Why do you dress that way? Talk that way? Drink that coffee? Why do you prefer an IPA over a porter? Other people know you by what you do, and what you do comes from who you are. Simply put, branding is the creation of a perceivable connection between who you are and what you do. Branding is how you are known to others. Branding, frankly, is everything.
I see a lot of bands who have so much going for them, but something is missing. They have great songs, a great live show, they tour like crazy, and they Tweet like a grackle. But maybe their songs don’t have a unified sound, they dress like they’re in different bands, they play bills as diverse as the UN, and their Twitter feed reads like a robot translating the menu at Denny’s. Just because you’re working hard doesn’t mean you’re working smart. Once you know who you are, though, you’ll begin to discern exactly what you should be working on and what you should say no to.
To paraphrase a famous quote by Michaelangelo: “I did not sculpt David; he was already there inside the marble. I simply uncovered him by taking away the pieces of marble that were not David.” Years ago the Black Keys were living in poverty and they were offered a six figure licensing deal. Their manager urged them to turn it down, predicting that it would alienate their fan base. Trusting their manager, playing the long game, and KNOWING THEMSELVES, they turned it down. They understood that taking a quick buck at the expense of their brand would cost them in the long run, and they were right. Your branding must be informed by a confidence in your identity, and you’ll find that it reduces confusion, anxiety, wasted effort, and may even delay the onset of osteoporosis.
So how do you find out who you are? What if you’re brand new and you have a sound that excites you but the jury's still out as to whether you’re a political band or a party band? Here’s a simple game to try out. Have everyone in your group write down a verb and a noun that they think represents who you are. Then put them in a hat, draw them out randomly, and read them aloud to facilitate discussion. Adjectives are cop outs, and will not cause you to think deeply enough about your identity. When you’re taking those first few chunks of marble off, the self analysis will likely need to be downright existential.
This past week I was in Michigan and got to judge a battle of the bands competition (which I loathe, as a default, btw). There was one band who rather impressively combined the sounds of Black Sabbath and Rage Against The Machine, but they came across like a party band. “How’s everybody doin’ tonight?!?”, the lead vocalist called out as he strutted over to dance with a large pack of swooning groupies gathered stage right. My feedback was kind, but direct. “Black Sabbath debatably INVENTED metal, so not only were they morally and religiously challenging but also musically challenging. Rage Against the Machine is politically challenging. You seem to have adopted the sound of these bands but left out the very thing that made them so powerful…danger. You guys are making this group of pretty girls up here want to dance, but what will you do that makes them want to think? Figure that out, and you’ll find out who you are…and likely even evolve into a sound that only you own.”