Friday, June 11, 2010

1st Annual Billboard Country Music Summit: Advice from Music Industry Leaders on Artist Imaging

It’s been quite a busy week here in Nashville with the CMT Awards and CMA Music Fest going on. My week began by attending the 1st Annual Billboard Country Music Summit where there was much discussion about current trends and issues in the music industry such as monetization of recorded music, usage of new media, and more (my favorite title for one of the sessions was “Not Your Granddaddy’s Record Label: Will the Last One to Abandon the Old Business Model Please Turn Out the Lights?”). Among such great speakers and panelists as Tim McGraw and Martina McBride were also artist managers, industry professionals who deal with sponsorships, media professionals, label executives, and more.

While artist imaging was mentioned by various speakers and panelists in almost all ten sessions, the importance of it was obvious in two particular sessions, the “Marketing & Branding for Country Music” session and the “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” session that discussed successful artist development of the next superstar acts and their sustainability. In fact, in “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?,” the panelists immediately began talking about the importance of the artist’s image straight out of the gate before discussing any other aspect of what makes an artist successful. That’s because, as many panelists agreed, image is something that cannot be put on the back burner. As I have stated in previous blogs, knowing your image (meaning, knowing who you are as an artist) is important in attracting the right team, determining the right path for your career, selecting the right songs for your projects, and on and on.

In both of the sessions mentioned above, what I always say was reiterated by the panelists, that image is not just about the artist’s clothes or their look, which is why I spend a lot of time coaching my clients on how to present themselves in a variety of situations, whether it’s a radio interview, a meeting with an interested label, etc. As Great American Country (GAC)’s Senior VP of Programming Sarah Trahern said, image is also about an artist’s ability to articulate and communicate his or her story. She spoke about an artist who came into the GAC offices to discuss video airplay and, when asked to tell the executives a little bit about his/herself, the artist was not really able to give much of an answer. There are more artists wanting video airplay on GAC than there are available slots. My assumption is that question was asked for similar reasons why a label would ask that question: to find out what about this artist makes them unique from other artists and why should the artist be given consideration aside from the fact that they have a great song, great talent, or what have you.

I have worked with clients who, in the beginning could not accurately express their uniqueness to me or to anyone else. The typical, initial response to that question is, “I don’t know” or “I’m talented.” My response to that is “Yes you’re talented, but so is everyone else in this town. What makes you different from them?” After several sessions of me helping them dig down deep within themselves, they are able to learn things about themselves they never realized before, and in turn are able to better explain their uniqueness in a compelling and captivating way that garners the attention of music industry decision makers. Waiting until you start getting that question is not the time to try to figure out how to appropriately answer that question. Being prepared for it ahead of time will ensure that the artist will make a genuine positive first impression on key players in the industry. This is important since so many aspiring artists rarely get a first chance, much less a second chance to do so. Blowing that first (and possibly only) chance can be detrimental to a budding career since the music industry has a long memory.

In the session “Marketing & Branding for Country Music,” much of the information and advice discussed was not limited to just country music artists. In fact, panelist Marcie Allen of MAC Presents stated that when a corporation is considering sponsoring a recording artist, there is sometimes concern over the behavior of the artist, such as Chris Brown’s physical abuse of Rihanna. Corporations don’t want a “Chris Brown disaster” on their hands, and while Allen says there is less risk of such a disaster in country music, there is always some level of that risk. Bad behavior from one artist in any genre hurts all artists in all genres. So again, an artist’s image, regardless of the genre, is not just based on their clothes or their look. It’s also based also on their behavior. Sponsors, especially sponsors with a cause-marketing campaign, are looking to sponsor artists and acts who are less risky, those acts that have a “squeaky clean” image. How do you present your image to a potential sponsor? Allen says that you must refine and pinpoint your own story to show what you represent. Eh hem…sounds a little like what Sarah Trahern was also saying, right? Being prepared to articulate your story, your uniqueness, and your image not only helps you make a good first impression. It also helps you secure the financial support you need to make it as an artist in today’s music industry. Most labels these days won’t even consider an artist if he or she doesn’t have financial backing or sponsorship of some kind.

How would you tell your story? As the panelists from the summit agreed, it all starts with determining your core values and what you are passionate about. Then, with the help of an image consultant, you learn how to tell that story visually (in your look) and audibly in both your music and your verbal presentation of yourself. Working with clients on media coaching and meeting preparation is my favorite part of my job because that’s how I really get to know my clients on a deeper level, which in turn helps them to be more successful in achieving their goals!

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