Something I've struggled a lot with as an independent musician has been having to deal with being pressured into branding myself. I know that you'll hear new media 'gurus' left and right tell you all kinds of shit about how everybody needs to have a personal brand now, but I don't like thinking like that. I feel that a person should be just be themselves, and that the stuff they make should be what's marketed.
Unfortunately that's not what's expected, especially in the music industry.
I mean, I tend to think that in most industries, people are defined by the stuff they make. In technology—which is my go-to example for everything, apparently—somebody like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs are obviously well-known figures, even celebrities, each with their own folklore personas. But still they're more or less defined by the greatness of the things they've helped create. You never see a direct advertisement for either of these people, questionable journalism aside, but you do see ads for their companies and products. This makes sense to me.
In music, the relationship is often reversed from what you'd see in tech. Far more people know Taylor Swift because she just is Taylor Swift. She's smart, beautiful, and (I'm being presumptious and simply latching onto what I've read) she is a rather friendly person.
But I would bet that more people think of Taylor herself than they do the actual work that she's done. They care about what she's doing because she just is Taylor Swift, and not because she's created any particularly extraordinary piece of work. Now that's not to say that she hasn't made anything great—that's totally not my point—it's just that Taylor Swift—from a marketing perspective—seems to be pushed into consumers' faces far more often than any of her albums are. It's almost as if her music isn't even a product that record companies want to push, but she definitely is.
Looking deeper into this, you can speculate on why this might be the case. Maybe it's because the longevity of positioning the artist as a brand is much greater than an album which, unless it's a classic or you're really in love with it, is often forgotten by most listeners once the next one comes out? Or maybe I'm just seeing this wrong all together, and that the parallel between Taylor Swift to Steve Jobs is totally off the mark, and that I should really be comparing Taylor Swift to Apple?
Taylor makes 1989, just as Apple makes iPhone. That's a possibility.
But even so, that is not something that I'm comfortable with, as a musician trying to get my work heard by more people. I want to be somebody who makes honest work, and is seen no differently from my listeners. Because why should I be? I'm not any more special than you, so why should I be turned into a brand that is marketed and dehumanized?
Which is actually interesting, I think, that I see branding an artist as dehumanizing. Because you can argue that the entire fucking point of turning an artist into a brand is to spread the idea that they're relatable.
It's easy to turn a human being into a brand because you're taking something that is so similar to its audience and broadcasting it at full volume. The marketing message is already there in its essence, it just has to be sculpted at to create the perfect picture.
I've considered releasing my music under a different name at several points throughout the last eight years of making music independently. I've never considered actually changing my real name, which grosses me out, but rather creating what would basically be a band for one person.
By doing this, I thought that I'd feel more comfortable branding the creator of this stuff under a persona that's separate from myself as a human being. Looking at it as a business, my band would essentially be my company, and my product would be my album. But time and time again, I've decided against this. I've come up with dozens of names, designed a handful of sites, and made a stupid number of social accounts for band names that never have and never will exist.
Because this just isn't who I am.
It's not honest enough, for me at least. It's making a name to spark mystery and excitement around a brand that I don't feel comfortable creating. My albums are my products, and I'll market those. You might like all of them, only one of them, or even none of them. If you feel that you like me as a person and you think you'll like my future work, then by all means keep in touch. But I'm not a brand. I can't say that you'll like my next album just because you liked Claye. I can't say that anything I do, you should do too, or that you should or shouldn't look up to me in any way.
That's not my place. My place is to make the best stuff that I possibly can, to keep making it, and to hope that it will mean something to other people. What I've discovered is that making a band name only obscures what I want. It removes me from the process of creating a product as undeniably human as an album, which is the recording of nothing more than the sounds you've been hearing in your head. And possibly the worst thing is that it tricks listeners into thinking that they can't go out and do the exact same thing.
It convinces listeners that you need a record label, a multimillion dollar studio to fuck around in, and all this other unnecessary shit, when the truth is that you don't. Claye was made in a tiny room with a table in my parent's house, and later in my apartment. If you have an idea, find a way to make it happen.
Don't let branding disconnect you from the reality of the process.