‘Making the Brand’ For A Lasting Career In Music [Tunecore’s Shelby Kennedy]
For artists who are in it for they long haul, its important to think past their next release and to look at the big picture, spending time growing strong, engaging personas and building a personal brand that will last over time.
Guest post by Shelby Kennedy, VP, Entertainment Relations TuneCore
Artists who want a real career need to think beyond the next track and create a brand that connects with audiences long-term. Over my career as a songwriter, producer and label executive, I’ve seen that musicians succeed by building strong and engaging personas as a part of shaping a business plan.
Streaming music’s vitality has artists once again making money from recording, as they tap other increasingly important revenue streams like touring and licensing. But the diversification of the industry that got us to here should not soon be forgotten.
It's called the “music industry” for a reason — as an artist, you're essentially running your own small business, and your art is the “product.” Therefore, it’s critical to focus on the whole package you are presenting. The music is what the audiences connect with, the brand is what they engage with. In today’s world of streaming- and social media-driven artist-to-audience interaction, careers will be built on a lasting, sustained personal brand. And, for consumers to engage with you again and again — and give you their money — you need to establish a consistent, attractive brand that they can relate to.
Art and commerce have been merged throughout the evolution of the music industry. In the past, though, major labels and radio promoters were much more powerful as gatekeepers. Today, the creatives can be in charge, and bring the same creativity to managing their careers that they bring to making music.
Independent artists no longer need to be concerned with gatekeepers: access to streaming platforms and social media channels provides direct connections to audiences. But the brand-building and marketing roles now belong to the artist as well, which is crucial for turning audiences into fanbases.
Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that artists just need to make a great track and everything else will fall into place. That’s legacy thinking. In the era before the streaming upheaval, record companies encouraged artists to go out and tour endlessly to drive unit sales. The labels made huge investments in every possible revenue stream, and took proportionately hefty fees. With the inversion of that model, the goal for the independent artist has become ticket sales, with every channel of the artist’s persona and presence — such as streaming, PR, e-commerce and social media — in service of that effort. While that seems like a heavy burden, musicians should relish the opportunity to take their creativity well beyond the recorded track and apply it to building an authentic brand that they can control.
I’ve seen that what’s critical for the success of an artistic work is invaluable for persona-crafting as well. There’s a long list of unique personas in the history of music — from Mozart to David Bowie, Willie Nelson to Halsey — and with their personalities and their art, these artists carved out white space to shape their songs and their brand.
Both creative outputs originate from the same place. To find the ambition to write songs, I realized uniqueness was the first concern I had to satisfy. An artist can take inspiration from anywhere, but they create original work because they want to say something new and do something different. Creating a persona is much the same; and it’s the fresh point of view, style and brand that drives a desire to see what interesting new thing they will create. Every artist should aspire to establish a brand that has audiences asking, “what will they think of next?”
Prior to joining TuneCore, Shelby Kennedy was the Senior Vice President for Wide Open Music Group and the Chief Operating Officer at Cherry Heart Music & Entertainment. He also served as Director of A&R at Lyric Street Records, Director of Writer-Publisher Relations at BMI and Director of Membership at ASCAP.