Leveling Up Your Artistic Identity – Episode I: Building a Foundation

- Posted September 10th, 2019 by

If you’ve already endured the rigorous gauntlet of refining your sound and discovering your creative voice, then you’re in luck! You have already done the most difficult part. If you’re not quite at this stage, don’t worry—writing and production will be touched upon in another article series. If, however, you’re ready to get your music in front of people and take your project to the next level, this series is right up your alley. Leveling Up Your Artistic Identity is an episodic column that delves deep into the fine minutia of topics like how to build a marketing strategy, how to get your music in front of new fans, and how to grow your professional network. In this first installment, we’ll explore how to set the stage for your budding project and, armed with that knowledge, know how to choose an appropriate name.

Before you can show the world what you’re made of, you will need to lay a solid foundation to build upon. While this sort of prep work shouldn’t be considered optional, it doesn’t need to be overwhelming or stressful. Remind yourself that this is an investment in the quality of your work. The more thorough you can be, the greater the framework you will have to draw from. Begin by taking a few steps back to interrogate yourself. Think about the “story” behind your music (this can be literal or figurative). What is it about? What makes it unique? What parts make up the whole? Treat the answers to these questions as the premise to your work. Anytime you’re making something new, these ideas should be tapping you on your shoulder. They should be definitive and drive your work.

Beyond the story of your music, it’s crucial to think about your influences. The more specific you can be, the better. Defining your influences will not only give you a clear point of reference, it will also allow you to make a more meaningful connection with your prospective fans. Beyond knowing who you’re drawing inspiration from, it’s also worth looking at how they define their own identity. Look at what they are doing with their visuals, logos, artwork, and so on. Whether you realize it or not, these things helped to pique your initial interest in them. It’s also worth bearing in mind that influences can be pulled from a variety of sources. They don’t have to directly translate to songwriting conventions or production techniques. For this reason, there’s no reason to limit your list of influences to just bands and songwriters. It can be extremely helpful to identify non-musical influences, how those influences are visually represented, and what moods or emotions they invoke.

The genre “Progressive post-chip powerfunk fusion” may perfectly encapsulate your vision, but most people won’t know what that sounds like.

While it’s not important to follow the conventions of any particular genre to the letter, it’s essential that you establish what existing styles best describe your music. As you mull this over, make sure you don’t settle on anything that is contrived or extremely esoteric. The genre Progressive post-chip powerfunk fusion may perfectly encapsulate your vision, but most people won’t know what that sounds like. It’s better to choose something identifiable so that you don’t inadvertently build a barrier between you and your would-be listeners. Selecting one to three concise genres will act as an icebreaker for your audience and give them an incentive to explore your work.

Another gigantic gateway into your music is the name of your project. While you should ultimately choose something that speaks to your music, there are a handful of pitfalls to be aware of. Fortunately, all of them are completely avoidable. First and foremost, do a quick search to see if the name is being used somewhere else. Using a name of an existing product is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can create complications. For example, if you choose a name that is also the moniker for a shady underground society, you may not want your fans assuming the two of you are affiliated in any way. In other words: be aware of hidden connotations. If you’re absolutely dead set on using a name that is in use, look for ways to distinguish your music in some way to minimize potential confusion. Additionally, make sure that the name isn’t protected by trademark or copyright (the search process may vary depending on the country you live in). A cease and desist order would certainly put a damper on your name recognition.

While contemplating a name for your project, give that name a thorough examination too. Consider how your name will be received by total strangers. If they saw your name in an article, would they remember it later? Would they know how to pronounce your name just by looking at it? If they heard someone say the name, could they spell it? All of these are vital questions to ask—especially when you consider the following scenario: 

Imagine you’ve just played a great heavy metal set at your local venue. Despite having no prior exposure to you, someone in the audience loved every song you played. You end the night by saying: “Thank you, we are Rot Iron!” Your new fan goes home to look up your band on the internet. Not knowing, however, that your name has a unique spelling, the new fan searches for: “wrought iron metal.” Very quickly, they become disappointed as they stumble through pictures of fences and staircases. Unable to find your website or social media profiles, they give up in frustration. Just like that, you’ve lost a fan that was ready to buy your album and tell all their friends about you. It’s easy to see how and why situations like this should be avoided at all costs.

… if you decided to call yourself ‘Richard Black and the Rochester Trio,’ a stranger would probably assume you make jazz.

Beyond how the name looks and sounds on the surface, you should also consider how it connects with your genre and whether it appropriately represents the style of music you’re making. For example, if you decided to call yourself ‘Richard Black and the Rochester Trio,’ a stranger would probably assume you make jazz. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with this name on the surface, but if it causes people to draw the incorrect conclusion, they will be immediately disappointed once they discover that your band is actually a punk group. In no way does this mean you have to pick a generic name. However, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the naming conventions that have developed for certain types of music.

After thinking about all of the above, you may find yourself having second thoughts about the name you picked out. That doesn’t mean you need to hit the panic button. However, it’s wise to not get married to a name too quickly. As you establish your project’s identity more and more, you may find it doesn’t mesh with your “brand” as well as you had hoped. As with many things, don’t chisel anything in stone before you have had the opportunity to refine it. Remember that you and your fans will have to live with these decisions. Make sure that they are decisions you can passionately get behind.

That’s all for this episode of Leveling Up Your Artistic Identity. Stay tuned for the next installment where we’ll touch on subjects like securing your rightful place in cyberspace and writing artist biographies. If you have any questions about this article and want to discuss things in greater detail, leave a comment below or join the conversation in the Chiptunes = WIN Discord server!

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