Posted: Aug 3, 2020
**Guest post by David Figueroa of Avoid Cliche, a musical artist branding company.
"You've made your music, but you need to decide how you want to present yourself to the world. Even if you're making music just for fun, it's always good to give people an extra layer of the artistic story, so people remember you. Here I'll explain why visual branding is vital and even get into some fun psychology. Buckle up.
Because you're a musician you think that's it's all about the music, but that's not how potential listeners interact with your music initially. You can't escape the fact that they'll see your music first, for the most part. Those old enough will remember going through vinyl or CD racks at their local record shop back in the day. It's not different now: people will scroll through online website sites and still see your music and want to investigate something that catches their eye.
If you completely discount the idea of properly branding your music you're missing the chance to help potential listeners understand what they're listening to. It's like selling a tin of peaches without a label, or with just the word peaches written on it. If your competitor is putting a competing product on the same supermarket shelf with a lovely picture of juicy peaches, which tin is going to sell? Or worse still you decide to put a picture of some carrots on the tin. Visual branding is about getting that messaging right and making it as enticing as possible.
The first piece of psychology we're going to get into is called: anchoring, and it's pretty powerful stuff. You can go read more about it here but in layman's terms what it means is that the first interaction with something will lock someone's opinion or biases in place. So what it means for you is that if you have terribly designed branding for your music people will form an opinion of that before they've heard a note and it becomes harder to convince people that the music is great! Because they're relying on that initial piece of information and it's hard to break that opinion they've formed. People do judge a book by its cover.
There is also a subtler version of the Anchoring bias, and that's the Framing Effect. There's a great story from a book I read recently called Gastrophysic: Renowned chef Heston Blumenthal was trying out a new dish he'd created which was some sort of crab nitrogen ice cream concoction, which he presented to a set of test diners, calling it Crab Ice Cream and they all came back and said, "A bit too salty". Being a top chef Heston was convinced it wasn't too salty. But yes it contained cream and because of the recipe it was pinkish in colour. So the next set of test diner he presented it to he simply changed the name to Crab Sea Ice and they all give it rave reviews, even though it was exactly the same recipe.
The moral of the story is that the power of presenting something wildly alters people's perception. Change a few words and hey presto it tastes different. And this is why branding something well is so important.
One of my favourite album covers is Skin by Flume, it makes the music brighter, more metallic, more floral and brittle because that's what the image is telling me. It does alter my perception.
Understanding the Framing Effect will greatly improve your music without having to change a single thing.
Good consistent branding entices more fans into listening to other tracks you've produced. If a listener really likes one of your tracks and is looking at the rest of your output, if the tracks are visually similar they will already have the confirmation bias that these other songs are going to be as good as the song they already like. This will translate into more listens, streams and sales. If all the tracks look different, they're going in blind, and are less likely to explore your other work.
Go to any soccer match on any given Saturday afternoon and you'll see fat middle aged men wearing replica shirts, as if they're going to be called out from the crowd as a substitute half way through the game. It would be laughable if it wasn't so sad. But tribes like wearing their tribal colours. There is a deeply rooted connection with loyalty and being able to pick out your team, quickly and easily. It's no different with music fans. Go to any concert and you'll see like minded fans in t-shirts and you immediately think, they're my people.
If you want to create that deeper connection, having something they can quickly visually associate with, builds that loyalty. It can come from something as simple as them seeing the new single you put out and without seeing who it's by, think: that's my team!
Also, those super loyal fans are more likely to buy everything. Just delve into some information on the psychology of collecting and you'll see why.
At a school, or in the armed services, everyone is forced to dress uniformly, and there is a good reason for this: it allows those in charge to remove individuality and stamp some authority on you. This is the absolute antithesis of what being a musical artist is all about. It's about forging your unique identity, in what you're saying with your music and how that's presented. Branding allows you to be unique and be memorable. Not part of some uniformed mass.
Think of any household name visual artist: Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Lichtenstein, Damien Hirst, and we immediately see their very individual identities in our mind's eye, because humans interact with the world on a visual level. Good branding will do that for you too with your fans. Not some mass of EDM, Rock, Techno or whatever artist.
Having the chance to add an extra layer to your music with visual branding is freeing, and wholly useful, because it allows you to put on any costume your heart desires, and present yourself and your music in any way you want to potential listeners. It's like the ultimate dressing up box. But with strong branding comes strong responsibility, because the moment you choose that identity people will expect you to be that same musical superhero. Imagine if Burial suddenly decided to have happy neon branding and happy music. There would be a fan backlash. So chose wisely.
Once you have your unique visual branding set, this allows you to have something to work towards, to inspire you to make more music. It could be a piece of album artwork tagged to your studio wall that you're making. It could be a band logo, that's banner you rally behind. It could be a t-shirt you've printed that you wear with pride. Knowing what you're going to look like, as well as once less job to do, makes you feel as though it's something real.
One of favourite books on the subject of capturing and keeping people's attention from the last ten years is Riveted by Jim Davies. It's instantly quotable throughout, but this my favourite on the subject:
"When we see visual patterns, we are delighted, because seeing a pattern is noticing a predictable regularity in the world that we might be able to exploit. Patterns are breaks in the chaos. Visual rhymes ..."
That's basically what good branding is and how it makes us feel. Humans like order.
The final thing to say about the importance of branding is that a brand will fall flat on its face if it doesn't get out there and stick in the minds of potential listeners. So the more you can reaffirm that brand with releases the better. The more consistent the music the more consistent the brand. The more consistent the voice the more consistent the brand."
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