Is branding a vital element to surviving in the music industry? When you think of a band, Skillet, for instance, what images come to mind? My mind envisions Skillet as industry professionals, well produced, always entertaining, declaring faith, exploring life’s ups and downs. The band is well recognized in mainstream rock/metal and the Christian music scene. They are polished and confident. These images are the components of branding. Think of your favorite bands. What comes to mind? Does the thought of them bring the “personality” of the band to mind? Should it?
Some may feel that a band should first and foremost concentrate on producing the best music possible. This could be the case but are all bands tied to this being their number one priority? What if they have another purpose for their music besides just the music. Is that OK? Portraying an image to the public can connect a band them with the fans that would appreciate them. Some may think that sharing the gospel and faith based ministry is number one in priority when it comes to Christians that make music. Do you think so?
The fact is, bands, if they were to pin down a mission statement, have different ones. Branding is what reveals the heart of a band to their audiences and attracts fans that identify with them and appreciate their music. Without strong branding, building a fan base can be more difficult. A well thought out brand strategy personifies a band to it’s fans. There is always the danger of overdoing it and coming across as too commercial as if you are selling yourself to the public. Commercialism in branding is not what works but a genuine face of the band revealing what drives them is.
Starting a career in marketing, branding is on my mind a lot. I listened to a New Release Today live show recently entitled A New Paradigm for Christian Music with Keven and Marcus that got me thinking about this more. They discussed a variety of topics, the emphasis in Christian music by lots of bands these days on worship, bands that devote themselves to a cause like Remedy Drive’s connection with The Exodus Road and a general discussion of the shift of music produced by Christians. This spurred my thinking in the direction of the importance of having an image in mind that identifies yourself as a band to the public. Let’s face it, bands want to be successful and this means music, concert ticket and merchandise sales. They also want to connect with people, increase their fanbase and draw support for the causes that are important to them. Branding can be such an effective way to do this.
When creating a brand, musicians should guard against being a shell that looks amazing on the outside but lacks heart. People like to sense depth to the bands they follow. A shallow band may not keep their fans interested, neither can one that is too predictable. We like a little variation in our music and the presentation of it. Thimblerigsark writes in his article entitled, “Branding the Christian Faith” “I personally know a few Christian musicians and songwriters, and they are – without a doubt – talented people. In fact, the ones I know have more talent in their little toe than I have in my entire body. And yet, popular Christian family-friendly music, the kind you hear on our radio stations, arguably the most visible (audible?) part of the Christian brand, is just… bland. Uninteresting. Predictable. Over-produced. Safe. And those are not words that I would use to describe the Christian faith.” I have felt the same thing. I will listen to mainstream Christian radio from time to time and with the exception of a few songs that are really well done, they underwhelm me. Is it because the music’s message is too safe or the same familiar message that is heard over and over to the point where it just doesn’t hold your attention? Maybe it’s just that some people like repetition in their music and others don’t. Obviously pop music or mainstream Christian Contemporary musicians sells lots of music so this kind of music has a market. It’s just not for everyone and seems to dominate the airwaves.
Depth in a band’s lyrics may touch those areas of humanity that are not as safe, like human trafficking, suicide or substance abuse. Music that touches on our life experiences are not always safe and may not have a widespread appeal but will attract those who are touched by the message or can identify with the subject matter. Identifying with people walking down particular walks of life can bring a sense that they are not alone and that there is hope, which can be instrumental in healing. Making this known in their branding, even Christian bands can seem dark and maybe go against the nerve of some believers, but God has a different mission for everyone. Jesus reached those in the shadows when he hung out with the tax collectors, prostitutes and those who found themselves in dark places. John 1:5 says, “ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
There are those bands that bring the light in smaller doses because not everyone is ready to be flooded with light. Light is what we want for humanity as well as hope and a future. There are those Christians in bands that don’t choose to brand themselves as “Christian”. They may hope to appeal to a wider audience bringing music that may not be overtly Christian but is for everyone. Just like David played the harp for Saul simply to cheer him up and relieve stress, there are those bands that are just fun and get the audience involved. Family Force Five has been criticized for this but I find that I have such a great time at their concerts, its pure fun and games. What can be wrong with that? Some music may not have a real message and could just be silliness that makes us laugh or dance (Chain Saw) and feel like life is worth living. Some people aren’t looking for meaningful music but just the fun stuff. Family Force 5 brands themselves as just that, fun, party music. This has been their claim to fame and success in the industry.
Branding is a valuable tool for bands and musicians. Projecting an identity and connecting with fans is an important element in success. Musicians should guard against being over marketed without delivering in their product, the music. Ensuring that the music really is what it claims to be is crucial. Albums that don’t live up to the hype, being well promoted but lacking quality can really disappoint fans. This is detrimental to a band. Whether promoting the latest album, an upcoming concert tour or an event or cause, well-done promotional material with strong branding sends a clear message that helps fans to engage. Thoughtful planning in the area of branding and marketing is a huge component in the success of musicians in today’s music industry.