Let’s talk about artist image development in this episode of Pick Yourself. You’re going to learn why working on your artist image is important, but also, why you shouldn’t overemphasize it. I’m going to show you the top 3 dos and don’ts that will help you curate your artist image in a meaningful way.
Does your artist image matter more than your music?
Recently, I’ve stumbled upon a guest blog post on artist image development on one of my favorite music business blogs. The “DIY musician” has even made it onto my list of music blogs every upcoming artist should read. This specific guest post though made me furious, to say the least. It’s titled “Why Artist Image Matters More Than Your Music“. I’m going to quote a little paragraph for you here:
“I learned that image is, and quite possibly always will be, more important than music. And the same holds true for just about anything else. Image is everything. (…)
They call it “show business” for a reason. The music industry (and I use that term very loosely) isn’t concerned with art or expression. It’s not about identity or originality. And it’s definitely not about talent. It’s about money. I’m not saying that you won’t ever be appreciated as an artist. I’m also not saying that being an artistic genius precludes you from mainstream success. I’m saying that the music industry as a whole doesn’t care who you are unless they can profit from what you have to offer – regardless of how amazing or awful you actually are. It’s not evil, it’s just business. As with any other business, even the greatest products can’t sell themselves; the image or brand perception is what makes people want to buy.”
– Brandon Seymour for the DIY Musician blog.
Wow, there’s a lot to discuss here…
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Your music will always be more important than your artist image
I strongly disagree with the author’s view on the topic. In my experience, you can only fool people for so long. If your product (in this case your music) sucks, you can do whatever you want in terms of artist image development and it won’t make a difference.
Of course, building a strong artist brand is one of the most important aspects of your music career. But that doesn’t mean you can “fake it ’til you make it” and neglect the artistic side of things. If you don’t try to find your unique strength and work on your sound, your potential fans will perceive you as “just another one of those”.
Moreover, I’m convinced that your sound and your artist image have to go hand in hand. Otherwise, people will notice even the slightest discrepancy and sniff that something’s wrong with your brand. That might be different in mainstream pop music or even big room EDM. But for electronic music genres like house and techno, I don’t think you can get away with a shitty product, no matter how well you’re curating your artist image on Instagram.
Dos and don’ts – how to curate a meaningful artist brand
Since I’m not a big fan of pointless rants that don’t offer any solution, I’m now going to give you some guidance on how I believe artist image development can help.
Top 3 artist image fails – don’t do this
First of all, let’s start with what you should try to avoid. My number one rule (as discussed in my episode on artist brand building) is: If it feels fake, don’t do it. Therefore, the three don’ts I’m about to mention now should feel kind of wrong when you try to go down that path.
1. Don’t over-optimize
Many upcoming artists, especially the ones who suffer from perfectionism, tend to over-optimize their artist image. Every single social media post has to be spot-on, using the right hashtags, the same filter on the photo, and scheduled for that one perfect moment the big data gods of Instagram have predicted.
What’s even worse is when an artist is so afraid to screw up his or her artist image that they remain in what I call “perfectionism paralysis”. This means, they simply don’t take action. If this is you right now, remember this one sentence: Done is better than perfect. Always. You have to start somewhere and you better do it now than later.
2. Don’t try to copy your heroes
This is an especially dangerous way of developing your artist image. We’re all influenced by our role models and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that the world doesn’t need a second …(insert your hero here).
I’ve seen people copy huge artists like Tale of Us not only musically, but also image-wise. Hell, they even tried to dress in the same way and get their haircut. Not only is this ridiculous, it’s also a pretty stupid strategy. Your goal should be to become the best version of yourself and build your tribe of true fans thanks to all the things that make you unique.
3. Don’t try to appeal to everyone but also don’t over-polarize
The biggest mistake you can make when it comes to artist image development is to be too “vanilla”. Remember this: If you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one. There’s nothing wrong with being a likable person, but it’s the edges that make us interesting and unique.
Generally speaking, polarization is a great tool to create awareness and interest in what you do. But you don’t want to overstress this technique because nobody likes that grumpy-cat-type-artist who constantly get in fights with everybody else in the scene. From magazines and blogs to other artists and labels. At some point, people are going to stop taking you seriously. Not a great place to be, image-wise.
Top 3 artist image development strategies – do this instead
Now that you’re aware of the most common no-gos, let’s come to my recommendations on how to deal with curating your image as an artist. Keep in mind that this all has to be in line with your artistic output. Building a strong artist brand and working on your image has to be based on the music you create and the change you seek to make in this world.
1. Become a purple cow
I have no idea how often I’ve talked about Seth Godin already. He’s one of the wisest people out there and his ideas had a great influence on this podcast and blog. In his book “Purple Cow”, he describes not only why the “old” model of mass media and consumerism is over, but also why some companies (or artists) have massive success in the internet age and others don’t.
In essence, Seth Godin teaches us that in order to be successful, you have to create something truly remarkable: The one purple cow that stands out from all the brown, black, and white ones.
“The Purple Cow is not a cheap shortcut. It is, your best (perhaps only) strategy for growth.” – Seth Godin
As you might have figured out already, this refers to your product (aka your music) but also to your artist image. If you produce outstanding music but don’t manage to reflect that in your artist brand, you will have a hard time gaining momentum in this industry. It’s all about creating a truly remarkable work of art and representing it in a way that feels true but also makes people curious to find out more about you. That’s especially difficult in today’s information overload but it’s not impossible.
2. Be okay with people not liking you
This is probably the hardest bit of artist image development. You have to be okay with people not liking what you do or how you present yourself. I’ve noticed that this is an issue because many of my coaching clients have asked me to help them work on their confidence issues.
If you aim to become a “Purple Cow”, you will automatically appeal less to some people but even more to others.
“Many (…) fear the criticism, ridicule and change that being remarkable would bring” – Seth Godin
But that’s the whole point. Being remarkable helps people identify with you and your cause or walk away. This is how you grow your tribe. Remember, you don’t want to appeal to everybody, you want to appeal to just the right type of people but in a very intense way.
3. Ensure touchpoint-consistency
What the hell is that? I hear you ask. “Touchpoint-consistency” simply means you should focus on getting a few clear key messages across to your audience and not confuse them. A touchpoint is a communication channel between you and your fans. So your presence on a show is a touchpoint and so are your social channels, interviews you give, and even emails you write.
So what do you have to do to ensure touchpoint-consistency? Let me give you a negative counter-example: If you talk about your production process in a fancy magazine and tell the journalist how much you love analog synthesizers but then rant on Instagram a week later that people are spending way too much money on equipment, you’ve just screwed up touchpoint-consistency. Clear enough now?
Clarity is becoming a lost art in marketing. If your goal is to build a meaningful artist brand, you need to know what you stand for and curate your artist image consistently throughout all your touchpoints.
All in all, I believe that the whole conversation about artist image vs. the importance of your music has taken some really strange turns lately. I mean, I have a professional background in marketing as well but I would never ever say that your image is more important than your music.
Yes, we do have a problem in the electronic music scene with artists who pretend to write their own songs (while hiring a ghostproducer) and try to shape an interesting artist image in cooperation with a branding agency. But we haven’t seen the long-term effects yet. Who knows if the poster-boys and -girls who’ve blown up recently really manage to stay on top of the game?
The artists who have prevailed in the last 10-20 years are the ones who have put in a lot of work and dedication in their music. They are also the ones who managed to be remarkable “Purple Cows” in their field.
Putting it into action
So what can you take away and implement from this episode? I’m going to give you three action steps that help you get started with working on your artist image in a meaningful way.
1. Find out where your current position is in the discussion about artist image vs. the importance of music
- Do you believe that image matters more than music?
- Maybe you believe that music the only thing that counts and you don’t have to curate your artist image at all?
- Analyze where you stand in regards to this issue and gain awareness.
2. Make sure you work on being remarkable
- Identify your “Purple Cow” potential. Go back to our past episodes on how to stand out as an upcoming artistand how to build a strong artist brand.
- Remember: If you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one. But also, don’t over-polarize.
3. Review your touchpoint-consistency
- Analyze all your touchpoints and try to identify where you’re sending mixed messages.
- Find out which essential key messages about your artist brand you want to bring across and try to integrate them in your marketing.
- Set a reminder in your calendar six months from now to check in on this again.
Alright, that’s it for this week’s episode. I hope you’ve had a blast! If you need any help with refining your artist brand, just hit me up for a coaching session and we’ll take it from there.
I’d like to know from you one thing: What makes you remarkable? If you can answer this one question, you’re ahead of 95% of all upcoming artists.
Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.