Brand Strategy for Musicians: The Style Guide

David Bawiec, Spire Contributor | January 7, 2019

Band Logos

It’s a new year, and that time when we're all making resolutions: eat better, exercise, practice more. Musicians, let me add one more to your list: brand yourself better.

Successful branding is what can make an artist or band stand out from the competition. Whether you’re a solo rock star or a new group, good branding can skyrocket your recognizability, and your career.

In this series, we take a deep look at branding—what it is, how it can help you, and the top strategies in which you should be branding yourself. Check out the rest of the Branding for Musicians series here:

Part 2: The Music

Part 3: The Visuals

Part 4: The Personality

What does branding for musicians encompass?

I see successful branding for musical artists and bands as having three main branches:

Sonic: figuring out your sound and sticking to it

Visual: logos, fonts, colors, photography, clothing

Identity: how you communicate your artist personality to the world

In this series we will explore each one of these areas in depth. By the end of Part 4, you will have all the tools necessary to truly brand yourself in the best way possible.

Sia is a master of branding

What is branding?

Branding is the art of making something identifiable and easily recognizable. Think of it this way: if I say two yellow arches, what comes to mind? Probably McDonald's. The largest corporations around the world spend millions of dollars annually on making sure that their brand is recognizable within a split second.

Think of red lips and a huge red tongue sticking out. You're right, I'm talking about the Rolling Stones. How about a singer who always covers her face? You're correct if you said Sia. Some of the greatest musicians and bands have used strong branding techniques to make their image recognizable.

Why is branding for musicians important?

We love things that we already know. After all, the unknown is scary. Rather than go to a new fast-food chain and risk ordering something you dislike, it's easier to go with the tried and true favorite. The same applies to music. Think of your favorite artists, if you already love their sound and their music, you'll likely check out their new album when it gets released.

Start thinking of yourself in the same way. Although you're a musician, you are a brand. Your brand is you. The reason you want to be considered a brand is simple: You want people to recognize you instantly. That’s why consistency is important.

Consistent Image

Imagine you’re in a heavy metal band. Everyone is wearing black leather, sporting long hair, and livin' life. What if suddenly your drummer shows up to a gig wearing a navy suit and a bright orange bowtie with his hair short and sleek, looking like a model. A great look, but I think it's easy to say: one of these things isn't like the other. Not only would you be confused, but your audience and fans would be scratching their heads as well.

Consistent Sound

The look isn't the only element that needs to stay consistent. Imagine if your favorite artist started releasing album after album, where every song is in a different style, from opera to ska, from hip-hop to musical theatre. A genuine mish-mash of musical styles. Inconsistency would lead to the audience feeling confused and eventually potentially leaving.

If you had a style guide, these kinds of situations should never happen.

What is a brand style guide?

A style guide is a single document that lists out all the rules and ways in which you will present yourself to the world. Think of it as a code of honor. This is probably one of the more important documents you will ever create for yourself or your band, but it's actually a super easy thing to prepare, and if done correctly, it will help launch your recognizability to new levels.

Consider this: as you (or your band) grows in popularity, you may start bringing more people on board. A new bandmate, a music producer who you're going to work with on a new album, or a social media manager to handle all your social media accounts. You want to make sure that each and every one of these people is an extension of you/the band and that they represent you/it in a way that's consistent and reflects your style.

The style guide will be your rulebook and reference for answering all the questions you may encounter, from what colors should be used in your promo materials, through what musical genres and instruments are fine to use during your live shows, to how you communicate with your fans.

Know your audience

How to write a style guide

Start with a blank document, label the first page with a title and date. That way as you keep updating the document, you can easily make sure everyone is using the latest version. I like to add a version number or the date to the header or footer, that way it appears on each page. Now that we've titled it, what exactly do we put into a Style Guide? To answer that, we need to first identify what exactly is considered to be part of good branding for an artist or a band.

Who is your audience?

What kind of crowd would be a dream crowd for you? Will your audience primarily consist of people dancing and rockin' out to your tunes, or will they be sitting at lounge tables enjoying your music while sipping a glass of wine?

Consider this: Katy Perry and Michael Bublé attract different audiences. As will Cardi B. and Adele. Over the coming days, we will look at how each one of them is branded differently to achieve their individual goals. And with time you'll see how their "brand" is in everything they do, wear, release, endorse, post, share, sell. It's in all their promo materials, in their merchandise, in their music, and in their personality.

For today, take your time to properly answer the basic super important question: Who is your target audience? Once you figure that out, write out a profile of your target persona in your style guide. That way you have a goal to aim at as you start building your brand.

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