Industry exercise: Define your artistic brand

Advice from a powerful arts leader



An artistic brand is a tool that can boost your confidence and give the world a strong idea of who are as a musician and as an individual. More than just the design choices you make for your website, your brand is the story that communicates the distinctive aspects of who you are to the people you want to impact.

We need to understand and own the fact that as creative artists, we are a product. This does not mean that the motivation for our work is based on financial reward; it means taking responsibility for communicating to the world about why anyone should care about your art.

If the Berlin Philharmonic release a new recording, people want to hear it because they understand and are loyal to the brand of the orchestra – not because the world is desperate for another recording of Beethoven Five.

The beauty of claiming yourself as the product is that no one can ever take your place, or identically replicate what it is you offer. By building your brand, you can stand out in an overcrowded marketplace, express what makes you memorable, and build an audience for your work.

Most importantly, crafting a brand gives us a compass to define our personal and professional goals.


Why do I need a brand?

Under the old rules, if you played the clarinet, the music you played was the clarinet repertoire. Your musical life was defined by that music. Your role was to serve the composers who wrote it, and your own identity mattered much less. The audience would be their audience, you wouldn’t have one of your own.

But in an era of dwindling opportunities in traditional job models and unprecedented opportunity to create our own projects, those musicians who are thriving are those willing to build an audience for their work.

In a perfect world, we’d only be evaluated for our art and skill. But, in reality, presentation is half the battle. How we represent ourselves off the stage is equally as important as how well we play to create career opportunities.


How to start

Starting with the practical, it helps you to define your career objectives and target your marketing efforts so that you are working smarter, not harder.

It also reduces the feeling of competition, since you know your value and why you are the best person for a particular audience. This can go a long way to helping you to feel motivated, as well as toward project confidence and a positive attitude.

Musicians often have trouble figuring out how they are unique. Lets’ start with an exercise that takes you outside yourself as a musician and liberates you to think creatively about who you are.


Who are you?

A personal brand articulates the specific qualities that make you stand out. You can start defining how you are unique and unusual by answering these questions. You can write as little as a few words or a whole paragraph in response:

  1. What is your essence? This isn’t your story – it’s about who you are. Are you flamboyant, introvert, playful, emotional, socially conscious, rebellious?
  2. What are you like to work with?
  3. What do people remember most about you?


How are you distinctive?

The next step is determining how the things you do are connected to your personal traits by examining your non-music interests. What do your three favourite books, movies, or songs say about you? What would someone learn by knowing your taste in music, food or sports?

This exercise also helps us value ourselves as multi-dimensional, and develop our self-identity for all our skills – not just our ability on the stage.

  1. What are your favourite non-musical interests?
  2. How are these interests connected and what do they say about you?
  3. How do your personality and interests distinguish you from your peers? 


Why should they care?

There was an eye-opening post on the new Crushing Classical Facebook page, recently:

As a classical musician, the audience has always been there waiting in the seats for me to come out and play. And honestly, I didn’t care if they were there or not. It was nice if they were and it wasn’t my job. I was there to play my part, get paid and go home. I had “more important things” to worry about – like if I had an exposed part and playing in tune. Those are all valid concerns – but the audience was not even on the to-do list.

This mindset is the result of the outdated way that young musicians are educated. Students are required to turn up and play – they are rarely allowed or encouraged to take ownership for the curation and creation of the performance. This fosters a culture of dependency and poor graduate outcomes, as the skills and motivation required to turn talent into a 21st Century career have been ignored.

Today there is unprecedented opportunity to create our own projects and define our own success, and the musicians who are thriving are those willing to build an audience for their work.

To reach your audience, it’s crucial to define and identify who they are now and who they could be in the future. Who will buy tickets to your performances, who will follow you online, and who will share your work with their network? By clearly defining these groups, you can create strategies to develop a committed and engaged audience and communicate with them effectively.

  1. Who is your ideal target audience?
  2. Create a replica profile of one individual who typifies this audience.
  3. Why are you are uniquely positioned to satisfy the needs of this audience?


Why do I care?

The most important step is to commit to your brand on an emotional level.

1. If the world were a perfect place, what work would I be doing?
2. In this perfect world, what am I achieving through my work?
3. In this perfect world, how am I impacting audiences?


Putting it together

Put these elements together into the following template to create your brand statement:

I am a________________________________________ (how you see yourself professionally) who_________________________________________ (describe how you use your talents)
for ___________________________________________ (describe your target audience)
so they can ____________________________ (describe the experience you want your audience to have)

Here is mine as an example:

I am a change agent, performer and educator who inspires, motivates and supports classical musicians to reimagine the role of music in their world, so they can thrive on and beyond the stage.

Now, it took me quite a few iterations and lots of time and reflection to get to this point! There were lots of metaphorical sheets of paper scribbled on, scrunched up, and thrown in the bin – and plenty of frustration and self-doubt along the way.

Defining my unique gifts and who they can serve has been the guiding light to my personal and career satisfaction. It gives me a compass when faced with difficult decisions, and ensures I remain true to my values.


Go! Get started on yours, and reach out to let me know what happens.


About Susan

Susan de Weger is a passionate advocate for the value of music education beyond the stage. She works to inspire and educate musicians to create career success through her consultancy, Notable Values. Having recently completed a Master of Music Performance, Susan is an in-demand soloist with a commitment to performing 21st Century repertoire for the low horn. Susan was the only international guest speaker at the College Music Society of America Summit on 21st Century Music School Design at the University of South Carolina in 2016. Follower her at


Susan de Weger’s article is adapted from an article by Astrid Baumgardner, JD, PCC. Find out more and be inspired to design your brand through Astrid’s blog.

Astrid is a professional life coach and lawyer, Coordinator of Career Strategies and Lecturer at the Yale School of Music and the founder and President of Astrid Baumgardner Coaching + Training, which is dedicated to helping musicians, lawyers and creative professionals take charge of their lives and experience authentic success. In addition to her work at YSM and her individual coaching practice, Astrid presents workshops at leading conservatories and law firms on topics including career planning, goal-setting, time management, dynamic communication, conflict management and personal branding and networking. She is the author of numerous articles on the various aspects of how to achieve and live authentic success.


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