This post was written more than two years ago. The content or information below may no longer be accurate.
Standing out as an artist has never really been just about the art. Today’s society may be fascinated by celebrities who break the mould and dare to be different, but that’s nothing new. Take Lord Byron, 19th-century poet. Poets were the rock stars of Byron’s time, and he was by far the most infamous, aptly describing himself as ‘such a strange mélange of good and evil, that it would be difficult to describe me’.
While his poetry may be renowned, his exploits are legendary. Some of the more PG accounts of him include: taking his pet bear for walks as though it was a dog, openly criticising his contemporaries and being vocally passionate about the freedoms of the oppressed. Any of these would be sure to trend on Twitter, if done by a celebrity today.
So while being a talented musician will never hurt, you need to move beyond that and be able to market yourself. Have a look at a list of one hit wonders. They may have had wacky looks or funny lyrics, but more likely than not they had their one hit and faded away because there was no strategy or drive behind them.
This doesn’t mean that you need to make yourself the be-all and end-all of an obscure genre. Look at modern pop stars like Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. It would be easy to pass them off as ‘just another plastic pop star’, and of course, they do release catchy pop bangers, but they have a lot more going on behind them. Both of them are outspoken, with specific aesthetics that they design and fuel themselves. They’ve found a way of taking something that’s been done many times before and using it to create something new.
Essentially, creating a long-lasting career as a musician is about building your brand. So, aside from releasing excellent music, how else can you go about doing this?
Yes, it’s true. Looks do matter. But that doesn’t necessarily mean only models can ever make it as successful music artists. It’s about standing out from the crowd; being striking is the most important thing. Some artists go down the route of creating unique instruments, like Prince or Matt Bellamy, but that’s not generally feasible for up and coming music students.
Take Elton John, for example – there’s a man who knows how to stand out. Watch any video of his, look at any photo of him ever taken – his aesthetic is so unique that you can’t help but notice him, even in a crowd. Of course, apart from his music, his persona as a grandfather of the music community and fighter for equal rights has always been a part of him, but you can’t deny the man has style.
David Bowie was another legend from that era. A style icon until the day he died, Bowie created a look that let people know that it was okay to be a bit odd, a bit weird. That’s the kind of influence you can have – your music might sound good, but sometimes it’s what you do as a person, what you make people feel that will be what you’re remembered for, and the way you look can go a long way towards that.
Speaking Your Mind
Social media has fast become the best way for artists to communicate their views with their fans. While it’s great for letting people know about upcoming releases and shows, the best thing you can use it for is to let people know what you’re all about as a person.
Through social media, ACM alumnus Matt Healy uses his celebrity to stand up for those who don’t always have a voice. While he doesn’t do this because it’s a great marketing tool, its effectiveness cannot be denied. What it does, as much as raise awareness for extremely worthy causes, is create conversation, which should be the ultimate goal for any social media user. There are various theories on the best ways to post, but it all boils down to this: creating conversation creates a community which, in turn, leads to followers and likes.
You should also remember that being a diva won’t do you any favours. Artists like Newton Faulkner won’t always be topping the charts, but they will have long-lasting careers because they’re known as being humble and true to themselves. On the whole, fans like to be able to relate to the musicians they listen to.
No Person Is An Island
Sometimes, however, your main strength is just the music. You’re the kind of artist who focuses their energy solely on the songs. But just because you don’t really care about looking up your demographics on Spotify For Artists, that doesn’t make them any less crucial.
Even if you’ve got a million ideas on how to grow your brand, it’s always best to build yourself a solid team. A good manager will find you new opportunities to promote yourself. A talented agent will put you at events performing to the right people on the right line ups. The correct label will find you the best people to write songs with. Finding success doesn’t have to be something you do on your own. You may be the driving force, but the simple fact is that you just won’t have time to do everything yourself.
There are always outliers – Adele, for example, has a unique look, unbeatable team and spectacular personality, but has reached a level achieved by very few wherein she doesn’t need to be in the spotlight, promoting herself between album cycles. But it’s also partly because she follows this last, and best, piece of advice: be genuine. You can make yourself stand out or be an advocate for any number of worthy causes, but ultimately it won’t matter if you don’t believe in what you’re doing.