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How to be both a brand and an artist

I often talk about how I believe that the central challenge that sits in being an independent artist is knowing how to balance the creative and the business. I have spoken to fellow female and/or queer creatives in particular and most have stated a further difficulty in this balance which is how this split makes channeling both the masculine and the feminine in us confusing. 

The creative sides often feel more feminine – softer, freer, more grounded – and the business parts feel more masculine – decisive, ruthless and financially focused. As female and/or queer artists when we require too much ‘business-like’ work it can feel like we are situating ourselves away from the femme. As artists we want to overcome these difficulties because knowing how and when to balance the business and the creative is extremely important. Iconic artists from Lady Gaga to Damien Hurst, Marilyn Monroe to Alexander McQueen have nailed this and we’re going to unpack how and why. 

First things first, every artist is both an artist and a brand. For some, there may be a clear divide. For example Norma Jean was the artist and Marilyn Monroe was the brand. Norma Jean possessed a true skill and passion for acting and prose, Marilyn Monroe was the aesthetic, the sheen, the ‘brand’. The same goes for creative directors and fashion houses. In the case of Olivier Rousteing, Balmain is his ‘brand’ but Olivier is the man with the creative vision. When he signs off editorials and partnerships with the Kardashians, that’s Balmain but when he is sitting in his studio designing the vision, he is Olivier. For some designers the name is the same as they are the house founders; Hubert de Givenchy and Alexander McQueen are examples. 

While they are naturally different and separate, true success happens when you learn how to maintain that separation but make them work well together – its like a good marriage. Here’s how to marry them. 

Make a Venn Diagram
On the left, write what you are most passionate about, on the right, answer what drives your economic engine (i.e., what will people pay for). In the middle ask what you are best at. This helps market your skills as a service; building a brand. 

Find 3-5 artists you admire and define their brand
Look at their socials and websites. Do they have a balance of ethereal and humorous? Classy and casual? What’s the ratio of posts of them looking super glossy vs super relatable rehearsing in their tracksuits? How would you define or describe their brand? How do they communicate that brand in the activities they do, whether their music, stage show, merch, website, etc.? Make a list.

Now about you. Write what makes you unique in 2-3 phrases and pack in the keywords.
For example, Lady Gaga might write “outrageous, confident pop music icon who delivers spellbinding shows and pushes lyrics and vocal hooks that encourage people to be their truest selves.” This core realisation can be something that you revisit on occasion and that, together with your core values, you use as a litmus test to help you with important decisions. Should you take that gig you’ve just been offered? Does it align with these phrases? Turn to this statement and your values to see if it fits.

Now write 3-5 core values.
To find these, think about why you create the art you do. What’s the message you want to deliver? For me, I want my lyrics to make femme and/or queer people feel empowered via their sexual confidence, sexualities and cultural identities. So my core values may be body positivity, open-minded politics, sexual confidence, progressive femininism and LatinX/post-colonial rights. 

Finally, make a list of all the key activities you do as an artist, and then how you can adjust each one to better reflect your brand.

A few months ago I made the decision to learn to say no to opportunities that didn’t align with my brand. For example, somebody may offer me bright pink teen-like jewellery. That doesn’t align with my brand so I’d turn it down. The same goes for gigs and name placements or artistic collaborations. 

Make a giant list of every activity you do as an artist— your art, your merch, your shows, your social media, your email list, etc. — and then brainstorm beneath each item how you might be able to incorporate your new branding guidelines into that activity. This is also another good moment to go back and revisit the artists you admire and see how they did this for ideas.


PHOTOGRAPHED BY SØLVE SUNDSBØ

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