How Branding may not help your music

This is what branding originally meant

As a follow up to a post I made about branding, I decided I needed to write this one.  Drew McManus posted a link to a site called Artist Revenue Streams with some very interesting case studies of artist revenue streams across different musical genres as well as a number of other studies that have to do with the business of music.

One of the more interesting pieces talked about Branding.  The fascinating study  specifically discusses bands, branding, and revenue.  Five key findings are:

  1. Income from merchandise and branding is only relevant for a small number of musicians.
  2. Artists have many other ways to make money off their brand, but widespread participation is difficult.
  3. Artists are increasingly strategic about their brand.
  4. For jazz and classical artists, brand engagement is evolving.
  5. Corporate sponsorship and fan funding is filling in where labels have dropped off.

And two “Takeaways” at the end of the post say:

1. Not all musicians are able to leverage their brand. The common assumption that today’s musicians can or should just rely on playing shows and selling t-shirts in lieu of other forms of compensation ignores the fact that there’s an army of musicians – from composers, to salaried orchestra players, to session musicians – that have career structures that doesn’t make it possible to build a monetizable brand. This should in no way diminish their value or importance; we simply need to remember that the community of creators is large, diverse, and specialized, and does not lend itself to “one size fits all” solutions.

2. For musicians and bands who are in a position to leverage their brand, the key is for them to be flexible and open minded but, above all, strategic. Our interviewees not only knew that their brand is valuable, they also recognized that decisions about everything from merchandising deals to corporate support have an impact on their artistic reputation.

Good music and top notch performances are what makes these artists desirable in the first place so artistic integrity must always take precedence, but faced with diminishing label support and less money from recorded music sales, the smart artists are figuring out ways to leverage their brands, broaden their fan bases, and earn money.

I think the first point in both lists are the important ones.  Namely that”[i]ncome from merchandise and branding is only relevant for a small number of musicians” and that “Not all musicians are able to leverage their brand. The common assumption that today’s musicians can or should just rely on playing shows and selling t-shirts in lieu of other forms of compensation ignores the fact that there’s an army of musicians – from composers, to salaried orchestra players, to session musicians – that have career structures that doesn’t make it possible to build a monetizable brand.

The importance here is that there may very well be a certain threshold for effective branding that has less to do with the individual product as it does with how much of a product the market can bear.

Given the diminishing returns for Marketing efforts, spending more money and resources on branding seems to be relatively foolish.  As my previous post title says (a quote from cellist Frances-Marie Uitti) “[d]evelop your unique voice, the branding will follow!”  I think that more powerful words cannot be said–and given the study above, I wonder how many of the few artists who do have effective branding actually have unique voices as opposed to more generic ones.  Now that can be an interesting study in and of itself!

The site is just fabulous and I would recommend it as essential reading for any entrepreneurially minded musician (or artist in any field, for that matter)!

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