When it comes to growing a career, great music (of course) takes centre stage. But alongside all the other important factors – getting press coverage, pitching for gigs, and so on – the topic of ‘branding’ is often overlooked.
In this article, we’ve picked 5 artists whose online profiles provide some useful takeaways in the importance of effective presentation, even in the world of jazz.
You’re reaching out to promoters, pushing out great music, posting regularly through your socials and networking like hell, but the results are not what you want.
You are by no means alone, and sometimes the answer is to go back to basics about how you’re putting yourself out there into the world…
- Are the promo materials that I send out good enough?
- Is my website really a smooth experience for my audience and does it really represent myself as an artist?
- Did the latest live video I shared have a good sound quality and stylish editing?
- Are you keeping a consistent visual style across social media, Spotify, Bandcamp and any other online platforms?
These things might seem like tiny details, but together they add up and can stop you getting lost in the crowd of excellent projects.
What is branding?
‘Branding’ sounds like something reserved for big companies and organisations.
Put simply, though, we’re talking about creating a distinctive identity for yourself in the mind of a potential fans, agents, promoters and journalists, to help them notice and remember you.
This should be infused into all your materials, from logo design and album cover to the tone of voice on your newsletter media.
It certainly extends to your biography, social media profiles and even your Spotify page should be in line with your overall artistic brand identity.
This is all about the image you create and how you’re viewed in the eyes of your fans and patrons, as an extension of your music.
As always, it’s easier to understand this with some real examples, so we’ve picked 5 jazz musicians and bands that seem to have worked both smart and hard to develop a great brand for themselves.
It’s worth noting that, whilst we are analysing this as a case study, these things may have come about naturally, or via a team member, rather than specifically thinking about ‘branding’ – the important thing is the end result!
#1 Gogo Penguin (Great Video Content)
Since the last decade, I personally watched the rise of Gogo Penguin from afar.
Their branding was always on point, even though they were a new jazz outfit just starting out back in the day.
Great use of their live videos, always mesmerizing… and their marketing efforts on their new album, I can see that their every social account are talking to each other, and are in line with their overall branding.
Most of the images they post on their socials are well taken photos reflecting their obscure music and artistic identity and all that mystery!
Their website is updated regularly, neat and tidy, highlighting their greatest assets: Their live performances… As a result we see that they are one of the most touring jazz bands out there.
That’s the truth! No pain, no gain.
ACTION: Take stock of your existing video assets and do an audit of your online presence. What are you doing well and what areas need tightening up?
This will enable you to come up with a plan and start developing your brand and reaching gig promoters more effectively.
#2 Bill Laurance (beautiful website)
One of the great contemporary composers in the jazz world and member of the legendary Snarky Puppy, Bill Laurance is a great example of good musician branding.
Firstly, I’m in love with his official website, with its clean cut design simple yet reflecting his true artistic persona. On top of that, it’s easy to navigate and user-friendly.
His Youtube account is updated regularly, pushing out both great content and album promo in a very elegant way – just like his music.
Thanks to a well executed marketing strategy, any fan that is visiting his website or socials can get all the necessary information that they need.
Additionally, artwork for his upcoming shows are in a total harmony with the new album’s branding. It delivers a message and it enables him to promote himself with a distinctive design, raising his brand awareness.
ACTION: Take a look at your website and compare to some of these examples. One a basic level, does it look clean and professional with up-to-date content? On top of that, though, does it capture the visuals of your project (ie same photos as your album cover) and, finally, do so in a way which is connected to your musical personality?
If not, Squarespace is one of several great options for a beautifully simple DIY musician website.
3# Brad Mehldau (Branding on his terms)
No need for an introduction: Brad Mehldau is one of the most acclaimed pianists of his generation. He’s a well established artist, who’s been around for decades. That’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? But that’s not the whole picture.
Of course, it’s worth reminding that we’re looking at these artists from the outside, with no personal knowledge of their day-to-day work.
But when you take a look at the various online profiles of Brad Mehldau, it’s clear that he’s entrusted the use of many of these to those around him.
“Brad will be doing this…”
“Brad announced that…”
Whilst this goes against the general best practice advice of today that musicians should be directly connected with their fans, it flags up two things:
- In much the same way that his music is intricate and thoughtful, he approaches his non-musical output carefully and with depth… a podcast episode to talk about a new recording, long-form written pieces on his website… Fans are not receiving a regular feed from his brain, but when they get something it’s more substantial.
- Despite this, he seems to understand the importance of having a presence on social media and has entrusted others to maintain that for him. That way, he doesn’t miss out on the promotional ‘wins’ of social media or Spotify, but also doesn’t compromise his personal day-to-day activities.
As an extension of this personal branding, check out his minimalistic website; there’s no clutter and everything is where it is supposed to be.
His Spotify is on point (all the updated info, necessary links, Spotify special playlists and of course point of sales for his album & merchandise) and his social media provides a good number of new and unseen concert footage, good quality content filled with behind the scenes photos and great memories from the tour which leads to great engagement.
Another reminder that to build a career, music is more than a hobby and, one way or another, business needs to be taken care of.
ACTION: If social media is something you don’t feel capable of maintaining to an adequate level, consider working with someone who can help get that on track and maintain the day-to-day momentum.
4# Madeleine Peyroux (storytelling)
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As one of the most hard-working and most touring jazz musicians, Madeleine Peyroux started to perform at an early age, reaching an audience through her captivating music and vocal skills often compared to the likes of Billie Holiday & Edith Piaf.
Whilst the road to prominence is not easy, maintaining that awareness and demand can be even more difficult.
As with many well-known artists who emerged pre-streaming, she has a great record on album sales and (perhaps as a result of a major label involvement) a back-catalogue of album artwork which is totally in line with her unique style.
It’s a reminder that great branding for a musician brings a visual side to the music and these two components feed off of each other, creating traction.
This great visual imagery makes it easy for platforms like Spotify and Youtube to maintain her look and feel, but it’s social media where things are really interesting.
There’s no hint of a social media manager on her Twitter or Instagram feed, for example. [That’s not to say there’s not, but it comes across as natural…]
Behind the scenes photos and audience pictures mix naturally with tour promotion and lots and lots of ‘thank yous’ to festivals and fans.
It comes across as a natural extension of a true troubadour who likes nothing more than playing live. Tied in with the stylish album artwork and press releases which describe an artist who started out busking in Europe, it creates a strong overall cohesion with the music itself.
5# Sara Gazarek (authentic socials)
American Jazz singer Sara Gazarek’s official website reflects a quirky, bold composure; simple yet on-point. Through her visual imagery, it is clear that she’s one of the original ones, never refraining from being herself and showing her uniqueness to the world.
On a basic level, her social media pages are all aligned in terms of branding, promoting her new album with relevant content, which staying sincere and relatable for fans. This creates an easy level of recognition whether you see her on Spotify, Instagram, Facebook or on her album cover in a magazine.
Alongside these important foundations, though, she extends this personality through her music and into her online presence.
Most notably, she’s spending time in front of the camera, recording videos and messages for her social media, keeping close contact with her audience.
In a video-first digital world, this is a great way at standing out as more than just a music maker, but as an artist that fans and industry alike can get to know and be intrigued to find out more about…
So, what are the main takeaways from this article?
- Don’t be put off by the ‘businessy’ sound of branding; it *is* important for you as a musician.
- A well executed strategy for presenting yourself can make a big difference to both your fanbase and on your ability to get gigs.
- Working on your branding is not a quick task; it means investing in yourself as an artist.
- There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to branding; it is be an extension of your personality which, by default, is different to everyone elses!
Your Practical to-do list
OK, that’s all good, but how should you start working on this?
Well, as a first step, it pays to go through the basics…
- List out the online platforms where you are active and look at them as if you’re a first-time visitor. Don’t forget things like Spotify & Bandcamp.
- Do they look professional?
- Do they give an idea as to who you are as an artist?
- Identify a small selection of your best photos (ideally tied in with latest album artwork) and make sure they’re being used consistently across all platforms.
- Make a plan for investing (time, money or both) in video content. These are an essential part of modern-day branding.
- Review your biography (either alone or with the help of a professional journalist) to make sure it captures the essence of your story (rather than just the facts!).
- Pay special attention to your website; it’s one of the main first impressions that you show the world and should be clear, professional and in-keeping with your style.
Isil Kilkis is a music industry professional, booking agent and radio personality from Istanbul. She was the main booker for Babylon Club Istanbul, Akbank Jazz Festival, One Love, Cappadox and Red Bull Music Festival, spanning a career of almost 20 years in the music business including content marketing & PR, specialized in different genres like jazz, electronic, afro-beat and contemporary music.