It’s all about the music . . . Or is it?
The great debate out there is it should be all about the music and not your image. This is true in a perfect world, but in a perfect world, people wouldn’t judge the book by its cover, all the band members would work equally as hard as the one currently doing all the work, and people would actually click on the music before seeing your pics, website or press kit. This isn’t a perfect world, not even close. Don’t get me wrong; I am not downplaying the importance of your songwriting. What I am saying is, if you think that your songwriting alone is going to be enough, then make sure you have the patience of Job. You need every advantage you can get in this business to get noticed.
Part of realizing why your image is so important is having an understanding of your core audience and understanding what the general public is looking for. Not everyone wants a deep song like Dylan would write, and not everyone likes a Lady Gaga pop tune that can be incessantly silly but catchy as hell.
Most people who go to live shows go to be entertained. Musicians sometimes forget that they are entertainers just as much as they are musicians or storytellers. Some musicians don’t have the immense musical talent others do, but they are much better entertainers, so they may have a much better selling tour than the more talented musicians. When I pay money to see a live band, I want to be entertained. I can see how talented you are by what you play, how you play, your phrasing, etc.
Most of us grew up wanting to be “Rock Stars” clutching a hairbrush microphone in front of the mirror, or playing air guitar to our favorite songs. We wanted to be larger than life. We wanted to help other people escape their busy stressful lives and transport them to a different place like all of our favorites did for us!
Most of the audience has dreamed of wanting to be that “larger than life rock star.” They look up to their favorite artists; want to get to know them. They want to spread the word about them. Well a big part of that is the image they put forward, the mystique they put out and being very cool while still somewhat accessible.
Small independent artists don’t usually have a back catalogue of hits to tour off of. That means it’s a much harder road to book shows and win over fans. Decide what your goals are as a musician or band and then decide if you’re ok with possibly not having as many fans or not making as much money due to where your musical priorities lie, or if you’re going to be amazing entertainers who still write great songs people can related to and identify with.
There is no right or wrong here but there is reality. For artists that completely and totally have the drive like Tori Amos or Ani DeFranco to get their music out there and don’t take no for answer, you can make it in the business with non-stop hard work. But note, they both had a very distinct and defined image. For the artists that don’t have that skill set, the business mindset or a band where everyone is putting 110% forward in every aspect of growing the business, image becomes absolutely critical to set yourself apart and attract attention to you.
Here are a few hints to think about if you are going for an image. Don’t dress on stage like you are going to Wal-Mart. Don’t wear a wife-beater tank top if you don’t have the body for it — it looks pathetic and laughable, not cool, plus no one wants to see your man boobs. Everyone in the band should look like they “fit” in the band, not half one way and the other half like they are going to go chop wood. Be original and find your own image and quit copying everyone else. If I see one more Dimebag Darrell wannabe, I’ll find another use for that very pointy guitar of yours. But most importantly, don’t skimp on your photography, artwork and press kit. You get what you pay for, so take it very seriously and plan it out ahead of time. Know what you are doing and why you are doing it.