Lessons about performing, lesson 33: Branding!

Look, if you don’t know what I’m doing by now, you’re probably never going to know what I’m doing! 😉

I’m a professional performing musician. I’ve done this job, in some capacity, for many decades. I’m good at it. It’s not ego – it’s years of learning the trade.

The lazy bastards in the industry haven’t written a book that tells you all the shit you really should know before deciding to become a performer. I’d think they’d write this stuff in a book, but they didn’t. They should, they could probably make a few bucks!

But, they haven’t… That means you’re stuck with me telling you all these rules – and there are quite a few. These rules won’t make you a rock star, but they will give better odds than your competition and they may just enable you perform music as your sole source of income. (That’s a rarity and that’s the goal I’m setting for you with this list – though you may not choose to go that far.)

So, here’s the complete list – if you want to read it. If you’re already caught up, let’s get on with the show!

Rule #33: Remember Branding!

We’ve already touched on this subject before. I’ve mentioned that you need to treat your band like a business. I’ve mentioned that you need to treat fans with things like merchandise. I’m going to put this together.

You’re going to want a band name that’s appropriate and something that’s easy for people to remember. It should fit on something like a guitar pick, a t-shirt, cups, CD covers, banners, and things like that.

It should also be appropriate for the crowd you’re aiming to please. I’ll go so far as to tell you that a gospel band should probably not be named Satan’s Gay Lovers. Your punk band should probably not be called Daddy’s Lil’ Princess.

Actually, scratch that. That’s a brilliant name for a punk band.

Anyhow, you’re gonna want to name it something that you’re going to be easily able to get printed up on merchandise. Believe it or not, merchandise has a couple of benefits. You can actually make some pretty good money selling merchandise. On top of that, everyone running around with a band shirt on is actually advertising for you.

People who have your merchandise say a few things – even without speaking. They say that they went and saw your band and that they liked you well enough to support you. Even if you gave the shirt to them, nobody is going to ask them if they got the shirt for free.

You can get all sorts of things with your logo on them. I have an order being processed for a box right full of guitar pics with our logo on them. I give those out like a pedophile gives out candy. I might as well have our logo on them.

You’ll also probably want business cards. No, those aren’t really for handing out to the audience. Those are for handing out to venue owners, promoters, talent agencies, and people who wear suits with ties and nice shoes.

You want to brand yourself as a business. You want to brand yourself as a band. You want to worry about your brand. You want to take care of your brand’s reputation. You want to promote your brand. You want to advertise your brand in the appropriate places. You want people to talk about your brand. You want people to recognize your brand.

You’ll want things like a catchy logo and distinctive colors – usually with a fancy font and using the primary colors to make a bold statement. It may be worth it to get your logo professionally designed, though it’s possible that you have a band member who’s into visual arts. However, remember the ego thing…

See, if you get it visually designed by someone outside the band (one that you’re all able to agree on) then you don’t have the ego associated with one band member competing with another to design the logo or their ego being damaged when they produce results that the rest of the band doesn’t like.

Like any brand, you want the logo to stay the same for long periods of time. You don’t want to change the logo – you want it to be familiar. You want name, image, and color pattern recognition. You want familiarity and you want people to associate the logo with good things automatically. You don’t want them to have to stop and think about it, you want it to be immediate and subconscious.

It’s almost always more expensive but you should get your merchandise locally. They can keep your logo on file, you can become a regular customer, you can see the quality of the merchandise before you pay for it, it’s easier to get filled in orders in a hurry once you’re a regular, and they’ll maybe even help support you – because you’re helping to support them.

For example, I’ve had shirts printed up with a “Proudly Printed By: $Company_Name.” It was down below the image but visible and not large enough to detract from our logo. The shirts weren’t meant to be sold – they were meant to be given away, all of them. They were shot out of t-shirt cannons (which is more awesome than it looks like).

Because of this, we got a steep discount on the printing – we got them at cost for materials and didn’t even have to pay for the labor as the owner printed them personally.

If you’re doing a specific event, say a county fair, and your show is being sponsored by a bunch of local businesses, you can probably even get them to pay for, or chip in, to pay for the shirts that you’re going to give away.

In that example, on the front it has your band logo. On the back, it has the event name (and probably logo). It then has a list of all the sponsors and their logos. Best of all, you’re probably not going to have to pay much for those – and maybe not pay anything at all.

In one very similar circumstance, we not only didn’t pay for shirts like those – but we made a killing because they were sold at like $10.00 each – which is a killer price for a band shirt. Fans love band shirts. You don’t even have to be a big band. They love ’em and they’re happy to pay for them.

By the way, we’re pretty anal about our shirt quality with this current band. They’re very high end shirts and the printing process is pretty fancy – able to survive many washes. I’m not going to get into the details, because I don’t know them and I’m not an expert. I’m not going to get into the shirt brand name, but they have a good name and they’re not cheap shirts.

We’re out of t-shirts and won’t have more until mid-week. Fortunately, getting more was just a phone call away. Why? Because I used someone local and I know them at a personal level. They’ll fit my order in, I can trust that they’ll be quality, and they’ll be here on time. However, we’ve had repeated compliments on the quality of the shirts.

We’re doing sweatshirts and hats – with a plan for winter hats to be done this fall. There’s some talk of doing some panties with our logo on them but we haven’t decided if we want to go that route. How, exactly, do I answer the question, “Why don’t you have panties in 3X size?”

Remember, branding… Remember, they’re your paying customers. So, make sure you’re branding appropriate things. Another idea, presented by the printing company, was that we do sweatpants with our logo on the ass of said pants, or going up the side of the leg. That’s an idea but it’s not one we’ve hashed out in any great detail.

It needs to be dynamic. You need to continue to promote your band in new and creative ways. This all goes into running your band as if you’re running a business – because you are running a business. Also, keep track of all these receipts. If you keep them, you’ll only be taxed on the profit you make from them and you’ll write-off any expenses. I told you already, folks… Hire an accountant!

See? All these lessons are starting to come together into bigger lessons that make even more sense now that you can see more of the picture. Keep your eyes open for new ways to improve your branding. If you have any creative ideas, feel free to share them in a comment! If you’re inspired by any of these ideas, please do let us know.

As always, I’m very grateful that you took the time out of your busy schedule to read this. I’ve realized that many non-musicians are reading these and are able to take lessons from them and find similarities to their own jobs. If you can think of something that you’d like me to add, don’t hesitate to ask and leave a comment. Thanks for reading! Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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