October 26

How to Build an Artist Brand Without Feeling Awkward


In this blog post and podcast episode, I’m going to show you the three key aspects that will help you build your artist brand. Before we come to that, I’m going to explain the main obstacle that upcoming electronic music artists are facing.

Overcoming the fear of “self-promotion”

Honestly, reading the words “self-promotion” makes me want to vomit. This is so far away from what we’re trying to do as artists who want to build and grow a meaningful career. When you’re reading self-promotion, you probably say to yourself things like this:

“It feels awkward to promote myself.”

“I don’t want to come across as a sell-out.”

Promotion and marketing are the enemies of art.

“I’m really bad at this promotion thing so I better focus on my music and let it speak for itself.

Okay before we dive deeper into this, let me make one thing clear: Creating meaningful art will always be much more important than the promotion of it. But if you’re putting out something magnificent and nobody besides your usual following is hearing about it, you’re not helping yourself.

More importantly, you’re preventing potential fans from discovering you and your music, if you neglect the promotional aspect.

But there’s a fine line between ridiculous self-promotion and establishing a great artist brand. Identifying this fine line can be hard, which is why many upcoming artists are having a hard time with this aspect of their career.

Overcoming this general (and therefore unjustified) fear of self-promotion is the first step to building an artist brand. There is one simple rule that helps you feel less stressed about this issue: 

If it feels fake, don’t do it.

It’s as simple as that. The strongest artist brands out there are doing this so well because it feels effortless. They can be themselves and don’t have to pretend anything.

In the next section, I’m going to show you three key aspects that will help you build an artist brand without feeling awkward.

Build your artist brand on principles and integrity

If you want your self-promotion to feel effortless and authentic, build your artist brand on a set of principles that mean something to you. We all have principles in our personal lives, whether we’re aware of them or not. You might have the principle of only committing to monogamous or only to polyamorous relationships. Another principle of yours might be to never buy plastic shopping bags in supermarkets because you care about the environment.

What are principles and how can you use them to build your artist brand?

In “Principles”, one of my favorite books about the topic, the author Ray Dalio defines them as follows: 

“Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life.”

Now that doesn’t sound fake at all, does it? If we want to use this for building a strong artist brand, you can replace the last part of the statement with “…to get what you want out of your artist career”. So what DO you want to get out of it? Well, it now comes down to having some sort of vision and goals for your artist career. This is a topic for a separate episode, but you should have some clarity about where you are heading as an artist before defining your principles.

So how do you find the right set of principles? You have to dig a bit deeper. It must feel true. Start with just a very small selection and gradually build more over time. Here are two examples of principles that could help you build an artist brand in opposite ways:

Principle of artist A: “I have a close relationship with my fans and followers”

Principle of artist B: “I never let anybody look behind the scenes”

The first principle will enable you to create an artist brand that is approachable, positive, and warm. It might fit if you’re the kind of person that is sociable, enjoys direct interaction with the crowd, and isn’t shy about sharing things. The second principle might fit the kind of artist that is introverted, has a hard time talking to strangers, and needs a lot of control over what he or she is sharing with the public.

Both directions can work equally well, but they have one thing in common: They’re based on strong principles and the artist has awareness over what path he or she is choosing. If you now start digging for your own set of principles, try to look for something that resonates deeply with your personality. Write them down and move on to the next chapter.

Why integrity is key to building a strong artist brand

Integrity is more than just “being honest” with yourself and others. Dr. Henry Cloud defines integrity in his book as:

“The courage to meet the demands of reality”

I find it fascinating that both authors (Ray Dalio and Dr. Henry Cloud) include dealing with reality in their definitions of principles and integrity. This is where authenticity comes from because you can’t fake it forever.

So what does that mean in the context of building an artist brand? Well, the new reality, which you have to deal with in the music industry, is that it’s harder than ever to build an audience and earn people’s attention. Only those who consistently present themselves as authentic and interesting characters will stand a chance. Integrity means you have to accept that reality and work on your artist brand regularly, shaping it and carving out the aspects that make you truly special. 

But that’s not enough, you also have to present this to your audience in different ways, again and again, if you want them to understand what you’re about. This brings us to the second aspect of building a strong artist brand.

Share your journey authentically and consistently

Thinking about your principles and acting with integrity is one thing. Maintaining your artist brand and keeping it fresh is something else. You have to bring it to life by sharing it in a way that helps your audience understand what you’re about. 

Let me tell you a story. There are two artists. Let’s call one of them Luke and the other one Lisa. Luke has read many articles and watched a couple of YouTube videos on how to promote an artist brand. He knows all the little tweaks and tactics and plays by the rulebook. Lisa instead is simply a very strong character who doesn’t give a shit about what you’re supposed to do.

Lisa is a super authentic character. When she gives an interview, she’s not shy about her opinion on discussions in the electronic music community. Her social media profiles are fluctuating a lot. One week she posts daily, the next week she forgets about it completely. But when she puts something out, her fans understand what she’s about as an artist.

Luke instead has developed a routine of interacting with his audience daily. He’s also very strategic about his outreach to scene blogs and magazines. Therefore, he gets more coverage than Lisa. But when we talk about the content itself, he somehow tells the same old story that you would expect from most other electronic music artists. 

So who’s building a better artist brand here?

Well, hard to say. Luke has managed to get the consistency part down, while Lisa’s strength is authenticity. The problem is that one doesn’t help without the other. If Luke is super consistent but boring and exchangeable, he won’t manage to stand out with his artist profile. Lisa, on the other hand, might have a very nuanced artist brand, but her audience will most likely move on because she struggles with the consistency aspect. 

I hope you understand how important it is, to become strong in both disciplines. However, I believe that the authenticity side of it is the one you should never sacrifice for anything else. That doesn’t mean that being lazy with putting yourself out there falls under the “I’m just being authentic” category, as you might have guessed.

Let’s now move on to the visual aspect of your artist brand. This is something crucial many upcoming artists struggle with. 

Build a visual identity that reflects your artist-personality

Your first impression is immensely important when you’re trying to grow your audience. Photos, your artwork, your videos will be the first thing new followers will consume (besides the music itself). Your artist bio, blog-, and magazine articles come way later. Therefore, it’s important to get this first impression right. Even if people don’t know in-depth what you’re about, they should at least have a sense of your artist-personality.

The big issue here is that you need to create something that is in line with all of the above. 

If you went for the principle of being mysterious and less approachable, but share Instagram stories about your latest holiday trip, it creates a gap between your artist personality and the visual perception. Another example would be to define yourself as a progressive character, always striving to explore new territories, but then doing a classic photoshoot that follows the standard rules of artist portrait shots.

If you’re being honest with yourself and you’ve done some work on your principles first, you’re likely to get most of the visual aspects right anyway. But besides the regular social media posts, there’s also a deeper level regarding cover artwork, websites, photoshoots, etc. Here you might want to think about collaborating with a professional in the field who can help you translate your artist personality visually.

Putting it into action: How to build an artist brand without feeling awkward

I’m going to give you three action steps that you can use to shape your artist brand in a way that is authentic, meaningful, and doesn’t make you want to vomit while posting on social media. If you could take away only one thing from this episode, then it should be this: If it feels fake, don’t do it. If you’re just too lazy or find excuses for not working on your artist brand, get over it and work through these action steps.

1. Define the principles on which you want to build your artist brand

  • Brainstorm 3-5 basic principles that work as the foundation of your artist brand. They should feel true to the core, mean something to you as a person, and reflect interesting aspects of you as an artist.
  • Write them down and try to give them a bit of context in different situations that you might be facing. How will they be brought to life in social media or interviews and articles?

2. Build habits that help you with consistent output to your audience

  • Once you’ve nailed your principles, you can think about execution. Remember that your artist brand can only be established if you can present it to your audience in different ways over and over again.
  • Write down different types or categories of social media posts that reflect what you’re about as an artist. Think about how you can authentically share your journey, based on your principles.
  • Set reminders for social media posting in your calendar so you maintain some sort of consistency. 
  • Moreover, plan your release promotion strategically, using the S.M.O.-approach that I’ve shared with you in Episode 08 of the podcast.

3. Create a visual identity that reflects your artist brand

  • For your regular social media interaction with your audience, think about ways to make it as consistent as possible with your core principles. People should have a superficial idea of what you’re about simply by looking at your latest posts.
  • You can, for example, use a certain type of filter or perspective over and over again. or shoot videos with an 8mm-style camera app if that makes sense for your artist brand.
  • Consider working together with a professional when it comes to press photos, design, artwork, or your website. You will most likely need help with translating your artist brand visually.

So that’s it for this week’s episode, I really hope you’ve got something out of it. Now I’m curious to know: What are your principles in regards to your artist brand?

Let me know in the comments, I read everything!


Artist Brand, Podcast

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