Independent Music DIY #3: Identity & Image

Even though I come from a communication strategy and media background, I made a classic blunder right at the beginning: set about creating a brand without connecting it to the artist identity. Thankfully it was corrected soon enough as the go-to-market approach evolved.

The website and social media were set up just before the release of the first single, I Don’t Wanne Be Your Friend Anymore. Homepage, bio, photos, information, artist blogs about his journey, music, process, gear … but the whole look wasn’t him. Upamanyu communicates through doodle art, music, illustrations, short pieces of text. 

It was 5 months before Upamanyu produced his next single. For a while, I thought the 42 cents return had doused his passion for music. But he was focusing on his academic exams. Then after his exams, he produced two tracks (Lonely and I Love You) that showed significant musical growth from the debut single. He hit the studios the same week. During the first session, co-producer Onkar made a suggestion: “He is 16. How many 16 year olds do you know who are actually writing, composing and producing their own music? That should be the main image”. Upamanyu had a different opinion. “When you release a single to the market, why should your age matter? Your music is either good or not. Age should not become an excuse. People my age listen to all kinds of music. I am writing about my life experiences. That’s it.” 

And that evolved as the central brand image … a teen writing about life experiences. For the media, the age does matter since it has some news relevance as Onkar suggested. For the audience, it matters because there are very few teens writing and singing about matters that concern teens. 

For the second and third singles, we went with Singer Songwriter as primary genre, shifted to Horus Music for distribution and while it didn’t work magic on streaming numbers, there was more traction due to support from Horus Music since they were more approachable (personal contact) than TuneCore and responded with solutions and suggestions for specific goals. The third track even made it to the Horus Music India Head’s Staff Pick which gave it a spotlight.

Another important aspect was the visual image. Like most of GenZ, Upamanyu values his and others privacy. He did not like photo shoots and live image videos. “Business and design are your areas. Please find a solution but I don’t want music videos of me and a bunch of people dancing or something abstract. It has to tell the story of the song”. So we found a solution. We shot real-time footage and used AI-powered tools to create animations from the footage. It aligned with his approach and required minimal inputs from him and only a 2 member team and 11 hours to produce each video at a very cost efficient budget.

After the two singles, we also figured that Singer Songwriter was not the genre either since it has a connotation for the industry and listeners. It is more acoustic, stripped down production with emphasis on lyrics and vocal, with simple arrangements. Upamanyu’s music ticked the lyrics and vocals but his arrangements and production was not the definition of strip-down, though it was minimal in other contexts. His music was alternative … alternative to what is available right now. 

Teen musician doing emerging alternative music. That clarity in the brand positioning provided direction to subsequent efforts. By the time the third single was released, he was ready with 3 more songs, and the road to the album was paved. The music, identity, and brand image were also in sync. And it made a difference since his audience grew very slowly but it was a real audience of listeners.

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