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THE SOLO ARTIST’S DYNAMIC STRATEGY OF BUILDING YOUR CREATIVE BRAND FROM SCRATCH

by Gigi Rodgers

THE SOLO ARTIST’S DYNAMIC STRATEGY OF BUILDING YOUR CREATIVE BRAND FROM SCRATCH

Puck'n Khaos Gigi Rodgers

“‘How will I pay the bills?’ is not a question of the scared or cowardly, it's a question of the sane and responsible.” —Austin Kleon

He rolled his eyes at me and said, “I just want to do my work and not worry about all this business shit.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this sentiment from my artist friends.
Years ago, I thought the same thing.
You may have said it yourself a few times.

I get it: You don’t like to “peddle your work” because it feels sleazy, or you’re unfamiliar with the art of the sale.

It’s uncomfortable.
It's awkward.

When clients ask about your price, in your head you’re freaking out about whether the number is too high or too low.

People should be able to see or listen to my work, see the genius, and pay me—right?

Ain’t that the dream?...Or is it a delusion?

We’re living in a noisy world, where getting people’s attention is harder than ever. Is it still possible to get noticed and build a living on your artistic talents?

Yes—but you need a plan.
You need a strategy.

If the thought of being a starving artist sounds like pointless self-deprecation—and, well, just plain dumb—but you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to promoting your work and getting business-serious about your brand, then you’re in for a liquor-filled chocolate treat.

Even though this particular article is targeted toward musicians and singers, these strategies and tools can be used by any creative who is in the beginning stages of gaining traction for their brand.

DON'T GET FANCY.

“Next time someone tells you to ‘do what you love,’ ask to see their tax return”. —Austin Kleon

There are a few things we need to touch on regarding your mindset before we get into the content creation portion of this article.

SHOW YOUR WORK. 

Get used to putting yourself out there. It's going to feel awkward as fuck in the beginning, but showing off your work is something you need to get used to. Creating your art is usually a private conversation with you and your thoughts. But if your work stays private, it may very well die there.

“Usually, when we talk about creativity, it’s about self-expression, which is great,” says Austin Kleon, the best-selling author of Steal Like an Artist, in an interview, “but for work to be art or design, there has to be someone on the other end. The audience makes the work come alive.”

Image from Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist

TURN A DEAF EAR.

Don't listen to any donkey dumbasses who tell you that you're “selling out" or “not being authentic.”

Fuck them!

They’re coming up with excuses like "I'm staying true to my craft" because they're afraid of doing the real work.

And it's going to be REAL WORK.

Leave those donkeys behind and surround yourself with positive people who are trying to make things happen in their fields, art or otherwise.

Building your brand is going to be an emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting journey, and forward-thinking people will empathize with you and what you're trying to accomplish.

There will be days like this.

And, if you’re around people who are actively striving, like you, to achieve their business goals, you’ll want to raise YOUR game as well.

But if you get cornered by a donkey who tries to ‘guide you to stay true to your art' - nod your head and say things like, “Mmhmm...I feel you...yeah, I get what you’re saying.”

And as soon as they walk away, forget everything they fucking said and continue on your damn hustle.

GET OVER YOUR ABANDONMENT ISSUES.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

—Leonardo Da Vinci

We're artists.
We're perfectionists.

We get in the way of releasing our own work because it’s just not done yet.

Know this:

The piece will never be done.
You will ALWAYS want to tweak it.

Others will hear the genius; you'll only hear the flaws.
LET. IT. GO. INTO THE WORLD.
It's better to put out a project that's only 97% perfected than to spend all your time tweaking a piece that never gets heard by anyone.

EMBRACE PINTEREST MODE

“Live below your means. Don’t go into debt. Jam economics. Do the best you can with what you have.”

—Austin Kleon

Many artists think they need to buy that four-figure equipment before they can make something that matters.

Think like a Pinterester, folks.
You think you need a $1500 camera, and a $350 backdrop, and a $625 three-point lighting kit to get that professional shot?

The Left Image: The backdrop is foam board that I picked up from the Dollar Store. It took me three sharpies and four hours to draw out that Zentangle pattern, and three more hours to draw it out on myself.
For lighting, I took the shades off two lamps that were in my room and angled them toward me by laying them on towels. Then I sat down on an old chest and took the shot with my iPhone 5S on a tripod.

The Middle Image: Again, two Dollar Store foam boards that I hot-glued together. I painted over the boards with acrylic paint and hung them on a portable rolling rack using shower curtain rings. Then I sat in front of the window, for the light, and took the shot with my iPhone 5S on a tripod.
The Last Image: I didn’t have a backdrop. So we went outside, for the  light, and I stood in front of a graffiti wall in a back alley. My friend took the pictures, again with my iPhone 5S on a tripod.

Looks fancy, huh?
I know.
Images I took with my iPhone 5S and a foam board background have gotten me featured in My Modern Met, Mashable, Hypebeast, and more.
And yet it cost me less than $15 and about two minutes tweaking the levels of each image in my photo editing app.

Think you need a professional studio to record your music?
YouTube should have taught you by now that it’s not a matter of producing the highest quality video. Less-than-perfect quality is forgivable.

It’s a matter of producing a sound that is unforgettable.

Just look at Syesha’s take on Beyonce’s “Love on Top,” or watch how Pentatonix has evolved.

The point is use what you readily have available—for example, a bathroom or hallway with good acoustics, and your phone propped up on some books to record video and audio. Use this makeshift arrangement as an opportunity to create a catchy title.

If you’re recording at work during your breaks, you can call it “Song #27: The 9–5 Break Sessions.”
If this is happening in your bathroom, “The Porcelain Lounge - Session #15”

You can probably come up with much better titles for your videos, but you get the idea, right?

The less you have to work with, the more creative you need to become.
And once you strengthen that creative muscle, you will see boundless possibilities for producing new work, instead of barriers.

Now that we’re on the same wavelength, let’s get into content creation, aka your work.

QUANTITY > QUALITY

“You have to accept yourself and go all in on you.”

—Gary Vaynerchuk

When you look at Drake’s discography, you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer volume of work he has put out in the past 10 years.

4 studio albums
4 mixtapes
108 singles
8 promotional singles
37 music videos
1 EP

And I’m sure this list needs to be updated.
Don’t forget that he won a lot of recognition and received two Grammy nominations for a mixtape. Not his professional studio albums—a mixtape.

That he recorded in his hotel room.

Gary Vaynerchuk, the entrepreneur and social media mogul, has worked with a lot of creatives just starting out. He definitely knows what it takes to get attention in a noisy world.

His advice: Whether you think the song is good enough or not, put it out there, and let the market decide.
Through consistency, sheer volume of output, and the evolution of your style, you’ll force people to take notice of what you’re doing.

CONTENT & COLLABORATIONS

“If coming up with ten ideas sounds too hard, then come up with twenty.” —James Altucher

You need to be putting music out into the world AT LEAST three times a week.

But G, I play the standing cello. I mean, not that many people are into classical music.”  

That’s true. Which is why you’re going to:

  • Get some of the latest pop music and make standing cello (or whatever instrument you play) versions of the top songs.
     
  • Collaborate with rappers, country singers, beatboxers, rockers, opera singers, soul singers, etc., in order to find new listeners and make your tracks appeal to a wider audience.
     
  • Have themed weeks where you—and your collaborator—cover ‘90s female rappers, or artists from the Wondaland Record label, or Dr. Seuss books, or rap songs revitalized in a pop style, or a Caribbean style, or a ’50s style...
  • Perform impromptu shows, in random locations, that you announce on Snapchat or Instagram Stories. For example, the random location might be an alleyway—you can call it “The Aisle Sessions.” You and your collaborator play three to five songs, and the mini-concert is over.

Why an obscure location?

Because you are trying to create a story for your audience. Imagine a vlogger describing their experience the next day:

“Y’all, I didn’t know what to expect. It was in the afternoon, in a RANDOM alley, when we looked for it on Google Maps. I had my keys in between my fingers walking up – READY FOR ‘EM! But then I heard the music and saw the crowd and thought...oh, OK...it’s cool, it’s cool…
LOL!
And I was surprised, y’all – it was only three or four songs, but they did this crazy mashup with The Weekend’s ‘Starboy’ and Rihanna’s ‘You Need Me.’ This chick was on the cello and there was a trio jammin’, and yo...it was DOPE! Here’s the video I caught on my phone.
And after the show they were REALLY NICE. I talked to them for about three minutes, they took a selfie with me – they were really nice.”

It’s hard to turn away from a good narrative. It builds emotion, inspires curiosity, and creates memories.
And you never know—that one vlogger could have 120K followers. And she just gave you a rave review, exposing a brand-new audience to your brand and your music.

  • Record yourself playing your cello for two to three hours straight in a park, on a street corner (for that ambient background noise), or in your room. It can be completely improv if you like. Then release the session to your audience at 12:38am, naming it “The Lonely Hours Mixtape.”
    Why 12:38am?
    Why not?
    Do this every week and train your audience to be on your SoundCloud at 12:38am every Tuesday to catch your latest mix.
  • Start reaching out to every YouTube vlogger that has over 7K followers, and even people on Twitch. It doesn't matter what genre they’re in—tell them they can use a set of music from your SoundCloud/YouTube Channel for FREE, as long as they credit you IN the video and leave a link in the description.

DM them via Instagram or Facebook, or email them—but go in for the ask.

NOTE: If you’re wondering, “Why the collaborations?” there is one main reason: to get access to your collaborator’s audience in order to gain new fans. And your collaborator is thinking the same thing.
 

Why?

Think of a vlogger as a radio station. With that mindset, there are MILLIONS of radio stations out there for you to tap into.

LICENSING MUSIC

While you're working on the above, read THIS ARTICLE by Neville Medhora about licensing music. I think you will really, really, really, really find this useful.

Really.

THE MULTIPLICATION

For every activity I just named, you WILL have your best friend, mom, dad, little brother, whoever take pictures and record video and audio.

And then, my specialty: Multiply these three assets into 20 assets.

 

Edit the best photos from your latest live concert and store them on your phone ready to use for Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter posts.

Want to turn a photo into a meme? Even better.
Use the app WordSwag to add text to your images.

WordSwag App
Post the audio of your concert on SoundCloud.

Use Anchor.fm to record the audio for you to distribute on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Again—same asset, different form.

Anchor FM

Cut the video from the concert into one-minute snippets so you can post it on Instagram, Twitter, etc.

Note: ICYMI, not only does Instagram let you post multiple photos in one post, but multiple videos as well. So if you want to post a four-minute live performance, break it up into one-minute videos and publish them all in one post.

See what I did there?

Not only should you be constantly creating, you should be finding multiple avenues to put your cool creations out into the world.
You want to publish your content in all the formats that your audience likes and in chunks they can easily digest.

Some people may prefer audio to video.
Others like the written word over audio.
Give your audience every option possible for finding your brand and consuming your work.

TELL YOUR STORY

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at the idea of taking the time to schedule all of these assets, here are two tools that will make your life a LOT easier and automate the majority of this process.

GRUM.CO
Schedule all of your Instagram posts for up to a month without push notifications.
Yeah, I said it.
Schedule ALL of your images on Instagram, for up to a month, with no push notifications. You can schedule it and forget it. It’s Instagram magic.

Grum.co

COSCHEDULE
Schedule Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn posts MONTHS in advance, all on one platform. CoSchedule also provides analytics and other handy tools that will make it easier for you to plan and schedule your distribution strategy.

CoSchedule

Hootsuite is a similar tool.
Pick your flavor and run with it.

These are distribution tools, but remember to always build a rapport with your audience.
Don’t use your social media pages as a dumping ground.

Be caring, humble, and appreciative—it’s the best marketing strategy ever.

CONSISTENCY & EFFORT

“The best gift you can give to someone is effort.”

—Lilly Singh

Have you ever noticed how some people will work hard for others, but not so hard for themselves?

Spring boarding off of Lilly’s quote—the best gift you can give YOURSELF is to put in the effort and self-enforce consistency.

I know it’s a lot.
But let’s think about the benefits:

  • You’re doing something you love day in and day out. Of course it’s a lot of work, but there’s nothing else in the world you’d rather be doing.
  • Your confidence becomes SOLID.
  • You’re becoming more creative because you’re continually exposed to new genres, people, perspectives, and ideas. You’re comfortable playing in multiple styles, and what used to take you hours to create, now takes you a quarter of the time.

“Diversification is everything. You get past ‘this’ by having lots of ‘thats’.” —James Altucher

  • You’re making new friends and building new relationships that could lead to future opportunities.
  • The more exposure you have, the more brand deals that can emerge. And after a while, potential collaborators will seek you out instead of the other way around.
    In the words of the great Harvey Specter from Suits: “Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself.”

MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

“No matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter who your audience is: 30 percent will love it, 30 percent will hate it, and 30 percent won’t care. Stick with the people who love you and don’t spend a single second on the rest. Life will be better that way.”

—James Altucher

You are now armed with a cornucopia of ideas to jumpstart your branding efforts from scratch. I’ve given you a glimpse of the framework, but don’t you dare think that it’s going to be an easy road.

Stolen from Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist

Some days are going to be amazing.
Some days are going to suck.
Some months you will have collaborations stacked.
Some months will be a complete dry spell.
Some of your ideas may flop.
Others could get you featured in Hypebeast.

But remember this: You are in control.
 

You can decide where you want your creativity to take you.
You are choosing to get your name out there instead of waiting for someone to choose you.

And on that note, let’s end this article with an excerpt from Benjamin P. Hardy:

“Nothing in life is free, especially your time. Everything has a cost. And when it comes to your time, the cost is heavy. You can never get even one second back.

“You can live your life on purpose. You can spend your time on things you value. You can be who you intended to become. You can continue to progress and evolve, even after you’ve become successful and fulfilled.
“But the price must be payed.

“You can’t fake it.

“It’s available if you want it. But you must choose it.”

If you found this article interesting, subscribe to this blog as I will be covering other content marketing concepts for creative brands, like content calendars, scripts for reaching out to potential collaborators, and more.

What tactics/strategies have you done to build your brand that worked? Leave a comment below.

P.S. Tell me what your craft is below and I just might spitball an idea that you can implement immediately.

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