nuts. Same with Elvis. And The Beatles. And Beyoncé. And every other major star.

The connection

It's all about creating a personal connection that people become attracted to and want to interact with. Say you discover a new singer with a great voice and you really like their music. Then you find out that they do something that you strongly stand against, let's say they have a hobby for hunting baby rhinos. Odds are, if you have half a heart, you most likely wouldn't like that artist as much. You would probably never follow them on their social media profiles. You would never buy their album. You would never buy tickets to their shows and you most certainly would not sport a T-shirt with their face all over it. This is because the two of you don't connect on things that are important to you, the things outside of the music.

What is an artist's identity?

Your artist identity, or artist personality, is who you are as an artist or as the band. Think of it like your personality's DNA. So what exactly determines your artist identity? It's who you are, what you do, and what you don't do. It's in the vocabulary you use, your behavior on stage, your behavior off stage, on red carpets, in interviews, and on your social media. It all plays an important role in shaping what people will build into a complete image of your artist identity.

The Rolling Stones always branded themselves as rock star women-lovers. Every article ever released about them, every interview they ever gave, and every public appearance they ever made just reinforced that image. P!nk and Beyoncé, on the other hand, are icons of female empowerment, and it shows in everything they say, do, and release into the world.

Sarah McLachlan

A rainbow of colors

I've mentioned artists with huge personalities, like Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, and Beyoncé. But you'd be mistaken to assume that you have to have a larger than life personality in order to succeed. Not at all. Huge personalities aren't the only type of identity that can get a following. In fact, the beauty is that there's a rainbow of personalities, from strong and intense to soft and kind. For every Kanye West, there's a Sarah McLachlan. For every Cardi B, there's a Julie Andrews. As they say, "Different strokes for different folks!" And in that lies the true beauty—that you can be the incredible you that you are and there will be people that love you for that.

There is no "right" or "better" personality. It's just a matter of figuring out what your target audience is and how you're going to reach that target audience best. Think of it this way: how would your grandmother react to Nicki Minaj's public appearances? And I'm not talking about her music, but her everyday personality. Probably not too fondly. Yet Nicki Minaj has a giant following. She's just aiming for a different audience that will appreciate what she has to offer.

Let's take a look at the different elements that make up your artist identity.

Language

Nicki Minaj will use different language in her social media posts and public appearances than Sara Bareilles would. Take a look at what they talk about, how they comment on things, the vocabulary they use, and what they share about their daily lives, and you'll see that it all plays a part in creating the recognizable artists that each one of them is.

Since nothing speaks better than real-life examples, let’s analyze how Cardi B and Taylor Swift use their online artist identities to achieve completely different effects through their communication, jokes, routines, posts, and online behaviors.

Taylor Swift vs Cardi B instagram

Going straight to their official websites, we can instantly see a difference in how they present themselves. Looking at Cardi B's main photo, you can see it's all much more exaggerated, both in the colors, the hair, the red lipstick, the costume, and the expression. This over-exaggerated persona is part of Cardi B's personality and the photo does a great job at conveying that to us right away. Taylor Swift's photo is a much more subdued personality. She definitely has interesting stories to tell, but the casual clothing in the photo instantly tells us she's much more real. This connects really well with her fan base.

Cardi B and Taylor Swift use distinct language, and thus the way they communicate with their fans is vastly different. Cardi B's website uses "Join Bardi Gang" as a way of saying “Subscribe to the newsletter." Taylor Swift, on the other hand, uses "Connect with Taylor." Both of these create a different emotion.

Let's take a look at both of their Instagram posts to see how they utilize the online space to further connect with their fans (and at the same time reinforce their Artist Identities). Here's Cardi B's:

Cardi B

And Taylor's:

Taylor Swift Instagram

Both artists have completely different identities, and what comes with that, different approaches to how they communicate with their fans. This shows in the language they use, the types of posts they share, their content, the photos, the clothing they're seen wearing, as well as any other public appearances they make. Cardi B is much more raw, vulgar, and intense, whereas Taylor Swift focuses on sharing the positivity from her shows, her love for her fans, and the outdoors. And with dozens of millions of followers each, both of their individual tactics are clearly working pretty darn well.

I highly recommend you compare some more of your favorite artists. And compare them with what your lesser loved ones are doing as well. Learn from each. Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran both belong to two of the biggest modern pop stars, but their artist personalities are very different, and as such, their social media presence is very different. While Justin Bieber has a very "here's me doing xyz" approach (with posts featuring pretty common content for a guy in his mid-20s—mostly hanging with friends, family or his wife), Ed Sheeran takes a much more candid approach by sharing almost exclusively his professional touring life.

Building your own artist personality

So how do you go about establishing your own artist identity? My best recommendation is to just be you. Sure, you can try to force yourself into behaving a certain way in order to attract a certain audience. But if you're a Julie Andrews, how long will you be happy pretending to be a Cardi B?

So sometimes, your branding journey should really start with this last pillar first. Figure out your natural personality, who you are and what you stand for, who you're willing to be in the public eye, then build a target audience based on that, and finally, fill in the blanks with the right music and visuals.

The thing to keep in mind is that there are two personalities involved: your personal one and the artist one. Your personal one is who you are at home, with your closest friends and family. The second is who you want to be recognized and remembered as an artist. Oftentimes those are two different personalities (and that's great!), whereas for others those are one and the same. Whichever it is for you, make sure that the public one is well defined.

Take the time to describe in the style guide who your artist identity is. What would you as the artist do and say, what wouldn't you do or so. What things are important to you, what topics do you not touch? Decide on these things early on so when you are faced with a tough question you know how you will answer it. Make sure that you always filter everything you're about to say or post through the lens of "would my artist identity say that, or would I? If you answered "I," try to find a different way of phrasing something that stays more consistent with how you want to be remembered and recognized as an artist.

musicians instagram image

Consistency, consistency, consistency

Hopefully, by now you're getting the picture, but I'll say it one more time: stay consistent. You can't be wishy-washy with your personality. Whoever you choose to be artist identity-wise, make sure it transpires in everything. If I say “saving animals,” it probably won’t take you long to realize I’m talking about Sarah McLachlan. That's because she's devoted years to building that image for herself, making sure that people know that, aside from her music, animals are important to her and saving them is what she wants to be known for.

Conclusion

Who you are off-stage matters just as much as any other part of your art, so use it to successfully brand yourself to the world. If you do it right, people will connect with you on a much deeper level than they would otherwise and will ultimately come to be interested in everything you have to offer. Your music, your shows, your merchandise, and much more.