Brands and branding are everywhere these days, just take a look around you. It’s something that you may not have really noticed, or even cared about. But, it can affect us all and if you’re a band or musician, it can affect you far more than you may realise.
One of the last things on a young musicians mind, when they form their first band, is the thought that they may well be starting a business, or building a brand. But that is effectively what they are doing, especially if that band has ambitions.
Because of that, any young band or artist needs to be prepared, as doing so could make a huge difference to their career in the entertainment world. In fact it could be one of the main reasons that that career takes off in the first place. And it can certainly help prolong that career, as we’ll see.
The music business world has come a very long way since those heady days of the 1960’s and 70’s, when just about any half decent band with a few good songs could get a record deal with one of the myriad labels that were around in those days.
One example is that when bands like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones had their first taste of success, in the early 1960’s, they never expected their ‘career’ to last more than around 18 months, if they were lucky. I’ve seen video clips of members of both bands saying exactly that.
Back then playing popular music was never seen as a career move, just a bit of fun until something else came along, or the members ‘grew up’.
How wrong they were.
There is no easy route to ultimate success.
The Rolling Stones seem to be just as successful and in demand as they’ve ever been. They’ve just celebrated 50 years as a band and have topped that off by a headlining slot at Glastonbury and huge gigs in London’s Hyde Park. And let’s not forget that, although The Beatles were only recording music as a band for 8 years and they split up way back in 1970, they are still one of the biggest selling bands in the world today, 50 years after the release of their first single ‘Love Me Do’.
I’m not suggesting that anyone should pick up a guitar with the express intention of forming a band and having a successful career in the music industry. It doesn’t work that way and if you do approach it in that way, you will surely be found out.
Both The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, as well as many others, played in bands because it was all they ever wanted to do. They made many sacrifices to get where they did and that’s something that any young band needs to remember. There is no easy route to ultimate success.
But, if music is already your life and all consuming passion, you need to start to think of it as a potential career. If you do, you’ll already be part way there. After all, that career could last many years longer than you ever imagined.
Getting your band noticed initially
Of course the record industry has changed enormously since the 1960’s and especially over the past decade with the influence of the Internet, TV and the media generally.
There are now far fewer record labels around and even the ones that are still surviving are probably ultimately owned by one of the huge major companies like Sony. Thankfully there has been a rise in true independent labels over the past few years, maybe as a reaction to the way labels have been swallowed up. But, it’s still becoming increasingly hard for any band to get a record contract, or get noticed in the first place.
Another factor, also partly due to the potential career prospects in music these days and some people just wanting a route to becoming a ‘celebrity’, is the fact that there are now far more bands chasing those elusive record deals.
The old ways of a few mates rehearsing in a bedroom, jumping into a clapped out van to play gigs wherever you could find them, in the hope that an A & R man might just spot you as the ‘next big thing’ and then sign you up on the spot, have probably gone. Yes, there are examples of that kind of thing happening, but generally things are done far differently these days.
Even a few years ago acts like Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys could get signed to a major label off the back of a campaign on MySpace. But MySpace isn’t what it was and do you know of any band that has made it big after being spotted on a modern equivalent, such as Soundcloud?
Like it or not, these are the days of ‘X Factor’ and ‘American Idol’ etc, where mostly solo performers perform other people’s songs, or songs written for them. So, the chances of your band getting noticed are getting harder by the year. This is one reason why so many acts now go down the self release route and, partly because of the rise of the Internet, this is now easier and cheaper than it’s ever been. It’s a great way of getting your music ‘out there’, maybe earning yourselves a bit of money and hopefully getting noticed along the way.
But, ultimately it’s getting your band noticed initially that is the hardest part and even if you do take the self release route, thinking of yourself as a brand, or a business can make all the difference.
Think of your band as a brand and your musical journey as a career
Now think back to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and their lengthy music careers. Of course they’ve both written some of the greatest songs of all time and that’s certainly one of the reasons why they’re still as popular and selling records 50 years later. But, is that the only reason?
Both bands had managers who were very interested in the whole image that their respective bands created and generated. Brain Epstein dressed The Beatles up in suits, getting rid of the leather that they’d wore before. Andrew Loog Oldham, early manager of the Rolling Stones, changed the bands look and attitude so that they were seen by the public as the antithesis of The Beatles wholesome and clean cut image.
Those contrasting images helped to get both bands noticed and also helped young fans identify with them too. Many bands since then have created and moulded their own image. That image was/is effectively their brand, although nobody probably thought of it quite that way at the time, apart from those savvy managers that is.
But it’s not just the image that a band creates that helps to create that brand. Once again look at both The Beatles and the Rolling Stones as examples.
For The Beatles, their name is always, officially, written in the same way with the letters ‘B’ and ‘T’ bigger than the rest. Then of course there was the famous logo and design of their own Apple record label. This was so important to the band, even though they’d split up by this time, that they spent many years in court fighting Apple Computers over that Apple name. It really was that important to both sides.
And as for the Rolling Stones, just think of their own classic ‘tongue and lips’ logo. Designed by John Pasche back in 1971, this logo is so iconic that it has featured on just about anything the band has done since then and is so recognisable that you don’t even need a name to identify what it’s referring to.
For a few more good examples of great band branding, just look at The Ramones, Iron Maiden and Motorhead.
For a non musical perspective you could also include instantly recognisable logo’s such as the Nike ‘swoosh’ and the Apple Computers apple with the bite taken out of it as great examples of how a logo can help to create and perpetuate a brand.
Just because your band isn’t as big as The Beatles (yet), or you’re not a multi-national business like Nike doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be thinking about own image now and that branding isn’t important, even at this early stage in your career.
It is important and this is what many young bands fail to realise. Remember, both The Beatles and Nike were small fry once too, but their longevity has come about, at least partly, because of that branding and its instant recognisability.
So, think about creating both a unique logo for your band and also consider exactly how your bands name should be written. And don’t forget the importance of using the correct font too. It may make all the difference.
Start to think of your band as a brand and your musical journey as a career and you’re already part of the way there.
One word of warning though, it doesn’t matter how good your image and branding is, if your music isn’t good enough to back it up.
Co-Founder of Pierless Music and DJ on Hastings Rock and Carnival FM.