What is the first thing you think of when the company Coca-Cola is mentioned—how about Apple or Mercedes? These are all strong brands that have distinct images associated with them. As a musician you also have a brand. You, Inc. means something to those who want to hire you. Let’s think about that in business terms for a minute. Hang in there. Here come some definitions.
“A brand is a trademark or distinctive name identifying a product or a manufacture.” [The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.] And Brand Equity is a set of assets and liabilities linked to a brand (name and/or symbol) that add to or subtract from the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/or to that firm’s customers. [David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership, (New York: The Free Press, 2000), p. 17.] Whew! Even I had to read that last quotation twice! As musicians we don’t often think in these terms, but whether intentional or not musicians develop their brands too. Some would call it your reputation or image. Picture a musician like Yo-Yo Ma. What do you think of when you hear his name? It could be—he’s at the top of his field, artistic musician, wholesome, diversity, multi-cultural, wide-range of music, personable, good guy, etc. How about Wynton Marsalis? It could be—cultural roots, has respect for the history of jazz music and its preservation, great classical as well as jazz musician, Lincoln Center Jazz, Juilliard, etc. (read: diverse Legos from a previous blog). If Miles Davis is thought of in the same manner it could be—innovative, legendary, cool, hip, bad boy, eccentric, etc.
In business a strong brand is identified with a message or image that is meaningful to the consumer. It stands apart from other brands and the consumer feels good about using it. Marsalis, Ma and Davis are all strong brands. It could be argued that there are other musicians that are equally talented and artistic, but the brand of these three musicians sets them apart from the pack. Some might perceive Davis’ brand as having some negative descriptors, but remember what is perceived as negative to some can be positive to others (or reason to go to a concert to see and hear what this person is about).
When people consider going to a Marsalis or Ma concert or purchasing one of their recordings, they base much of their decision on past experiences with these artists. For example, they saw Wynton on television. They liked what they saw and heard, and therefore decided to check him out in a live concert situation. This potential concert-goer was linking back to past experience in an effort to predict future outcomes. “I like his recordings. I’ll like him at a concert. We’ll have a good time. Let’s buy a ticket.”
What is Your Brand?
Now think about your brand. And it isn’t just about your playing, but we can start with that. What do people think of when they think of you? Make a list and write it down. Here’s an example.
Good player, great sound, terrific technique, OK sight-reader, inexperienced in orchestra and show work, a little unreliable, no car (you have to give him a ride), can be argumentative. Does this list describe a person you would hire to play a show? Maybe not. His brand has too many negatives, or liabilities. But in reality some of the listed negatives could be based on isolated incidences. The person who views this player as unreliable and argumentative could be basing that on hearsay or on just one observed occurrence.
Musicians who wear several different hats (read: Legos) may be able to extend their brands to adapt to various situations. For example, a person who is a fine composer could also be a great instrumentalist and make violin bows as well. It’s possible that some may be familiar with this person only as a composer and have no idea of these other talents.
I hope that it is clear here that the type of good brand building I am talking about is based on good deeds and good playing, both of which occur in an organic sort of way. I’m not talking about a brand that is artificially created by an agency for a movie star, pop-music artist or boy band. I’m talking about the reputation that everyday musicians build over time, as they go about their daily work.
As previously stated, a strong brand is identified with a message or image that is meaningful to the consumer, stands apart from other brands and the consumer feels good about using it. Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Renée Fleming, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Bono are all strong brands, of which the general public is aware. These are the brands of music mega-stars. But, there are also strong brands that are known only by the musicians in a particular subset of the music world. Think of orchestral trombonists, flutists, concertmasters, jazz saxophonists or bassists. Within each small music business subset there are those who stand out above the rest. The musicians in that field know their names. This is true of every community of local musicians, for example in your town or school.
Your brand is built over time and is determined not only by how well you play, but also on how you handle yourself. Recitals, performances and publications all contribute (read: Legos), but even non-musical things play a part in your brand, as well. For example, the people with whom you associate, your appearance, as well as your personality all add to or detract from your brand. It takes a considerable amount of time to build a good brand, but it can be tarnished very quickly with sub-par performance or actions. (The recent Tiger Woods scandal is a perfect example of this.) It only takes one example of sloppy technique to create doubt in the minds of others regarding your expertise. There is probably truth in the old saying, “You are only as good as your last gig.” Professional musicians are in a referral business. Build your brand. Keep it pristine.