Branding for the Singer-Songwriter

Branding! Market yourself, find your niche. Ware relevant clothes, look like your music, act like your music!… Hmm… Yeah, you get the point right? I am signed to lot’s of cool music business related blogs that I have followed for years. They have posts on pretty much every aspect of the music business. I have learned so much from some of these bloggers. If I only could tell my 18 year old self all this info now… But then again, the 18 year old me knew everything and would have thought the 38 year old me is full of horse manure :-D. But in these Blogs branding pops up quite often.

I am going to share with you where I stand with branding, just to let you know if you are in a similar place, that you are not alone 😉 When I play with Sliotar our music falls somewhere between Irish music and modern folk music, bordering on folk rock. When I play with Boneyard Bastards we’re in a punk rock, hard rock territory with a hint of rockabilly. See where I’m going with this?  When I do the singer-songwriter stuff, things get even more complicated. The whole Singer-Songwriter thing, what does it stand for anyway? Just a person with a guitar or piano on their own singing songs they wrote? It does not really describe the music much. And as you should know by now, putting a label on your music is important for promoting… And I think often the songwriters are the worst at labeling their own music, metal heads are great 😉 I do hear certain influences in my songs, but again not really helping the situation. I would say my music falls into that gray area between Modern folk, folk rock, Alternative country and (wait for it) Americana, if only I was American. So what if we call it Europiana? Would that make things more marketable? I don’t think so.

Oh by the way, one of my pet dislikes: someone who calls themselves a Singer-Songwriter, but only sing other peoples songs…

Well here I am stuck in the non descriptive world of singer-songwriter. I’m not really losing any sleep over it, but it would be nice to be able to actually give a better explanation to people when they ask me what my music sounds like. It definitely would make it easier filling the hundreds of web forms for all the music sites. So how can you even try to think about branding, if you don’t know where your music belongs? The trusted advice of many seasoned music business bloggers is to look for artists that sound similar to you. But the better the musician you are, the more tuned in you are on the little musical differences that mean world to you and many listeners don’t worry about too much. I personally think that any artist is the worst person to place their own music in a descriptive genre. In the underground of punk rock I come across often people who hate musical genres. Funny enough though they are the first ones to point out what is or is not punk rock 😀

Where does this leave us? As an artist I think you have two ways to go. First one is the journalists. As part of their job, they need to be experts at musical genres. You could contact few, ask if they would be willing to have a listen and advice you. Or even better, you could pay them a small fee to review your music (for those of you horrified about the idea of artist paying a journalist, let me tell you this happens all the time when larger indie or major labels try to launch a new act). The second, which I think is more organic way, would be to ask people who just like music, to have a listen and see what they think. But to be on the safe side, I would ask quite a few people, and just see which genres pop out the most.

Some artists branding includes made up character, that they perform in. I consider myself lucky not to be in that position. In matter of fact, I would say I am actually completely opposite to that. I try to be me, well… more confident version of me 😉 I think many “Singer-Songwriters” would be in a similar position. Again many of us would see branding as a dirty word. But let me just point out, branding does not need to be something designed in a big corporate office, in a board meeting. It can be as simple as you sit down and just writing down a few things about yourself as an artist. How do you want to come across? How do you want to present yourself? What is it you are trying to say? And once you have these written down, stick to it. Make everything more consistent. I think the consistency is important as an artist, so people have something to hold onto.  You could also write down a list of artists you look up to, venues, bars, cafes, restaurants you like, some good cause you believe in, record shops you like, books you like… the list could go on for ever. Once you have the list, this could be some of the material you share on your social media sites. Share your personality with people. You see? all of the above is basic branding.

OK, this post is expanding way too much, so let me wrap this up shortly. I have seen peoples fears of what other people might think hold them back on so many things they wanted to achieve in their lives. If you want to succeed in music, you need to put those fears aside. So take that “dirty word” branding and try to see it as it is, a valuable promotion tool. Keep up the good fight!


The author J.P. Kallio is a singer songwriter
To get EIGHT of his songs for free go HERE


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