Which Came First, the Music or the Brand?

If you think your music is a difficult sell, try playing a piece of amplified sheet metal. This is me, performing as Noiseman433, in St. Louis (9 May 2003) during the Rotten Piece 2003 Tour. Photo by Carol Kelly.

As I mentioned in a previous post, if you’ve Branded yourself well, then Marketing (to raise awareness about your music) and Selling (to get gigs) should be much easier to do.  Branding is the totality of your public image and having a good Brand is tantamount to making all other aspects of your business move more smoothly.  As Peter Montoya stated (I quoted him in the post above):

Branding happens before marketing or selling; it’s their source. Without a strong brand, marketing is generally ineffective and selling is like beating your head against a wall of sales resistance. A strong brand is the rock-solid foundation for all marketing, because every other aspect of a product’s identity–its logo, how its ads are written, who its spokesperson is–is based on that brand. Branding is the reason customers consider a product in the first place.

When you have a strong Personal Brand out in the world working for you, you’ll attract new business without even trying. Prospects will come to you after multiple exposures to your brand, and they’ll come 90 percent sold on you already. All you’ll need to do is close the sale. We’ve seen it time and time again. New business with no work. If that’s not cool, nothing is.

In my post about creating sustainability as an entrepreneurial musician I gave an example of how one of my musical projects essentially got a gig before we actually had music and costumes tailored to the event.  Did that mean we had such a strong Brand that we were able to sell the show before anyone (including ourselves) saw it?  Perhaps for some businesses, a strong Brand can accomplish such a seemingly bizaare result–I’m sure there are some musicians and bands with such high levels of professionalism and great reputations (i.e. Brand) are able to do things like this.  I highly doubt that my musical group–though we do have a reputation for creating odd shows and personae to play them–had such a reputation that preceeded it in this particular case.

Nerd Lunch humorously mentions Yo-Yo Ma‘s Romulan Music Project in a podcast that mentions my Klingon Band. Eric Edberg (right) re-introduced me (center) to Yo-Yo Ma (left) as the “World’s Premiere Klingon Cellist” before we all jammed to some Bach Brandenburg 3 (29 September 2011). Photo by Marilyn Culler.

In fact, as I said, it had much more to do with the “built-in audience” for the Brand we happened to be piggybacking on for the purposes of the side-project, namely Star Trek and one of its fictional alien races, Klingons.  In other words, we were able to capitalize on the Star Trek/Klingon brand and fortunately had the cajones to pull off such a project as being a Klingon Ensemble which sings in the original Klingon.

And while this example may seem like an isolated or special example, really it isn’t.  What I’ve described is simply how Brands aren’t simply individual phenomena cut off from the rest of the world–Brands interact with each other!  Sometimes in profound and baffling ways.  And some Brands are so strong that they may very well overcome (or even strengthen) a new, weak, or underdeveloped one!

But let’s step back a second since Peter Montoya is talking primarily about Personal Brands.  Obviously, before the rise of Personal Branding, we dealt primarily with corporate or business Brands. Coke Cola being one of the most often cited examples of a very strong Brand that is recognizable world-wide while not being particularly attached to a specific person.

We can also look at industries as having a Brand.  In all the constant debates about the relative merits of Classical Music versus Pop Music, what we’re really talking about are the respective reputations of these two music industries and attempting to make useful (or not) qualitative comparisons or contrasts about the relative value of each industry.

For example, by making a statement such as “Pop Music is popular because it isn’t an elitist and snobby form of music like Classical Music” or “Classical Music doesn’t cater to the ephemeral tastes of mass markets such as pop music” what we are comparing are the values of the Brands of Pop Music and Classical Music.  This isn’t about the actual dollar amount, but about creating value–a value that is strongly attached to the emotions as Montoya states:

Branding is always about emotions. Good branding campaigns inspire powerful feelings in their targets: envy, confidence, humor, or the desire to be “cool,” for example. Rather than sell or drive home a message, branding influences the decision-making centers of the mind. For business owners, Personal Branding is largely about inspiring confidence that you can do the job and that you’re good to work with during the process. But nothing is more effective than a Personal Brand that says, “I’m the one to get it done for you.” Only slightly less important is having a Personal Brand that fits the culture of your prospects.

Whether or not Classical Music is an elitist industry or Pop Music is a popular one has more to do with the perceived value of the Brands both industries have.  By staking a claim as to being one or the other, then the musician will effectively be piggy backing on some of that value attached to the Brand in the same way that my group piggy backed on the Star Trek Klingons.  Building a Brand always takes place within the context of some already established Brand–or, in other words, you can’t create something from nothing.

My Klingon band, bomwI’pu’ (or, the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project) performing an original Klingon Ballet, wa’SaD ram wa’ ram je, written by me at Trek Trax Atlanta (22 April 2012) with Orion Slave Girl belly dancers from the Merrybellies Belly Dancers (based in Chattanooga).

In some ways, this is related to the issues I brought up in a previous post regarding creating versus copying.  As Samuel Leiter says this in his discussion about Asian theatrical performance:

[This] reminds me of interviews I had with the chief puppeteer in the major bunraku troupe, the chief chanter, and the chief shamisen player. I asked them how they trained, how they learned as children. As we all know, the standard system in Japan is to copy your master. [But] those artists said, “We do not copy our masters. Of course we watch our master and we learn. But no two human beings are alike, so it is impossible for me to copy my master. I have to internalize my art, make it my own. Then I can become a great artist.” This is a wonderful illustration of the solution to what might seem to be impossibly opposite goals: to “replicate” and to “create” anew.

This demonstrates some of the dilemma that all musicians (or artists) have to deal with, namely how to have your “own voice” and how each musician navigates such territory will determine whether his or her Personal Brand can overcome the Brands that influenced him or her or whether the musician will fully embrace the Brand and incorporate it into his or her personal Brand.  Harold Bloom’s “The Anxiety of Influence” wonderfully illustrates the former while the view of the Japanese musicians above wonderfully illustrate the latter.

Either way, the Brands that exist before us exert a powerful influence on how we shape our own Personal Brand whether we responding or reacting (or some combination) to them and will always overlap our Brands.

On a practical level, what this means is that our Personal Brand isn’t the final determinant of our customer (which can be either the venue or the audience).  The Brand environment within which we find ourselves has as much to do with consumers’ expectations and an effective usage of our Personal Brand will depend on how it interacts with that Brand environment.  Sometimes, as I’ve been blogging about recently, how powerful other Brands are are dependent on the infrastructure that supports individual businesses or industries which means that is particularly crucial to understand the environment within which we and our Personal Brands find ourselves.


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