I’ve written before about I do a lot of competition analysis for bands. It’s a question of looking at similar acts and determining what makes sense to imitate and what mistakes they are making. Not only that but it gives me a lot of fodder for articles like this one. That’s what I kind of want to delve into here, the few key thing that seem to make local bands all seem to blend into the same veneer of sameness which makes all of their efforts on social media so meaningless. I’m talking of course about branding. Branding is the way that bands are able to differentiate themselves. This isn’t just sounding unique though, and that’s the key issue. It doesn’t matter how good you are if no one wants to actually listen to your band because the photo they see of you doesn’t encourage them to do so. In a world of oversaturation developing a clear and interesting brand is always going to be a priority, no matter who you are.
From the age of 15 or so, I’ve been hanging out backstage at clubs. When I started out as a writer people would approach me plying me with booze and drugs to cover their bands in whatever publications I happened to be working for at the time. Very quickly I had enough of the booze and drugs for these to be legitimately exciting, and I came to realize, most of these bands I simply didn’t give a shit about. This wasn’t because they were bad necessarily, it was just because there was no reason to care about them. I am aware of how pretentious that sounds, but that’s sort of where I was coming from. It still happens today as a label person and manager. I get the standard schpiel from bands about how ‘we are trying really hard and we really believe in the music and just want good opening slots,’ but everyone wants that. When I turn around and ask that key question – ‘What makes you special?’ they frequently clam up and don’t have an answer.
It’s a hard question to be sure and I appreciate it can be disheartening when you get up and play your heart out on a stage with a bunch of other bands in your genre. It’s not really something that people can connect with as fans. It’s easy to fall in love with the myth of the unloved and unappreciated artist, but it’s also very dangerous. It keeps you from having to think about the key concept of developing a brand and image for yourself that people actually want to connect with and isn’t just a sad amalgamation of so many other shitty bands out there. The bitter reality is that your bland band photo isn’t just a product of oversaturation – that shit never worked, not now, not in the 70s. It’s never been easy to get a record deal and it was only ever the bands who had a clear artistic vision who were able to get somewhere real. Just look at the most iconic artists of all time, Dylan, Elivs, David Bowie, all these people had clear visions and everything catered towards that.
So what goes into building a brand? Well in this day and age it seems to me that a lot of it is having a ‘thing’ outside of your genre. You don’t want to be “Progressive psychedelic pop rock” you want to be “That psych rock band who have the obsession with beat authors’. You don’t want to be ‘reggae rock with metal flourishes’ you want to be ‘that hard rock reggae band who have interesting opinions about geopolitics’. Now of course this can be very tricky because a lot of the time when bands try to do this they end up looking foolish and making fun of themselves. They aren’t exactly working to their advantage when they talk out of their asses. This is why your ‘thing’ needs to be tied into something that is actually helpful and that other people are going to want to be a part of. It needs to be something you know about and something that you can talk for hours about. Hell, if you’re not the one who has that deep non musical interest then you need to find someone in the band who does, because that makes you interesting.
Think about bands as you might about people. The people you want to be friends with are either really incredible people, but those come rarely and usually have a lot of experience and a diverse set of interests already. If you want to just hang out with someone cool though, odds are you think they are cool because they are interested in something you too find fascinating and you can talk about it. The most interesting people, and the most interesting bands are the ones who try to showcase a variety of experiences when talking to other people and share their breadth of experience with others in order to conjure up an image that is both friendly and helpful, rather than the alienating and weird mishmash that a lot of bands seem to fall into these days. Setting yourself apart crafts the brand and makes people curious to dive in.
At the end of the day, we forget the bands who don’t brand themselves because there simply is nothing to remember. If you can’t find a reason someone would want to connect with your art other than that you personally think it’s good then the odds are no one else is going to find anything that they can connect too. Incorporate the fact that every savvy band is already including their branding and yo ustart to see why you need to be grinding it out. It’s a question of leaving the art house and engaging with the common man in order to craft something relatable and which can truly dive into that wonderful morass of mass appeal madness.