How to create a Minimum Viable Brand (MVB) for a musician & use it to attract fans
Every product needs a eye-catching brand in order to be successful. Here you can learn about what branding strategies are for you with this MVP guide.
As an indie musician, it’s easy to want everything to happen at once.
Especially when we study success stories, we see businesses that have a lot going on; many products and offerings, lots and lots of promotional avenues, and a robust, multi-platform presence. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and either give up or try to build a megalith act overnight.
But as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” — your idol’s act wasn’t either. There’s a similar adage in the entertainment industry: “It takes 20 years to make an overnight sensation.”
That may sound like a long time (especially if you’re 22!), but it doesn’t have to take that long, especially if you do business efficiently.
That’s where the idea of a “minimum viable brand” (or MVB) comes in. An MVB is just that, a brand that’s as streamlined as possible and still works how you need it to. The MVB is an offshoot of the concept of an “MVP” — minimum viable product — and for indie musicians, they’re both key concepts that can make it a lot easier to build up a business without failing due to overextending yourself.
Let’s talk about the MVP first and then get into the MVB.
A Short History of the MVP
The minimum viable product is a term first coined by a guy named Frank Robinson in around 2001 and popularized by the book The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. Ries’s definition of MVP is “the version of a new product that allows the team to gather the maximum amount of proven customer knowledge with the least amount of effort.”
You can read the book (and you should), but let’s skip to putting it into musical terms. Let’s say you’ve got a song written. You wrote it and have it pretty practiced up on the acoustic guitar. It costs money, time, and effort to record a full-on production of it, and you’d like to know if it’s any good before you do that.
So, instead of a whole production, you cut a live demo. Or even better, you take it to a couple of open mics. Maybe you’ve got six of these new tunes. It takes zero production or effort to go sit down and play these tunes and gauge how they’re received. Maybe two of them get some good clapping, another two are met with dead silence, and two make the crowd go crazy.
Now you know which two to produce first. This is super simplified, but it gives you the basic idea. Perhaps instead of a huge album launch with 10,000 CDs, vinyl, shirts, posters, hats, and all that, you start with an easy-to-accomplish streaming EP release.
In the Lean Startup model, the MVP is a product you release to the public that’s the most minimal version that you can get away with releasing. And this is not about releasing “crappy stuff” — you’d still want to record that demo well and practice before the open mic. But before you invest a lot into a tune or a release, you release easy-to-make stuff first. The next key is to iterate.
Let’s take another example. Perhaps you’re convinced that video on social media is your best bet (and it probably is). But that could take a lot of forms. Do you need to produce full-on $20,000 music videos for every song? If you’re Metallica, sure. But if you’re an indie with a job at Baskin Robbins…no.
So, what can you do?
Find the easiest way to put “viable” content on your social media channels regularly. Maybe you set up a camera with some decent lighting in your home studio, connect up a decent recording setup, and play live, stripped-down versions of your songs. You can do this with almost no budget, it doesn’t take a lot of time, and there’s almost no editing.
As you do this again and again, you can improve each time.
Maybe you improve the lighting. Then you get a better mic. Maybe you play a little more dynamically. Perhaps you start bringing in other musicians. The next thing you know you’ve got full-blown live band videos. You didn’t wait to have all that in place, and now you have a loyal following that’s been with you through this whole growth process.
Minimum Viable Brand
Now that you understand the concept of not doing more than you need to before getting out there, you can see how it might apply to building your brand. Wherever you are in your career, you’re aware of all the things you’re told you need — a logo, a website, social media profiles, a bunch of promo pictures and headshots, brand colors, a special font — and so on.
Those things are all awesome to have, but when you’re starting out, you shouldn’t get bogged down trying to get them all at once. Depending on how you structure your business, you may never need them.
Take websites for example. A band website can be a super useful tool, but contrary to popular belief, it won’t do anything on its own. You have to drive traffic to it and to do that, you’ll need to create some kind of following. Let’s say you’re doing that by building a robust fan base on Instagram and Spotify. Do you need a website right away? Maybe not. Maybe for the first year, all you’re doing is engaging on Instagram and driving people to Spotify.
As your following grows and becomes interested in finding out more, then you might consider building a website. But even then, does it need all the bells and whistles? Maybe not. Maybe all it needs is one page with a form to join your list and your social media links.
Think about the strategy that gets you out there engaging fans with the least amount of effort and money — the one that works for you. Then build only the elements you need to work that strategy. As you iterate through content releases, songs, and whatnot, you can respond to your growing need with new brand elements.
What if you’re a live band just getting started in the local scene? You’ve booked your first paying gig and you killed it. Now you’re getting invited to gigs left and right. Great! But do you need to run out and spend all your money on merch and recording and a band banner and all that good stuff? Not all at once. Your minimum viable product could be a solid 20-minute set you get paid to do.
If you don’t spend much making the set happen, you’re profitable, and that’s a solid minimum viable product. As you play more shows, you can write or learn more songs, implement new things like a short CD run or a tip hat, and see what resonates with your fans. Over time, you’ll evolve a bigger business that works because you haven’t put all your money and time into big moves that may not be the right thing for your act.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “Don’t Be Boring: A Musician’s Guide to Branding.”
Why MVP and MVB are Crucial for Indies
Normally, if you’re starting an independent music venture you probably won’t have a lot of money or time to spend. You want it to grow, but you’re not in a position to do everything you’ve seen the big acts do. This can be frustrating and if you’re not aware of the MVB model, you’re likely to give up before you start.
MVPs and MVBs give you a chance to work with what you do have and build at a pace that you can handle, without simply making music in a vacuum and never getting heard. It’s also less of a financial risk that dumping a whole bunch of money into an untested venture without first finding out what will work.
That’s why even if you do have a lot of money, starting off with an MVB is wise, so you can build the best possible foundation to hold up a sustainable, successful business — which is what a successful music act is.
So, you don’t need to get overwhelmed by everything you could possibly do. Instead, do just enough to get yourself out there and learn what to do next. In this way, the MVB will lead you to your best possible music business.