[This article was written by guest contributor Brandon Seymour.]
I’ve played in bands on and off for nearly 15 years. In addition to being a musician, I’m also passionate about marketing. Over the past couple of years, I’ve written several articles aimed at helping local, independent musicians improve their online marketing strategy by boosting brand awareness, leveraging social media and building a strong online presence. It just sort of made sense. I enjoy marketing and I enjoy music, so why not integrate the two in some way?
I learned a lot from working with different clients over the years, and I’ve been able to take some of the things I learned at my day job and apply them to my musical projects. What I didn’t realize at the time though, was that the most valuable insight I gained wasn’t from marketing. Instead, it was something I learned from playing in bands that would end up changing my outlook as a marketing professional. 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.
Interestingly enough, in most cases when people argue that image is more important than the music itself, they’re usually referring to the “mainstream” industry. But how is the “indie” or “underground” industry any different? Sure, Bleached may not make nearly as much money as Mumford and Sons, but that doesn’t make image any less relevant. Remember, the goal of the “industry” itself, big or small, is to sell. Be it selling CD’s and t-shirts or selling out stadiums. The scale may vary, but it’s essentially the same concept. The indie scene cunningly masquerades as a collective movement that caters to artistic integrity over image, when in reality, image is essentially the lifeblood of the underground music industry.
A couple years ago, I was sitting at a bar with a friend who also happened to be a fellow musician. We met after our bands played a short string of shows together a year or two prior. Since both of us were looking for new projects at the time, we thought why not start a band together? In terms of musical taste, we were never really on the same page. It wasn’t like we played together and shouted “this is it!” or anything. But that didn’t matter. The only thing we had in common was that we both liked our music loud and fast. Like the sound a spoon makes when it’s stuck in a garbage disposal, only with more reverb and feedback. But we also had something else in common that felt a lot more promising than liking the same band or sub-genre. We both knew what we wanted to achieve and had a pretty good idea of how we could make it happen. All we had to do was focus on the overall image, and the rest would come. In a lot of ways, the music is the easy part. The trick is laying a solid foundation.
In our first few months starting out, we built a website, established a solid social following, received press mentions from several local newspapers, all while averaging 5 shows a month. Not too shabby for a local band, right out of the gate. A few months later, we were opening for national acts and headlining local festivals. Two separate publications named us “Best Rock Band” in South Florida, and another ranked us #2 on a list of the top local bands in Florida that should already be famous. Soon we were turning down more shows than we were playing. Eventually, were doing what we loved and we were getting paid what we felt we deserved, which felt pretty good.
We’re not exceptionally talented or good looking. We didn’t practice every day or spend countless hours writing songs. We played all covers for the first few shows and no one ever knew the difference. None of us have rich parents and we never asked for a dime in any Kick Starter campaign. We pretty much had no budget whatsoever. We never made t-shirts. We never toured. We never even recorded (until very recently).We’re just normal people with regular jobs that wanted to make something special. The only reason we were able to make it happen was because of the image that we created for ourselves.
I get that it’s not always about fame and fortune, and that plenty of artists simply have zero interest in commercializing their music whatsoever. But I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of indie artists at least want to gain exposure, even if it’s not for profits. Exposure isn’t free, though. You have to earn it. I’m not saying you can’t earn it with your music alone, but if you have the whole package, your chances improve significantly. Image doesn’t mean changing who you are or what you stand for. You don’t need to make a statement or box yourself into some subculture. Image is about consistency and an unwavering commitment to a specific tone, look and feel. It’s about creating something that people can stand behind because they feel as if it’s more than just a product; it’s a brand they can trust.