THE SOLO ARTIST’S DYNAMIC STRATEGY OF BUILDING YOUR CREATIVE BRAND FROM SCRATCH
“‘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.
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?
Yes—but you need a plan.
You need a strategy.
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.”
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.
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.”
GET OVER YOUR ABANDONMENT ISSUES.
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
—Leonardo Da Vinci
We get in the way of releasing our own work because it’s just not done yet.
The piece will never be done.
You will ALWAYS want to tweak it.
EMBRACE PINTEREST MODE
“Live below your means. Don’t go into debt. Jam economics. Do the best you can with what you have.”
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.
Looks fancy, huh?
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.
It’s a matter of producing a sound that is unforgettable.
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.”
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
8 promotional singles
37 music videos
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.
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.
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:
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…
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.
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.
Think of a vlogger as a radio station. With that mindset, there are MILLIONS of radio stations out there for you to tap into.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
“Diversification is everything. You get past ‘this’ by having lots of ‘thats’.” —James Altucher
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.”
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.
“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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