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Personal Branding: The Real Deal

Personal branding is all the rage. Influencers from Tai Tran to Ann Bastianelli have chosen this topic for TedTalks and op eds, and a simple google search of “personal branding” will assure you how vital having a proactive command of your own personal brand is for success in any and all industries. Even before personal branding was a thing for individuals in fields such as IT, it was everything in the corporate music business. Only after learning an approach to personal branding from a non-musical perspective, however, did it become a top priority for me.

Since the corporate music business took to “creating people”, that is, taking a blank slate of an aspiring performer and assigning them a personal brand – everything from music to look to personality – independent artists have felt a bit jaded about the concept. Personal branding became synonymous with “fake” “corporate” “monetarily motivated at the expense of good art.” The reality is, authentic personal branding is the most effective type of personal branding, and it’s absolutely necessary for aspiring artists.

Look, put millions of dollars behind any brand – real or fake – and it will go. To push an authentic personal brand, all you need to do is stay true to you, and network.

It’s true! Take it from someone who was once so repulsed by the concepts of “creating a personal brand” and “selling myself” that in spite of all the work I put into creating art, I neither promoted my work or networked.

A little bit of history for those who don’t know; I launched my career under the thumb of what was essentially a tyrannical stage parent. I was expected to perform both on stage and in life in accordance with the personal brand that was assigned to me. While there were a myriad of problems with this picture, the one most apparent to me from the getgo was this: the persona ascribed to me was not remotely close to my personality. A website was built for me featuring a teenage dream pink color scheme, hearts and exclamation points everywhere. Meanwhile I was a slightly depressed existentialist writing about the state of myself and the world. My introduction to “personal branding” felt icky, and without a clear picture of how authentic personal branding could be, I rejected it.

“…the only sustainable and enjoyable path for an artist is one in which your personal brand is not compromised.”

Compound that experience with the following daily experience: well-meaning consumers of shows such as “the voice” and “American Idol” advising me on how to “make it” with proclamations like “Sing country! Country music fans are the most loyal!” Or, “there’s an opening in the market for the next Avril Lavigne.”… I’ve tried to do and be all of these things at various times since I was 16. It never worked, and I grew tired of the charades.

Fast forward to the present, and in the course of researching do it yourself entrepreneurship I came across one, then many, articles and Ted Talks about the efficacy of real personal branding. And at the core of it, is you. The real you. The you that makes you unique. And it works. At 26, I’ve finally learned that the only sustainable and enjoyable path for an artist is one in which your personal brand is not compromised. Especially in music, where what you’re selling is nothing less than yourself; your values, your mind, your dreams.

After 10 years of trying and failing to be everything I’m not, I’m getting traction while embracing everything I am, and daring to show myself to the world. It’s scarier than pretending to be someone you think people want to see. If people don’t like your “persona”, oh well, you can try on another one. Not so if you’re only ever being you. On the flip side, an authentic personal brand is one you never have to “put on,” is infinitely rewarding, and draws the kind of fans that you really want. Fans that relate to you and deeply appreciate your art. Fans that are, in many ways, more than fans. More like, kindred souls. I’ll leave you with two worn but sturdy quotes to be acted on in succession. First, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” (Oscar Wilde) Then, “don’t hide your light under a bushel.” (Jesus of Nazareth).

For more on personal branding, I recommend the following:

Ted Talk: Tai Tran on personal branding:

Ted TAlk: Rob Brown on personal branding:

Book: Reinventing You by Dorie Clark:

Article: Personal branding isn’t about social media; it’s about authenticity, purpose:

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