In the digital music age when record sales are being outstripped by merchandising and gig tickets, image means everything. Fail to build a recognisable identity that stands out and you risk being ignored in the tsunami of online music. Here’s why image is so important to today’s musicians.
Back in the classic age of rock ‘n’ roll, the fifties and the sixties, image didn’t mean a lot. Sure, The Beatles looked cool in their matching suits and haircuts; but if a band rocked up in their regular street clothes it didn’t matter, as long as they had great songs. In their early days, The Rolling Stones didn’t so much have an image as lack one, but that didn’t stop them becoming The Fab Four’s closest rivals for global pop dominance. Today, though, things have changed. In a media-saturated world of YouTube video clips, status updates, Twitpics and instant mp3 releases, image has begun to overtake the music.
In an era dominated by visual spectacle, the well-worn rock-pop divide is falling apart. According to a recent article by CNN, the once-popular distinction that rock music is serious art and pop is throwaway bubblegum no longer applies. For all the madness and meat dresses, who would deny that Lady GaGa is a gifted musician in her own right? The introspective shoegazing that once marked out self-important artists no longer washes with fans who have come to expect a spectacle from even the most serious of bands.
But what does that mean for today’s emerging artists? How can you create an image that will get you noticed in a saturated marketplace? How can you make sure that your band stands out from the crowd?
Here are some tips for cultivating an image that will get you noticed.
Understand Your Genre
In the age of iTunes compilations, Spotify playlists and YouTube channels, to say you don’t want to be pigeonholed to a particular style is a huge mistake. If listeners can’t decide what playlist your new single ought to be added to, chances are it won’t get added to any. Modern music is defined by genre; from the catch-all indie to the ultra-refined blogstep electro-psych, listeners want to know where you fit. And they want to know it straight away; before they’ve even listened to you. Make sure you know where your music fits and that your image fits with your peers.
You’re A Band, Look Like One
Music fans don’t want to have to think about your band. They want to know, pretty quickly, whether you’ll fit in with their regular favourites and will judge you by image alone. I know, your bass player loves classic seventies dub and your keyboard player’s got an awesome vintage house collection; but dress like a rasta and a raver and all they’re going to do is confuse anyone who stumbles across your website. Regardless of your diverse musical likes, your image has to be consistent. You need to look like a band.
Keep It Consistent
Image can change. It’s not set in stone. Indeed, the evolution of an image is what often sets the best bands apart from the rest. In five short years, The Beatles were transformed from suit-wearing mop-tops to bearded hippies; all the time still looking like a gang. As your band’s image evolves make sure all your members evolve together. There’s nothing worse than a guitarist getting on the long-haired hippy vibe while the rest still look like Vespa-riding mods. As you grow into new styles, make sure you’re all going the same way.
It’s Not Just About The Clothes and Haircuts
Nowadays, image is about so much more than clothes and haircuts. Image is everything. From your Soundcloud page to your website, to the photos in your press kit to the stage backdrop at your gigs, everything conveys your image and should be used to do just that. Think prog rock deserves a revival so you’re packing your set with ten minute Hammond organ solos? Don’t cover your website in punky courier fonts. Pop ate itself a long time ago, delve into the past and borrow the styles of your heroes. Your fans will recognise where you stand without even realising it.
What do you think? How important is image in the digital music age?