The importance of an artist’s image has arguably overtaken the quality of music. More than ever, visual branding and marketability really matters. As an artist, you have to have the whole package, from your vocals right down to your style choices and social media artwork.
First impressions count. Your act image can make or break you as the first thing the public see and experience – which heightens the importance of image for a singer. Synchronising your image with your marketing and promotion helps create a memorable brand.
Your image and music is core to your act being successful and they must, therefore, reflect your personality and music along with – hopefully – making you stand out. We’ve come up with some tips that will help you with image, synchronising and branding yourself as a singer.
Open Mic image advice: the singer’s photo
Your act image on a screen
When talking about image, images (pictures and photos) are of course pivotal. With the rise of Instagram and other social media channels, photos of singers are everywhere. Think about your process when deciding to listen to a new artist or track. What inspires you to do so? It might be a recommendation, or perhaps the singer’s photo, a poster or an album graphic has caught your eye and looks like the kind of thing you’d enjoy.
This is a huge part of marketing and promotion and relates to not only the music industry but pretty much every other business and brand in existence. Singing may be heard rather than seen, but what it has been seen will affect what is heard and whether you are heard at all.
Good photos for singers
This means getting good photos. If you have a budget, seek out recommendations for photographers experienced in working with artists similar to you. Browse their website first and be sure you’re happy with their style. They should also be able to help with setups and shoot locations.
Creating a music artist image for your photos
You can also opt for the do it yourself option when it comes to your photos. Find a friend with the best recording equipment or a top of the range smartphone and get creative.
There’s a wealth of ideas and suggestions online to get you started – Pinterest is a great place to look for this. Apps and filters will help you design a photo that stands out, and reflects your image.
Find your vibe
But first, you must find your image as a musician and identify what it is. Try to be individual, true to yourself and as unique as possible when you’re working this out. A strong image will help get you noticed in the crowd.
Ask your friends and family – what makes you different? What do they love most about your look, style and personality? Then think about how you can incorporate all these things into your image, reflecting the best of you.
Bands and groups
If you’re part of a band, rather than a solo singer, this will need a bit of compromise. Hold some brainstorming sessions and keep open minded with one another. You’ll need to form a consensus about the direction in which you’re going. It’s ok to have slightly different styles going on within the group, but these should still synchronise and not look odd, or out of place alongside one another. Different and conflicting artistic ideas have broken up many a band. Invest in your relationships with one another too.
The importance of making your act image recognisable – artist branding
A familiar image
Your image is a way to market yourself when you’re not performing, so considering all factors of your image is vital. Make sure your style reflects your music and matches your fans perception of what they expect your image to be.
In simple terms, don’t dress like a Goth if you’re about to sing a Paloma Faith style ballad. Unless it’s a very deliberate way to contrast with the music and a clear gimmick. It’s also important to think about which instruments you choose to use when performing, use what suits your performance, not what you want to be seen using.
Match it all up
Of course, if you have backing musicians and/or singers you must make sure they are well considered and that they fit with the overall image plan. Work their clothing in with the overall vibe. This is the beginning of starting to synchronise your image.
Coming up with an image and style may take time and a good way to give yourself ideas is to looks at acts with similar musical tastes. Along with your own style and personality start to incorporate ideas that you are comfortable with on stage.
What’s in a name?
We’ve talked about photos, but choosing your ‘stage’ name is also a part of your image makeup. While many artists prefer to simply use their own, you might wish to be known by a different, more exotic one. Similarly, you may want to just to use your first name, or surname (although this only really works if it’s relatively unusual, or you’re famous).
Your name is a huge part of your overall image, and it’s hard to change once established. So choose your name well and make sure it’s something you like, not a passing whim.
Branding yourself as a singer – the next step in synchronisation
Social media is an essential tool for a singer, therefore making sure there’s some synchronisation in all of them is important. Try not to confuse your fans by making each one of your social media platforms different.
So make sure your Facebook cover photo is the same as your Twitter header, and your SoundCloud display picture is the same as your website display picture. Make them all the same and you’ll be easily recognisable to your fans!
The same goes for your URLs, the more synchronised they are, the easier it is to find you. As well as using repetition for pictures and images, use it for your words.
Similar or identical brand names are easily identified by those searching for you. An obscure website domain may be imaginative and have some hidden meaning. But if you’re plugging it at a gig, chances are the audience will not remember your name and an unusual website URL.
For example, Open Mic UK, use similar URLs to increase searchability so you are easy to find:
Sync the promo
Promoting yourself is an important part of being a singer, so make sure your’re posters and leaflets are synchronised. Making them look too varied only causes for confusion unless you’re super famous and instantly recognisable.
Have a running theme within your artwork, it’s easier for everyone and also saves you spending money on different artwork. So make sure the same logo is on your flyers, posters and your merchandise.
One way to become an artist that has many fans is to not overtly label yourself as a certain genre. This can sometimes alienate groups of fans and venues with bias against particular genres. You can’t stop others labelling you, but by not labelling yourself you’re open to playing anywhere that is credible.
After you’ve played a few gigs you’ll start to realise who your fan base is. That is the moment that you should start pin-pointing them.
Do looks matter in the music industry?
The short answer is yes. Looks undoubtedly matter in the music industry. Your clothes, hair, accessories and promo materials will all play a part in your success. That doesn’t mean that your image needs to be a replica of someone else’s, or that there’s an exact formula.
But if you think you can just turn up to a gig or audition, or start a marketing campaign without paying any attention to your branding, you’d be wrong.
If you need help with your image, ask others for some assistance and read up on ways to develop your style and make an impression.
Work with what you’ve got
While looks matter, it doesn’t mean you have to be the prettiest, most handsome, or perfect looking performer. Sometimes the opposite attracts attention and a grungy, purposely unkempt look is called for – especially if you’re a rock or heavy metal musician. It has to be purposeful though.
Think it through to check it does match your music. Ed Sheeran favours scruffy hair, t-shirts and jeans – but it’s all carefully styled. He hasn’t rolled out of bed like that.
Be honest about who you are and how you look. If you were born with symmetrical model-like looks, work with that either with a polished Cheryl Tweedy style, or a simple paired down branding, like Sigrid. If you have a quirky appearance or prominent feature, such as Lady Gaga, then take advantage of that and let it be a unique selling point.
Make the most of make-up
Make-up is a great tool to enhance your features or create an effect, so you might consider experimenting yourself, or going for a make-over to see what you can achieve. Even if you prefer a natural, casual style, you’ll still benefit from makeup on stage and for your photos – for this, you can learn how to do a ‘make under’ for glowing skin that looks great under bright lights and camera flashes.
Music artist branding examples – famous musician’s pictures
When getting started, it can be really helpful to follow the lead of your heroes. Study their pictures, in all different places: magazines, social media posts, adverts, posters, artwork and more.
Some ways to improve your image is to be yourself. Many of the big stars know how to work this. Adele in particular has evolved her style, whilst staying true to herself. Be thankful and gracious to your fans, answer their questions and respond to their comments.
After all, they’ll be half the reason for your success eventually. Believe it or not, your attitude will play a big part in your branding.
Fans love to see what their favourite artists are up to, so make sure you upload new pictures and videos regularly. Famous artists know this and do it constantly. The more you engage with them on a personal level, the more they’ll engage with you. And as always make sure posts are interesting and/or engaging.
Also remember that once you’ve put something out there on the internet, it’s hard to ever really undo, and anyone can view it. So do consider what you’re posting carefully.
How to create a musical persona that lasts
Do you want to stand the test of time? When we’re looking at longevity, the ‘rules’ of the image get a little more complicated. So far we’ve looked at finding the right image, synchronising it across all your public outlets, and sticking to that vibe.
Most acts have an image that they stick to – think of Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Tom Jones, Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger and many others. Their style and sound remain relatively steady. But, then there are the acts, who manage to maintain a lengthy career, mainly through re-invention.
The re-invention technique
These singers sometimes have to find a different – and very diverse – route, due to fading popularity and record sales. Some are adept and pre-empting the trends. Others love to experiment and remain artistically open and imaginative.
The queen of re-invention is Madonna. She has changed her image and sound dramatically so many times and jumped genres every decade or more – one of her tours was even called ‘Re-invention’. It’s certainly debatable whether her vocals are actually all that strong, but she’s a savvy businesswoman, electric performer and knows how to use her image to get – and keep fans.
Re-invention or starting over?
Re-invention keeps things fresh and exciting and if you started with a very on-trend sound, helps you stay relevant once that trend moves on. However, you need to be really famous to do it and keep your original fan base.
By all means, re-invent yourself if your current image just isn’t working, and you are evolving as an artist. But expect it to be an almost start from scratch scenario. Another good way to create a time tested image, is to have a retro or vintage theme going on.
Singers like Madonna and David Bowie knew they had the world’s attention, before moving onto something new. If you’re just gaining momentum and it’s a steady trajectory, be wary of re-branding and making huge image alterations.
Using a music artist branding company
Once you’re signed to a record label, the label will have a great deal of input into your image. However, as an unsigned artist, you can still get input and help from outside agencies and companies who specialise in helping with branding.
This could be anything from hiring a freelance graphic designer to create your logo, right through to a company who will guide you in every aspect of your image – the latter being a pricey but thorough option.
Artist development is also a useful service that can often be accessed as a package through recording studios. This can be a good way to do it, especially if you’re working with the studio on an album or EP. They will have a good idea of your vibe already and know how to best market it alongside the sound you’re aiming for and producing.
Poster ideas to synchronise your act image
Use a tool
If you’re going for a DIY approach and aren’t much of an artist, you can use one of the many template websites to create your posters and flyers. These are also ideal if you need a gig promo in a hurry. The downside, of course, is that they don’t look as original or creative as bespoke versions.
If you can draw or paint, then it’s well worth considering some of your own artwork – or that of a friend’s. Photos are a good choice if you’re starting out, mainly as they make very clear who you are and what you look like. It’s a great way to stamp your image in people’s minds.
Again, look to your favourite artists for inspiration on this. Check out retro posters. You can add themes and ideas to put together something eye-catching.
Developing your act image is a lot of fun and can be really rewarding – especially as you begin to enjoy the attention, streams and gig bookings that’ll come rolling in as a result.
- How do I add an image to an artist on iTunes?
From your home screen, go to your account and click on your name, the ‘edit’. Select your profile picture and hit ‘edit’. Choose a new photo either from your existing library, or a new one altogether. You must have permissions on the account to do this. Apple review the image before uploading it.
- How do I brand myself as a musician?
Think about what you stand for, your tastes and style, what kind of music you create and how you’d like to be seen both now and in the future. Then apply that to your promotions and marketing (on and offline), your clothes, artwork, interaction with the public and your photo and video uploads.
- Is image more important than music – has image overtaken music?
The best way to look at it is to see the two as one. It’s arguable whether one’s more important than the other and really depends on the genre, artist and management. Good writing and vocals will always be valuable. You can’t manufacture talent. Just make sure your act image isn’t neglected either.
How did you develop your act image and how do you synchronise it for maximum effect. We always love to hear from you, so tell us about your experiences in the comments below.