Who are you?

Finding Your Artist Identity

Image from Metrolyrics

As an artist you probably heard this question several times before. Who are you as an artist? And you probably said something like this many times before: “Yeah… I’m like… well, you know… my music cannot be put into a box, it’s kind of a mix. I’m just me”. Yeah, you don’t know.

In most cases this question frightens us, because it forces us to think deeper about our art and who we are as individuals. What do we want to achieve? Where do we envision ourselves as artists in the next few years? Why are we even making music? It may be a pain to answer these questions. It’s certainly not easy. However, how can we expect to go anywhere if we don’t know how to answer them? How can we make ourselves known and respected as artists if we don’t know who we are?

You As A Brand

Look through the business perspective. The most important thing about a brand is that it has to be recognizable. This does not mean the brand has to have a cool logo and pretty colours. That may be part of it, but what really defines a brand as it is, is its backstory, its values, vision and intention. Essentially, who the brand is. Now think. You’re an artist. You’re offering you music to the world — that’s your product. Now, you as the music provider or creator,

  • You have your backstory — where you came from, how you first started in music, your journey to get here.
  • You have your values — your art stands for something, there’s something you believe in, something you defend, something you’re keen to express.
  • You have your vision — where do you see yourself and your music in a given timeframe.
  • You have your intentions  what do you want your music to achieve? What impact do you want to have? Do you want to change how people think? Do you want to make people smile, cry, feel angry?

As an artist you are a brand. As a brand you have a purpose to fulfill. And in order to fulfill it successfully, you need to first know who you are.

I recently started taking an online course by Berkley’s College of Music titled Navigate the music industry as an independent artist (available at Coursera — I really recommend it). The first lesson is exactly about developing your identity, vision and intention. That’s the foundation. You can’t build a house without the foundation. Sooner or later it will fall apart. If the foundation is there and further work and maintenance are carried out, the house will endure for long years.

A few key tips to help you answer ‘Who are you as an artist?’:

  1. Identity — this can be visual or personal. Usually identities are supported by a backstory, they’re a sense of yourself. Stephen Webber, lecturer at Berkley, suggests to think of an artist that you really love, that has influenced you, then think of another artist that you feel you’re somehow similar to, but that is very different from the first artist. What do you have in common with those two? At last, think about what’s your differentiator — what do you have that few people know about? What makes you unique? It does not necessarily have to be in the music. Write this down.
  2. Vision — you don’t need to define a vision for your whole career right from the start. However, it is a good idea to know what you’d like to accomplish with a single or an album. Planning out 3 albums in advance can be a great way to do it. For example, Lykke Li launched 3 different albums with three very distinct concepts, each portraying a different life phase of a person. Youth Novel talks about teenage love. Wounded Rhymes talks about disappointment and hurt. I Never Learn about how you’ve been hurt and disappointed before but still you did it again (you never learn!).
  3. Intention — it has to do with what emotions you’re trying to convey. This has to do with communicating through music. What is your music supposed to talk about and what’s its desired impact on people.

Knowing who you are, where you want to go and what you intend to do are key to connecting with an audience and making them engage with you. If you know who you are, people will know too.

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