Musicians need to brand themselves, just like everyone else. Music is a business.

Here’s a fresh perspective from a rising music star, Kristen Graves, whom I have had the delight of listening to twice in concert. I “friended” her on Facebook and saw a guest post she had on another blog.

I really liked her perspective and asked her permission to post as a guest blog post here about “you, the brand.” She was kind enough to give me permission to repost it.

And do listen to her music at Wonderful!

Branding – the thing that songwriters think they’re too talented for…

I remember the first time that a business coach-type told me that I needed to pay more attention to my branding…I had no idea what she was talking about.

I thought that brands were for companies, make sure that they (the companies) were defined and able to reach their target market…blah blah…I had no idea why it was important for me. But she persisted and continued to explain – that when people described my music, they were really describing me, and so I needed to give them something to hold on to.

I’m an optimistic, social justice-focused singer/songwriter, and people know this when they listen to my music. I also have my own (faux) political party called the Just Be Nice Party. I’m really all about the hope. And yet, while people will sometimes use these phrases or words to describe me, more often than not – I’m the singer/songwriter with dreadlocks.

At Ariel Hyatt’s YOUR MUSIC, YOUR RIGHTS, YOUR CAREER seminar with Michael Whalen, and a bunch of other wonderful music business folks, she called me out in the auditorium because of my hair – mentioning that I could never cut my dreads.

A few years ago, this would have bothered me, but now – I know that she’s totally right…and I’m fine with it!

I decided on dreads a few years ago out of convenience, (it’s a story for another time that has to do with spending months in Mexico and bathing in a waterfall) have kept them out of love, and have benefitted from them out of branding.

Branding Yourself Is Not Selling Into Some Gimmick

I used to think of branding and marketing along the lines of a gimmick – thinking that it was for people who needed some kind of trick to get customers to buy their music. (I really wasn’t trying to judge, I was just deciding that my time was best spent on creating music.)

I now realize that while yes, my time is best spent creating music, branding is merely an extension of songwriting and being creative.

When I walk down the street, I get a lot of compliments on my hair (even on NYC’s sidewalks, where attention is hard-earned), and I get a lot of smiles.

I’m pretty sure this is simply because my outside looks like what and how I feel inside.

Meaning – I’m a carefree, optimistic and flexible person – people can tell this by the way I dress, walk, and wear my hair.

Ariel & Michael’s seminar retaught me that branding is simply letting people know what my music sounds like through other senses – and when I think of it that way, it’s actually fun and very cool.

Branding isn’t a cheap gimmick, it’s refusing to compromise on who I am. Making sure that everything I do looks, sounds, smells, tastes and feels like me.

Ariel, Michael and all – thank you for the amazingly helpful information, and thank you for reminding us to be fiercely true to ourselves.

About Kristen Graves:

unnamedKristen Graves is a singer / songwriter and humanitarian from Fairfield, CT, serving as the current Connecticut State Troubadour. Mentioned as ‘the new generation of folk’  by the New York Times, Kristen performs approximately 175 shows a  year, delighting audiences throughout the country.

Thanks so much to Kristen for her perspective: wise beyond her years.