The Band Is Not The Brand

This guest post is by Scott Perry. With his free email newsletter and web site, the New Music Tipsheet,keeps the industry informed of new releases as well as commenting on trends and sharing industry news. Scott

Band as brand. Band as brand. Band as brand. Simply put, the most overused, misunderstood phrase by the entire music industry. Sure, having a recognizable audio & visual identity is important – it makes it easier for your fans to recognize you, makes it easier to sell that merch, makes it easier for Fortune 500 companies to pick YOU to be the face for  THEIR brands! 

image from www.sbarnabas.comimage from autoracingsport.comimage from www.fultonschools.org Stop it. Please, never use that phrase ever again – it does nothing but focus on the end goal, without actually thinking through the means by which the artist becomes an everyday part of a fan's life.

Three articles all hit me at the same time last week : veteran marketer Al Ries's discussion of the overuse of Twitter / Google / Internet / Facebook (TGIF) as marketing tools without a defined strategy, 2) Ian Rogers' in-depth blog post about the tactics used to set up his first management client Get Busy Committee, and most importantly, 3) a WSJ article on the decline in charitable giving in 2009.

Did you know that out of the $300 BILLION in annual charitable contributions, 35% — $107 billion – goes to one cause. Not literacy, not to the environment , not to the arts, not to health care, but to RELIGION. Now, I'll grant that a good portion of that $107 billion is doled out to the other causes listed above, but think about it –- that little church down the street represents over 1/3 of all charitable giving in the United States.

Why is that? Why does religion top ALL categories for charitable giving, at a healthy margin no less, above all other causes?

Well, besides the fact that religion is drilled into our skulls once we are old enough to walk, religion actually offers its followers 1) something in return 2) on a regularly recurring basis. Every week, your local church has a new message, a new reason for a community of followers to gather, a new opportunity to positively reinforce their values and pass around the collection plate.

(Religion is also something that is deeply internalized by followers, making religion tied strongly to one's everyday beliefs and behaviors – keep in mind, you will NEVER get ANY band to get THAT deep into a fan's life, unless you want to attract a posse of psychos. But I digress.)

Quit running your band like it's a Proctor & Gamble product, and start running your band more like a church. It's nice to believe that your band can be as big as one of those megabrands like Bon Jovi or Jay-Z, it's nice when your publicist calls to say you just got next Tuesday's spot on Letterman, but focus more on building long-term relationships with your followers, so that when you get those big events, it gives more meaning to your fanbase. Give your fans what they want – a message, a community, a reason to support you, believe in you, and come back to you over & over – and they will.

Empower your fans with the tools to spread the word for you, and learn to rely less and less on big media. Draw your own analogies to preachers, parishioners, missionaries, worship and all those other zingy religious references that make for cute copy – but the bottom line is, it is much more important moving forward to establish and maintain RELATIONSHIPS with your core fans than it is to try to mean everything to everybody.

I know it's easier to hope for the quick fix of a song placement, radio add, or sponsorship than it is to invest the time needed to build a strong foundation of fans on your own, but it's what you have to do these days to maintain a long-term career.

And if you happen to get picked for the next iTunes commercial, then goody for you! Consider it found money, but don't expect it to sustain your career — can you say “Jerk It Out” by Caesars? Yep, I knew you could.

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  1. I agree to a certain extent but is it possible that Scott did not grow up in organized religion. I feel that religions and churches are branded and do work to brand themselves. Jesus is the face of the brand called christianity. Have you ever been involved with a church when they change pastors? Just like when proctor and gamble change “tide” for some reason, there is always a backlash with the loyalists. I think he really disagrees more with the word “brand” than the actual analogy when it falls into the “band” context. Proctor and Gamble should be listening to their loyalists. I am sure they do in a much more formal context by having old school “auditorium” tests similar to what radio used to do. I have no problems with the article.

  2. I’ve been mentally using the church analogy in my head for about eight years. Churches represent a community and people pay to support them. And there are multiple churches around the country, so it is possible to have lots of them surviving, just like it might be possible to have lots of local bands surviving.
    The reason I don’t discuss it a lot publicly is that churches hold special meaning to people and I don’t think they want to believe that bands can become more like churches.
    However, I do believe that if you give people something that they enjoy, they will keep coming back to you. The people who say you shouldn’t play the same area every weekend haven’t been to shows where there are a group of fans who will come to every show. Some bands/musicians can pull it off. If that music community, built around a band or artist, becomes the place where you feel you belong and where you’ll find your friends and fellow fans, you will keep coming.
    The one big problem with a lot of music is that isn’t all-ages. So once you have kids, you either have to find babysitters or you don’t go. Churches offer something for everyone in the family. Most music venues do not.

  3. Church’s don’t sell t-shirts and concert tickets. Band’s don’t evangelize (maybe they should). Relationships are critical, but it’s the name that sells merchandise, it’s the experience that sells out concerts.

  4. “Church’s don’t sell t-shirts and concert tickets.”
    Yes, I think the church analogy works much better for local/regional bands than national bands. If you are trying to sell online or via direct marketing, you aren’t going to be able to cultivate the “attend every week for your soul” kind of vibe that people get from churches.
    For a lot of people, their live music experience IS in church. They may hear traditional church songs, contemporary praise-and-worship music, or even non-church music that is presented in a church setting. But where they are going to hear live people singing and playing is in church, not in a bar or concert location.
    The music is important to them, but it’s the whole package — message, community, emotional support — that they can get on a weekly basis. Following a band that only plays live in their town every 3-to-36 months isn’t the same.

  5. Isn’t this is concept still pretty much inline with Seth Godin’s Tribes?
    It seems like the same exact discussion except packaged with a religious slant, and religion is always a hot button topic.
    I agree with everything he said though, but I like the way Suzanne articulated it better.
    – Danny

  6. The word “brand” is interpreted differently by different people. I see considering bands as brands as being a positive business move. It’s the people in the band that are the brand but they are defined by fans’ opinions which are more powerful now than ever. [see Music Dopeness and Bands as Brands]. Your church analogy is interesting. Churches are businesses too. Religion is based on trust, faith, belief, and compassion. Religion in best conveyed in stories. The bible is a book of stories. Bands can empower their fans to create their story. Trust and caring are key parts of any relationship and they help to solidify a fan community. IMO whether you look at it as a business, a brand, a religion, etc. it’s all the same game.

  7. oh this is great! I thought that we were hammering the band is a brand idea just to get the idea across to bands that maybe they should, after all, perhaps PUT THE BAND NAME ON THE PACKAGE!
    i think you are confusing the heavy handed approach with thee sledgehammer with the actual end goal. It is only once a band has a bit of cohesion that it can start to jump around, higher and higher from that solid foundation.
    and, HI JEFF!

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