In a world that is so visually-driven, it’s only natural that what you see is super important. In this episode of our Branding for Musicians series, we’ll focus branding yourself visually, what it means and how to do it successfully.
Consumer brands have used visual branding to develop brand recognizability for decades. If I say red background and two yellow arches, you instantly know that I’m talking about McDonald’s. If I say a black checkmark, you know we’re talking about Nike.
The most successful music artists around the world have been doing the same in order to make sure that their “brand” is instantly recognized by their fans. You want to do the same. So let’s take a look at what we can learn from them and how you can apply it to yourself as you work on promoting yourself or your band.
Like every brand, you should create your own visual character. When it comes to building that visual character, there are multiple sub-elements you will want to look at. A logo, fonts, colors, photography style, and clothing choices all contribute to creating a unique feeling, identity, and personality for you or your band. All of this plays a part in creating a look and emotional attachment that helps fans relate and connect with their idols. In this case you. So let’s go one-by-one and see how you should use each of these sub-elements to successfully brand yourself.
The logo is probably the most important element of visual branding. The logo is a visual identity of a brand simplified into an icon. Just like the yellow arches of McDonald's, or the three-pointed star of Mercedes, a great logo can help you stand out from the crowd. When you think of Nike, Coca-Cola, Apple or Starbucks, I’m pretty sure you can instantly visualize their logos.
Why is that? Well, these brands have made sure that these logos are used in every possible place. The doors to their stores, all marketing campaigns, the TV ads, all printed media, coffee cups, door mats, on their products (the back of each iPhone, iPad, and Mac computer), and every other possible place. By placing their logo wherever possible, they are ensuring that you correlate that logo to their products and their brand. And they sure have been successful. You can’t see that “bitten apple” without thinking about Apple.
Various musicians and bands have taken this lesson and decided to develop logos of their own. If you’re a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, I’m pretty sure you can visualize their logo in your mind right away. Same with the unforgettable Rolling Stones tongue. Foo Fighters have also made sure that the double “F” logo is highly recognizable.
If you check out each of these bands, you’ll find that they have multiple variations on their logos. A different color scheme when it’s used on a light background, and a different one when it’s used on a light background. Often times they’ll even have a version that’s black and white.
You’ll see that just like consumer brands, these bands’ logos can change with time as well. As noted by the MetalSalute Blog, here’s how the Metallica logo has changed throughout the years to fit their various albums.
Let’s take a look at how Red Hot Chili Peppers reinforce their logo wherever possible to turn it into an identifiable icon. Whether you’re on their Youtube channel, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Website, looking at CD covers, or browsing through all their merchandise, you can see their logo used everywhere. Can you spot it in the following three screenshots?
The Rolling Stones are probably the kings of branding themselves using their logo. They use it for every tour, every piece of merchandise, every program, image, cover, social media channel, advertisement, etc. If they can use it, they will use it. Take a look at this screenshot collage of their YouTube Channel, official website, Instagram, and online store. Between just those 4, can you spot the 16 times that the logo (or a variation on the logo) has been used?
Artists from rock to electronic music, use logos to make themselves visually recognizable. Sometimes the logo incorporates the written out name of the artist or band. Take a look at these examples:
Notice how for Maroon 5’s “M” is unique enough that they often use just the “M” for branding purposes. Gorillaz, on the other hand, doesn’t have a visual icon. The font and spelling type are what makes their logo recognizable and unique.
If you’re planning on creating a logo for yourself or your band, make sure it’s a simple one that will be easy to understand and relate to your music. Try to develop as many small variations on the logo to make it as usable as possible. Add all of these options to your style guide. Then make sure that you use it everywhere, from your albums to your merchandise (T-shirts, keychains, mugs, etc), on your website, your social media channels, promotions, and in your email newsletters.
Fonts play a crucial role in successful design, yet they are often times forgotten by musicians who are first venturing into branding themselves. Each font has a slightly different look, which means it evokes a slightly different reaction emotionally speaking. Is your music soft? Go for a soft looking font. Is your music edgy? Go for an edgier-looking font. Are you all about caricature and comedy? Find a font that represents that.
Take a look at AC/DC. This iconic rock band has used the same font ever since their early beginnings. The font is called Squealer and you can find it here. The font fits them perfectly as it’s edgy and bold, just like the band and their music. So AC/DC uses it not only in their logo, but as the heading for all important sections of their website, their email newsletters, and wherever else they can.
But did you notice, how their menu uses a different cleaner font? So does the actual written content of their website, newsletters, and albums. That is because as much as Squealer is an interesting font, which looks great when it’s big, it gets really hard to read when you have a lot of text, and particularly when it’s smaller. Try to read the following few sentences and see how it’s a struggle.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to choose two fonts that you will alternate between. One for headings which will fit your artist personality and a second that will be clean and easy to read for the actual content. Google Fonts is a great resource for font ideas, as it also offers great pairing suggestions, so you can preview how different fonts will work together.
Choosing a color scheme that works for your brand/band is super important. Can you think of Bob Marley without those iconic reggae reds, yellows, and greens? Designers spend years perfecting how different colors interact with each other to create varying moods. Not every blue is the same, just as not every shade of red will create the same emotion. Figure out what works best for you based on your target audience, your music, and your artist personality.
Take Bruno Mars, as an example. Mixing modern sounds with a vintage flair, he’s been credited for bringing funk back into the spotlight. But have you ever taken a look at how the colors he uses match his music? Bright vibrant 80’s colors and high contrasts are prevalent in everything, from his clothing to his website. This matches his energetic personality.
Shawn Mendes, on the other hand, uses pale colors, which matches perfectly with his low key, casual personality. And pale colors can be found everywhere, from his album cover art to the colors used on his website, to his merch.
Just like your music and “your sound”, colors help tell the story about your artist personality. Figure out two or three primary colors that you will use everywhere. Along with dark and light colors that will act as your backgrounds. There are over one hundred variants of “red”, so be specific as to which shade you will be using. Tools like Colormind can be an awesome resource for generating color palettes. If you want to see how the different colors will look together in real life examples, use their “Website Colors” generator, which will show you how the different colors can be applied to a mock website using light backgrounds, dark backgrounds, accents colors, and more. Make note of the color codes in your style guide so you can reference them in the future as you’re creating new artwork, adding new pages to your website, or generating new ad content. All of it should make use of the same color palette.
What an artist wears (or doesn’t wear) can highly influence how we feel about them. Are you an 80’s style band? Neon windbreakers, spandex, and shoulder pads may be just what you need. On the other hand, that same clothing would not work for Andrea Bocelli. Clothing can tell your story just like any of the other visual elements we’ve been exploring. Figuring out what your “look” is will be crucial to how people recognize you and your brand. Let’s take a look at how different Esperanza Spalding and Nicki Minaj dress.
Finally, photography plays a huge role in what impression people have about an artist. The right photos will do an amazing job at combining all the above elements into a still image that represents the artist look and personality. This is so true that you can frequently imagine the sound and the musical personality of an artist just by looking into their pictures. Try looking at the following three artists (whether you know them or not) and imagining what their music may sound like.
In conclusion, all of the different visual elements have to come together in order to create what is a recognizable feeling and personality. The logo, fonts, colors, clothing, and images all play a crucial part in evoking an emotion about the artist and their personality. So take the time to define all of these visual elements in your style guide and stick to them. Not just you, but everyone in your band has to work together to help brand the band effectively. The more you grow, you may hire social media managers, photographers, and more. Each of these people should be an extension of you, so the style guide they’ll be using should have all the information they need to effectively represent you to the world.
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