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/.

June 23, 2011

Week 37: It's A Job

(This is Week 36 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself Music advice)

Hard at Work or Hardly Working At It?

You’ve got a job. It’s making music. It’s entertaining people. It’s not one that pays regular. It’s not one that will impress most people outside the musical realm. It’s probably not something you can put on a resume that will garner you a $60k a year job. But it’s a job.

For some, it’s a full-time position. You work day in and day out chasing the dream that puts your name up on the marquee in the headliner position. The dream of hearing your songs on the radio, seeing your album listed in the top 50 in Rolling Stone, or getting sponsored by a major company. The dream of being able to afford a home and car from the money you’ve made off of your craft.

But…for most it’s a part-time job because in order to afford the luxuries in life you are used to, like a roof over your head and at least one meal a day, it doesn’t pay enough. But, still you do it. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an evening rock star… it’s a passion that you’re not willing to give up.

It really doesn’t matter if you fall in the full-time or part-time working musician role… you must understand, it’s a job. Every time you play a club, you’re being hired to entertain people. How much you get paid is either part of a “guarantee” or directly in conjunction to how many butts you bring through the door.

Want to see a hard working part-time musician? Find Ben Mills.
He plays in Waiting for August, books showcases, and
promotes like a mad circus seal. See him 7/8/11 @ Elysium in ATX
It’s hard. I know. Most jobs are. If you have it in you to write and record music and are trying to share that with the world, it’s going to be an uphill climb. You have to climb above all of the self-important crappy singers out there… and deliver something that appeals to a large group of people… not just stroking your own ego.

If ego isn’t in the mix… and you are a decent musician. Consider being in a cover band. You make a lot of money, you just have to be OK with being known as “The guy at my wedding that played Erasure” Instead of a serious singer-songwriter. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s a job. You’ll make money… you can use that money to invest in your serious music career and elevate yourself out of the cover-band genre. Of course… you may just want to play music and make some money… and a cover band is a viable option. Someone will always want to hear “Piano Man,” “Sweet Caroline” and “Brown Eyed Girl.”

Just an option. And a little ego ain’t a bad thing… as long as you can back it up. But, think about it… How many people are working somewhere because “It’s a job?” More people than those who are working at the position of their dreams… I’ll tell you that. Lots of people can go through the motions. And that’s fine if that’s what you’re doing with music. But.. if that’s what you’re doing…this column is not for you.

This column is for the ones who believe that the band they are in just might make it. If someday you’d like to quit your full-time job or be able to stop sponging off of all of your friends and make an honest living at music, this is for you.

Treat your musical career like a job. Make sure you work at it every day.. if only just a little bit. Always move forward. Make progress daily. Get your name out there. Get to be known. Move up the ladder. Have meetings. Plan your week/month/year. Brainstorm ideas. Schedule vacation. Have working lunches. Make friends, attend conferences. Make friends with club owners, bands, producers, and other people who you’d like to work with in the future.

Then… here’s the important thing. At the end of the day, walk away from it and be you. Your music career should not define you as a human. You are a musician, that’s your job. It’s not 100% or who you are. Make sure you are able to feed the other parts of your life as well. Get right with God, find and fall in love. Don’t blow off the important people in your life for music.

Music is your Job. It is not your life. It is a job though. Work.

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/.

June 22, 2011

SOUR PATCH EXTREME (Candy Review) for O'Ryan's Village

Sour Patch Kids Grew Up...er...Extreme!

Candy Review: Sour Patch Extreme

When O’Ryans Village (http://www.oryans.com/) put out a call for candy reviewers via their Facebook page, I’ve got to admit, I was a happy camper. Free candy? Sign me up. So my first package came in the mail and as I opened it, I realized they paired me up with three things I really don’t like in a candy… sour, gummy, and multi-flavor in one piece. But, in the interest of giving a fair review, I will curb my preferences.

Now Sour Patch Extreme could be the cousin of the Sour Patch Kids candy I didn't really eat when I was a kid, so I can't compare Patches to Patches... if you want that comparrison, read Jim Bonomo's review here.


Sour Patch Extreme comes in 3 different “flavors.” You’ve got Watermelon / Grape, Orange / Blue Raspberry, and Sour Apple / Strawberry. Of the flavors, the dominant of each is Watermelon, Orange, and Strawberry.

As I take them out of the package, I note that the pieces themselves are shaped like flat feet with a different color in the toes. Upon further research (read: looking at the package) they are supposed to be faces with colored hair. “Ah…” I think. “I can see that now. Should I scratch the foot comment? Naw.”

They are coated with some sugary looking stuff that gives them the sour taste. It kicks in immediately, but soon enough you get the sweet flavors that lie underneath. The 4oz package has about 45 quarter-size pieces in it, and the Nutrition Facts state that there’s about 3 servings of 16 each. I don’t know anyone who would be able to down 16 of these at a sitting, as my tongue started feeling rubbed raw after about 5, so I had to take a break. Now, I’m sure seasoned candy eaters could play through the pain, as the reward is worth it, but I am not one of those.

I attempted to eat them two ways.

One, I just popped them in and chewed. I got a nice “crunch” of the sour sugar accompanied by the rush of flavors provided by the underlying gummy.

The second way was rolling the candy on my tongue and sucking the sugar off the piece until I had a smooth and yummy gummy underneath. This method attributed to the raw tongue and after that the gummy lingered in my mouth as it adhered itself to my teeth.

Here I am eating Orange/Blue Raspberry - my fave of the 3.

Each way has it’s advantages. If you are the type of person who doesn’t like the peas rolling into the mashed potatoes, you’ll appreciate the eating a layer at a time. If you’re like me and get annoyed by a gummy layer on your teeth, you’ll want to pop and chew.

Overall, these are quite good. I like the fact that they are a small amount of candy that packs a big punch. I can eat one and feel like I’ve had that little shot of sweet I crave sometimes… so I can see a bag of these multi-colored flat feet lasting about a week in my hands, which is a wise investment.

If you’re a fan of sour candy, this may not hit a homerun with you as the sourness quickly dissapates, but it will be satisfying nonetheless. If you like gummy candies, you’ll be pleased with Sour Patch Extreme.
- Sean Claes

June 16, 2011

Week 36: How NOT To Treat Fans

How NOT To Treat Fans

I have been an entertainment writer for over 15 years. I've been backstage, at the bar, in the dressing room, recording studio, and homes of some pretty interesting characters in this time. I'm not saying this to boast... it's to prove a point.

I've often told people that I get a viewpoint that not many people get. I get to see the "people" behind the musicians. It is an honor. I take it very seriously. There are some really wonderful performers out there that you probably own a CD or two (or have downloaded a song) from that I know for a fact that they are complete tools.

There's an Austin band that is adored by fans that mentioned in a marketing meeting "I don't give a @$#@ about the fans, they'll love what I give them."

There's a national artist that was a headliner of a music festival in the Hill Country that refused to answer a simple question (that about 30 other performers had already answered for me with no problem or hesitation) and called me an idiot and scoffed.

There's a drummer for a well known rock band that was so cocky you'd think the band was named after him and didn't give anyone else credit for anything (it's not the one you're thinking BTW).

Now... these we all done in "private" and I respect that. I'll never tell you their name, because the important thing is... they do their job well. They make beautiful music that means something to a great number of people.

Here's where I have a problem. Last week on Facebook... I happened to see a performer's posting of a banner he had created to promote his website. He'd posted up an image and mentioned "I just OK'd the proof of this banner..." and gave the printing company some love.

I saw he'd just posted it... and it looked like the mission of the banner was to make his Webite URL as big as possible, so I posted a suggestion. I suggested that he drop the "www" off the sign and blow up the letters even bigger, as when people see ".com" at the end of something they know it's a Website.

Here's where I'm guilty. I assumed he'd want this advice. I foolishly posted it as a comment under the photo instead of sending it to him in a private message. I deleted the comment when I saw his completely off-putting response.

Now.. I made a screen capture of the exchange (sadly I'd deleted my original comment..which was the first comment that he's replying to initially) and deleted the names... Here it is:

How NOT to talk to fans.
"I'm not forgetting that the audience is made up of MOSTLY idiots..."

Part 2 of the story
Click image to read the whole thing.... via my Flickr

Now.. Dean took me to task for the unsolicited advice. I can take that. It must have rubbed him the wrong way...which is fine. I'll take MY lumps. I was out of turn in giving the advice. But he takes it a step further and says:

"I'm not forgetting that the audience is made up of MOSTLY idiots and everything has to be spelled out for them."

THEN.. he picks everyone else who posted off by telling them they aren't fans because they haven't bought a CD from him (including fellow performers)... and explains his definition of a fan as "Bought a CD or went to a  show to see a performance  and tipped money in the jar."

Fan = someone who has put $$ directly into his pocket... oh... and most of them are idiots. Or it could be the vast majority of the people who attend a show DON'T put $$ in his tip jar or buy a CD and therefore are idiots. Not sure. Well.. he lost a fan, cheerleader, and a supporter in me... as well as a Facebook friend (which is NOT the definition of a fan according to him).

Anyhow.... here's the lesson:
If you're a performer who is a tool (you may prefer to call yourself ecletic, serious, or driven... but if you treat people like dirt... to me, you're a tool), do me a favor and don't let the fans know about it. It ruins your great gift.

And when you see people with the media... don't assume they are all bad and want to destroy you. There's a lot of us who are trying to elevate your career because we believe in your song, mission, and dream.

Oh.. and if you are a performer that is boasting the fact that you're a Christian (as Dean does very nicely via his Website)... this is NOT the Christian way to respond to anyone... much less your fans.

Hope this helps.

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/.

June 6, 2011

Week 35: What's the Big Idea?

(This is Week 35 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself Music advice)

What's the Big Idea?
 Here’s a tweet I posted recently, based on a true story:

Musician: This group needs to do a compilation.
Me: Awesome. Here are the steps to do it.
Musician: Oh, not me...but someone should do that"

Apathy strikes again. Here’s the deal. You can do anything. I put out a compilation CD a few years ago. Did I know how to do it? Not at all. Did that stop me? No.

2007 INsite Compilation Cover*
 If you’re going to invest in your band, you can do it with time and money. The more time you spend, the less money you’ll have to put in… for the most part. The sad thing is, most bands won’t take the time or spend the money to promote themselves. They think by booking a gig, they are done… and when only their girlfriend shows up to the show, they are quick to point fingers.
- The venue didn’t promote the show.
- The other bands didn’t tell their fans to hang out to see us.
- It was a weeknight and nobody goes out on a Tuesday.
- I didn’t like playing this club anyway, the owner’s a jerk.
- I made a Facebook post about it 3 hours before the show… Facebook doesn’t work.
- People don’t get our music.
- It happened when a great roadshow was playing at Stubb’s. They took our crowd.

In the weeks leading up to the show did you:

- Contact the other bands and try and do a promo-share thing?
- Make posters.
- Hang up the posters you made?
- Hang up the posters in a place where people who should like your music go?
- Pimp the show on social media?
- Give away tickets?
- Create a buzz?
- Play a local news/radio/podcast to promote?
- Hand out fliers w/ discount?
- Make promo music to hand out?
- Tell ANYONE?
If the answer to all or most of the items above is yes… well… you may have had an off night. I’d say you did a good job trying to promote the show.

If your answer is no to most of the items, you need to take your petty little complaints and think about what you did leading up to the show. You likely booked this show at least a month in advance. You had PLENTY of time.

You’ve got to figure out of you have a hobby or a job. If it’s a hobby, quit complaining. If it’s a job, step up.

Try different things. If you have an idea… a good idea… follow thorough and make it happen. Two weeks ago there was a weekend festival just outside of Tulsa Oklahoma called the Backwoods Bash. Five years ago I got a call from a buddy of mine who had an idea. Throw a festival to promote indie bands. We decided it was a good idea. We made it happen. There were four of us. No seed money. No big supporter. None of us had ever done something like that before.

But we decided it was a good idea. So, we just did it. We did it poorly.. but we did it. The people who came to the show didn't notice that we were barely holding the thing together by the skin of all of our collective teeth.

The deal was, we knew that the ONLY reason to have a "First Ever" is to have a "Second Annual."

One of my old bosses used to say that anything worth doing it worth doing badly. That means, if you have a good idea, pull it off... and learn froom mistakes and keep at it. THAT is how you promote. THAT is how you become known. THAT is how you succeed at life and music and business. Is it s guarantee? No.. but you surely won't have any regrets if you put your all into it and try and make things happen.

So... next time you have an idea think long and hard about it. Unless you're ready to jump into the water with both eyes open and not stop swimming until you reach land.... keep it to yourself.

If it's a good idea, jump in.. the water is awesome.

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/.

* About the compilation CD. There were 15 Austin area bands on it, we did a run of 1k.  Murillo Design designed the project, Fireside Creative did the physical packaging, Dewar's Whisky covered the cost (great promotional tool), and Ben Mills from RockShow Promotions organized a CD release party at Stubb's. Oh, and we gave the CDs away.