[Editor’s Note: This article was written by CJ Ortiz from Savvy Musician Academy.]

Are you ready to increase your fan base, get them highly engaged, and sell more of your music and merchandise? The internet and social media, in general, make it easier than it’s ever been for the independent artist, but only if he or she understands the principles that govern marketing and promotion.

Let’s face it: if an independent artist wants to succeed by selling more music and getting more fans out to shows, then he or she has to leverage the power of online marketing. As you’ve likely come to understand, even record labels and music venues are looking at the size and engagement of an artist’s following before they’ll sign or book them.

In the old music industry, record labels spent time and money on “artist development,” but all that has changed in the new music industry where music is so freely accessible through streaming services. Now, if a band or artist doesn’t first prove their value with savvy marketing online, it’s not likely they’ll be signed. Labels don’t have the time and money for a long-term investment. If anything, they prefer to capitalize on your efforts.

I’m writing more to the independent artist who wants to have a successful music career without a label. That’s why I would argue that outside of writing and performing your own music, the most important skill for you to master is marketing, because marketing is how you’re going to target and reach your most ideal fan. You can’t just throw up a Facebook business page, post your events, and think you’re marketing. It involves a lot more than that.

Branding Happens in the Mind of Your Audience

One of the most important aspects of marketing is branding, which means the way you, your band, and your music is positioned in the marketplace. That’s why I prefer the term ​positioning​ more so than ​branding​, because branding implies that it involves only visual components, such as a logo or packaging.

Branding is not a logo or a product label. It’s not a color scheme or a costume. Branding is not when your business card matches the look of your website, nor is it a font you always use or a hairstyle you wear. Branding is actually ​positioning​. It’s the place your music will hold in the minds of your target audience. In other words, how are you positioned—or how would you like to be positioned—in the minds of your fans?

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a logo or work hard on your designs, color choices, websites, and promotion. These are all important aspects of the overall impression you will make as an artist, but they are not branding.

Branding is what happens in the marketplace, not what happens with your music. Branding, or positioning, is the piece of “mental real estate” that you and your music possesses within the minds of your audience. But that means your audience has to make room for you and give you a place in their minds. Like a cowboy branding cattle with a hot iron, your branding is the indelible mark your music makes on your fans. You own them, and they own you.

Standing Out in a Crowded Marketplace

The challenge you’ll have to think about as an artist is the same challenge all businesses have to consider, and that is, “How do I stand out when there’s so much competition and people are flooded with so much information on a daily basis?” If you want to be seen and heard, then you have to find a way to penetrate the minds of your potential audience, and that’s where branding comes in.

It’s not your logo that helps you stand out, it’s what your music stands for that gives you distinction. It’s the not the artwork in front of your music that separates you from other artists, it’s the big idea behind your music that differentiates you.

This is why I liken effective branding to owning a piece of mental real estate in the minds of your audience. It’s because the mind holds ideas, and as Victor Hugo famously wrote, “Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.”

Revolutions are created by ideas which means nothing moves people to take action like a powerful idea. That’s what real branding should involve. It’s about simply and effectively communicating the competitive idea behind your music.

What’s the Big Idea?

Whenever I give a seminar on branding, I’ll say, “If you don’t have a strong, differentiating idea that’s driving your business, then you’re like a champion surfer that’s trying to catch a wave on a freshwater lake. If you go anywhere, it’s only because you paddle really hard!”

That’s what most artists are doing. They’re paddling when they should be riding a wave, and it’s a strong idea that provides you with a wave to ride.

Therefore, one of the most important questions to ask yourself is, “What idea does my music represent?” And to help answer that, ask yourself some of the following questions:

Is there a theme that runs throughout my lyrics?

Is there something about my approach to my musical genre that is different from others in my same niche?

If I were to ask my friends or fans what my music represents to them, what would they say?

Is there anything unique about me, my personality, or my interests that attracts people to my music?

Is there a mission associated with my music?

What is the desired outcome I’d like for people to experience who listen to my music?

Here’s the key to remember: the strong, differentiating idea behind your music is not something you think up and put on like wearing someone else’s clothes. That would not be genuine or authentic. The idea behind your music is something that’s already there, but you just don’t see it yet because you’re so close to your own music.

Putting the Power Back in Your Hands

A great example of effective branding by an independent artist I work closely with is Leah McHenry, commonly known as LEAH, and she plays celtic, fantasy metal which if you don’t know what that is, she’s the “heavy metal version of Enya.” If you understand heavy metal, fantasy (“Game of Thrones”), and the vocal style of Enya, then you can imagine LEAH’s sound almost immediately.

Therefore, if she targets people online who watch ​Game of Thrones,​ love artists like Enya, and listen to heavy metal, then she can build a targeted audience of potential superfans.

Another example is a side project I have called “Metal Motivation: Daily Screams for Living Aggressively.” It’s daily motivation for people who love heavy metal, or as I like to say, “It’s like Tony Robbins meets Metallica.” In other words, the idea behind your music doesn’t have to be grand. It can be something simple, and you can find it by studying your audience, the culture that surrounds your music, and the unique idea that you represent to that audience and culture.

This will put power back in your hands as an artist because you’ll be able to effectively communicate your music to a highly targeted audience that you can build as big as you want. After that, it’s about utilizing the powerful tools of internet marketing to reach your potential audience, get them engaged with your brand, and then offer them your music and merchandise and even get them out to see your live performances.

Can you see why understanding branding can accelerate your music business? If you’d like to explore the possibilities of succeeding as an independent artist, then study all that you can about online marketing. As I mentioned above, it’s the most important thing you can work on outside of your own music.


If you’d like to get started on mastering your own music marketing, then take the free ​7 Day Music Marketing Challenge ​and discover actionable tips to make sales with your music. It’s 7 email lessons delivered straight to your inbox and taught by Leah McHenry, a six-figure independent artist who does it all without a record label and without touring!

C. J. Ortiz​ is the branding and mindset coach at The Savvy Musician Academy with 30 years experience in branding, marketing, design, and advertising.

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