How to Build Your Personal Brand As a Musician

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Building your personal brand is a key part to finding success as a musician. In addition to being an astoundingly talented cellist, Jacob Shaw is one of the most hardworking musicians we know. We are constantly inspired by his artistry and feel fortunate to have him on our Cadenza Artists roster. Jacob’s personal brand consistency has positively contributed so positively to our working dynamic. Fun fact: thanks to his recommendation, we used his graphic designer (Kilmulis Studio) for the cover of our book! We love that Jacob is leading the way with a strong personal brand.

You know the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice and practice.”

And of course, it’s true. But unfortunately that is only half the story.

When making a career alongside so many other fantastic young musicians around the world, how can you stand out above the crowd and get noticed?

There is one sure way to get noticed: a clear idea of who you are and what message you want to get across or, more precisely, your BRAND.

What Is Your Personal Brand?

Every single person in the world is unique. So, what makes YOU special?

The first step to figuring out your personal brand is simple: What is your passion? Do you have a special connection to a certain composer? Do you perform with your sibling(s)? Have you won a competition recently and would like to play certain repertoire connected to that competition? Do you have a talent for teaching or outreach projects?

Once you are clear about your passion, the next step is deciding how to present yourself. This is what’s typically thought of when people think of a “brand” — how a person or company is perceived.

Presentation is the key. Presenters, agents and orchestras get hundreds of emails a month. Unfortunately their choice isn’t based on talent alone.

When you reach out an important part in being “chosen” is based on your personal brand. They want to know within a few seconds what sets you apart from the crowd. Remember our keyword “passion”? Your passion should be on display — almost as if it’s jumping off the screen.

It’s Easy to Say — But Less Easy to Do

Creating a visual identity for yourself can quickly feel overwhelming. And it’s no surprise. You have a lot of things to think about: your website, headshots, content, social media. It’s easy to feel paralyzed.

My advice is to keep it simple. The golden rule still stands, “less is more.”

Visual identity: Visible elements of a brand, such as color, form, and shape, which encapsulate and convey the symbolic meanings that cannot be imparted through words alone. In a broader (corporate) sense, it may include elements such as building architecture, color schemes, and dress code.*

There are two ways you can begin to refine your visual identity:

#1 You can hire someone to “create” a visual identity for you. A simple logo, website and press materials don’t have to break the bank. Some designers start at around 5-600 dollars. (I recommend Kilmulis Studio based in Belgrade.)

Be sure you communicate your passion to your designer so s/he can integrate that into the overall look and feel of your personal brand.

#2 You can create your own visual identity. Don’t have the cash to spend? No problem! You can create your own brand assets — and you don’t need a degree in computer programming.

There are plenty of free templates available online to use. (Check out this list of the 8 best website builders to help you choose). Stick to elegant fonts, a white background and simple photos which will look clean and professional. Avoid greys and “mush” colours, or fonts that are messy. Remember, less is more!

Clean and simple doesn’t have to mean boring. It’s important to return to your passion and make sure that it’s immediately clear to people looking at your materials.

Need ideas? See what others have done and try to find what you like about it and why. If you don’t like it, analyze why not. Is it the colours? Information? Too bland?

Look at other sites and personal brands for inspiration but don’t EVER copy: imitations just don’t work.

Whether you decide to hire someone or create your own designs, one thing to keep in mind is to always use recent photos. Nothing screams “amateur” like outdated information and photos.

Keeping Your Personal Brand Consistent

Once you have sorted out your visual identity with a clean clear logo, colour scheme and photos on your website, stick to them!

It’s so very important to be consistent. That means every email you send out, every press release, every concert program — should all have the same “visual identity.” This will help you stick in the minds of people after even just the second or third time they may come across your information.

Make sure all your social media accounts have the same profile picture/banners/logo. And focus on your passion in the small introductory sections on your social media profiles.

If you send an email, make sure you use the same colour scheme as your website. Make sure that you always send the same photo out to concert promoters. Ask them to include your logo on the bottom of concert posters.

When it comes to pictures on your site, keep your passion in mind. If you feel passionately about outreach, do what you can to make that clear in the photographs you create and choose. Don’t use a generic black-and-white headshot of yourself as the main picture on your website! Let your passion shine through.

I also recommend you choose your audio and video examples wisely, as well. Three or four short videos should do it — not 15 full-concert videos! Most people click away after a few minutes, so take the time to select your clips carefully. If you’re creating a promo film, always stick to the visual identity and your personal brand.

Can You Show Me a Personal Branding Example?

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An essential part of my visual identity over the last two years has revolved around a photo taken of me by the award winning Danish photographer Nikolaj Lund. This is on all my press materials and even features on the front of my recently released 2CD album DEBUT.

When I commissioned Polly Bosworth (a graphic designer who has worked for Bang and Olufsen, Adidas, Bitchslap magazine and others), to create a short animated trailer for the release, she even animated this photo. (You can check that out here.)

And that’s another good piece of advice when deciding your visual identity. If there’s an image, pattern, or color scheme that inspires you, try to use that as your jumping off point.

Like the photo or not, it stands out dramatically from the crowd and reflects my personal brand: A modern twist on an outdated classical industry, breaking away from the norm whilst pushing the boundaries of what is possible both musically and in my collaborative life.

So How Do You Really Get to Carnegie Hall?!

Well, there is no sure way apart from a taxi to 7th Avenue. But jokes aside, with a clear personal brand and message about who you are and what you do PLUS the dedication, hard work and a lot of practice you will certainly stand a much higher chance…

How do you feel about your personal brand?

Does it reflect your passion?

Do you feel stuck when it comes to choosing an identity that stands out?

Please share your experience by leaving a comment below.

jacob-shawJacob Shaw, the award winning British cellist, was born in London in 1988. At 19 years old he became the youngest ever cellist to graduate with highest honours from the École Normale de Musique in Paris. His 2CD album DEBUT was released in December 2015 to rave reviews from the international press, and in the same year he also made his Carnegie Hall debut.

With a vast repertoire and fresh approach to classical concerts, Jacob established “Radical Classic” as an alternative movement to build a diverse and new generation of classical music lovers. His passion for collaborating with different cultures and musical genres has led to projects with indie, jazz, folk, traditional and electronic musicians. In 2008, together with his family, Jacob founded the Festival International de Musique de Chambre en Charente in France.

A dedicated teacher, his students have won national and international competitions and he frequently holds classes and workshops in music schools and universities. In 2013 Jacob was appointed International Music Ambassador for Dulwich College International (Asia).

Since 2012 Jacob Shaw has been based in Copenhagen, Denmark. You can connect to Jacob at www.jacobshaw.de, @jacobcellist, www.facebook.com/jacobshawcellist, and www.instagram.com/jacobshawcellistBuy his new album on iTunes.

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