Is branding a vital element to surviving in the music industry? When you think of a band, Skillet, for instance, what images come to mind? My mind envisions Skillet as industry professionals, well produced, always entertaining, declaring faith, exploring life’s ups and downs. The band is well recognized in mainstream rock/metal and the Christian music scene. They are polished and confident. These images are the components of branding. Think of your favorite bands. What comes to mind? Does the thought of them bring the “personality” of the band to mind? Should it?
Is There More to it Than the Music?
Some may feel that a band should first and foremost concentrate on producing the best music possible. This could be the case but are all bands tied to this being their number one priority? What if they have another purpose for their music besides just the music. Is that OK? Portraying an image to the public can connect a band with the fans that would likely appreciate them.
Branding, the Face of the Band
The fact is, bands, if they were to pin down a mission statement, have different ones. Branding is what reveals the heart of a band to their audiences and attracts fans that identify with them and appreciate their music. Without strong branding, building a fan base can be more difficult. A well thought out brand strategy personifies a band to it’s fans. There is always the danger of overdoing it and coming across as too commercial as if you are selling yourself to the public. Commercialism in branding is not what works but a genuine face of the band revealing what drives them is.
The Marriage of Cause and Music Marketing
Starting a career in marketing, branding is on my mind a lot. I listened to a New Release Today live show recently entitled A New Paradigm for Christian Music with Keven and Marcus that got me thinking about this more. The discussion revolved around the emphasis in Christian music as a brand with bands that devote themselves to a cause like Remedy Drive’s connection with The Exodus Road, an organization dedicated to combating human trafficking or many others that partner with Compassion International and other nonprofits. This was a general discussion of the shift of music produced being more than the music. This conversation opened up my line of thinking to the importance of having an image as a face to the public. Let’s face it, bands want to be successful and this means music, concert ticket and merchandise sales. They also want to connect with people, increase their fan base and draw support for the causes that are important to them. Branding is an effective way to do this.
Developing a Genuine Identity by Effective Branding
When creating a brand, musicians should guard against being a shell that looks amazing on the outside but lacks heart. People like to sense depth to the bands they follow. A shallow band may not keep their fans interested, nor one that is too predictable. Fans like a little variation in our music and the presentation of it. Thimblerigsark writes in his article entitled, “Branding the Christian Faith” “I personally know a few Christian musicians and songwriters, and they are – without a doubt – talented people. In fact, the ones I know have more talent in their little toe than I have in my entire body. And yet, popular Christian family-friendly music, the kind you hear on our radio stations, arguably the most visible (audible?) part of the Christian brand, is just… bland. Uninteresting. Predictable. Over-produced. Safe. And those are not words that I would use to describe the Christian faith.” I have felt the same thing. I will listen to mainstream Christian radio from time to time and with the exception of a few songs that are really well done, they underwhelm me. Is it because the music’s message is too safe or the same familiar message that is heard over and over to the point where it just doesn’t hold your attention? Maybe it’s just that some people like repetition in their music and others don’t. Obviously pop music or mainstream Christian Contemporary musicians sells and obviously has a market. It’s not for everyone and seems to dominate on Christian radio stations.
Music That Goes Deeper Touching the Dark Places
Depth in a band’s lyrics may touch those areas of humanity that people don’t like to think about, like human trafficking, suicide or substance abuse. Music that touches on our life experiences are not always safe and may not have a widespread appeal . This music will attract those who are touched by the message or can identify with the subject matter and can raise awareness among those that are unaware of the crisis.
Identifying with people walking down particular walks of life can bring a sense that they are not alone, that there is hope, which can be instrumental in healing. Making this known in their branding, even Christian bands can seem dark and maybe go against the nerve of some believers, but God has a different mission for everyone. Jesus reached those in the shadows when he hung out with the tax collectors, prostitutes and those who found themselves in dark places. John 1:5 says, “ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The Complexity of Life and Music
There are those bands that bring the light in smaller doses because not everyone is ready to be flooded with light. Light is what we want for humanity as well as hope and a future. There are those Christians in bands that don’t choose to brand themselves as “Christian”. They may hope to appeal to a wider audience bringing music that may not be overtly Christian but is for everyone. Just like David played the harp for Saul simply to cheer him up and relieve stress, there are those bands that are just fun and get the audience involved. Family Force Five has been criticized for this but I find that I have such a great time at their concerts, its pure fun and games. What can be wrong with that? Some music may not have a real message and could just be silliness that makes us laugh or dance (Chain Saw) and feel like life is worth living. Some people aren’t looking for meaningful music but just the fun stuff. Family Force 5 brands themselves as just that, fun, party music. This has been their claim to fame and success in the industry.
Branding, an Effective Marketing Tool
Branding is a valuable tool for bands and musicians. Projecting an identity and connecting with fans is an important element in success. Musicians should guard against being over marketed without delivering in their product, the music. Ensuring that the music really is what it claims to be is crucial. Albums that don’t live up to the hype, being well promoted but lacking quality can really disappoint fans. This is detrimental to a band. Whether promoting the latest album, an upcoming concert tour or an event or cause, well-done promotional material with strong branding sends a clear message that helps fans to engage. Thoughtful planning in the area of branding and marketing is a huge component in the success of musicians in today’s music industry.