June 30, 2011

Week 38: Five Ways to Brand Your Band

(This is Week 38 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself Music advice)

Five Ways To Brand Your Band
Photo by Brandon Marshall (from willienelson.com)
Quiz Time:
Name That Musician/Band:
  • - The Red Headed Stranger (hint above)
  • - The Pelvis
  • - The Lads from Liverpool
  • - The Jazz Singer
  • - The Man In Black
  • - King of Pop
  • - “You wanted the best and you got the best, the greatest band in the world… ______!”
Chances are you got most, if not all of those correct. Why do you know them? Branding. Weather it came upon them accidentally, or if it was an awesome marketing move, branding is why you know that Willie Nelson, Elvis, The Beatles, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson and KISS are the folks I mentioned above.

A band’s brand is much more than just an alternate way to know the group, and the above examples are VERY extreme. Usually a band’s brand is a combination of look, logo, sound, and story. It’s in what you say. It’s in what you write. It’s in what you wear and play. It’s the genetic make-up of your band.

Here are five things you should consider when branding your band. This isn’t all aspects of branding, but it’s enough to get you going.

 Does it have anything to do with the music you’re playing? It doesn’t have to (like The Beatles) but sometimes it helps (like Metallica).
This is a band reference too. Know who?
Buy the t-shirt
The biggest thing to consider when choosing a name is... make sure it’s timeless and it’s something you can live with 20 years from now. I was in a band when I was younger (by “in” the band I mean I sang backup every now and then and brought the beer to rehearsals) by the name of Soundscape. First, it was a horrible name, just stunk, I know (sorry guys if you read this). Second, it was not appropriate for the genre the band played (70s and 80s rock a la Van Halen, Pink Floyd, and ZZ Top).

The next thing to consider is something that has become an issue in the last 20 years. Can you purchase your band’s name online? If you name yourself Spatula, is spatula.com already taken? If so, unless you’re really married to the name… change it to something you can buy “yourband.com” with, because nothing is more annoying than having to type the word “band” after a band’s name. Yeah, spatulaband.com is probably not taken, but how many people will know to do that when looking you up.

Now, if you have a cool last name like Vallejo, Hanson, or Van Halen, for the love of God… use it.

The last thing to consider about your band name is… the story behind it. If you gain some popularity, you will be interviewed. If you’re interviewed, one of the first questions will be “what does your name mean?” Have an answer.

The Dangerous Toys Clown
Journey has a giant cockroach looking scarab. KISS has the make-up and the lightning bolt SS. Weezer has the flying W. The Rolling Stones have the lips & tongue. Iron Maiden has “Eddie.” Dangerous Toys has the clown. Radiohead has death bear. The letters in Toto look like a face. Nine Inch Nails has the “NIN.” Slayer has the pentagram with red 10th grade “I’m In A Rock Band” letters. I could go on and on. The point is... create a logo and/or image that is associated with your band. Something that someone sees it and thinks of you.

Want some great examples? I found a site while writing this column that has over 300 logos of bands and iconic images that are born of musical artists. Check it out. It’s a blog called “Band Logos – Brand upon the Brain." Word of warning… there’s a cheesy but slightly shocking photo as the header… but the logos are awesome.

Ice Ice... house?
No, you don’t have to create a fake name and backstory. Ask Vanilla Ice how THAT worked out. The band persona is just the way you talk about your band. Consider it your band’s “elevator speech.” Every member of your band should be able to tell someone about the band in about 2 minutes… and make it a consistent story.
“We’re a bar-room rock band that plays a lot of the clubs on Red River in Austin, Texas. I play bass. We’re wrapping up our first album in the next few months. If you’d like to check us out go to DogFaceCow.com. Oh... here’s a business card, if you end up going to a show, show the card for a buck off at the door.”

It’s not hard… but you have to get everyone in line to say something similar.

Angus Young of AC/DC has the Catholic schoolboy outfit. Willie Nelson has the hair…. Well... HAD the hair. Millions of country bands on the circuit are in Wranglers and cowboy hats... and older bands have western shirts and bolo ties. Lady Gaga dresses like she went to the same store Madonna went to and Elton John before her. Ray Charles had the signature sunglasses. Billy Ray Cyrus had the mullet. One Eyed Doll has crazy long hair in big pony tails that she whips around (not like Willow Smith).

Rolling Stone RS952 Cover

If you decide to take this part of branding your band to heart, you have to figure out something that will make someone remember your band. A look that makes people take notice. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box (Buckethead), but just make sure you have the musical chops to back up an original look.

Now…it doesn’t really matter what you wear, as long as the music is good. But, if you’re reading this, please don’t let your band look like you just walked up out of the crowd and found an instrument and 3 other people who were playing as well. Maybe you just say, everyone wear button-down shirts, or nobody in shorts, or let’s all wear matching pink Converse tennis shoes. You’re the entertainer at your job. Is shorts and a ratty t-shirt proper work attire?

Handmade One-Eyed Doll band merch. More here
Make your banner look similar to your Website which looks similar to your flyers which look similar to your stickers, CD packaging, and anything else you do in print. Make sure everything looks like it came from the same place, and not 15 different bands that happen to have the same name. 

Here’s a fast food example. Everything you get at McDonalds looks like it’s from McDonalds. The logo, the wrapping, the box, the bag, the catsup, the napkins… EVERYTHING. Your band should be the same. Everything needs to look like it came from the band unmistakably.

Here’s a few band sites that get it right:
http://www.alanjackson.com- See how the look is wrapped around Alan Jackson's latest single (or at least was on 6/28/11)
http://oneeyeddoll.com/ - You know EXACTLY how exciting a show One-Eyed Doll can be from this site.
http://nakia.net/ - Nakia is capitalizing on his appearance on The Voice, as he should be.
Nakia on The Voice

So there it is. A few hints about branding your band. Hope this helps.

Until next week. 

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.

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