This is always a difficult question to answer and it varies from person to person. It stands to reason that if you do one thing and take it to the max, your chances of being superior to the person who does two or more things is enhanced. With a few exceptions most musicians who are at the absolute top of their field do essentially one thing really, really, really well. Miles Davis didn’t have to know anything about the C trumpet or playing the Petrouchka excerpt. Itzhak Perlman doesn’t have to know the chord progression of the Blues and Lang Lang doesn’t have to play ragtime (though his handlers might have him do that someday). Nevertheless, certain musicians have been able to excel in several diverse areas of music (read: Legos). Leonard Bernstein and Andre Previn immediately come to mind. Wynton Marsalis is arguably another in this elite group.
Breadth and depth are essential. Take one thing to as high a level as you can as you continue to expand your knowledge and expertise in related areas. But if you stray too far from the core of your brand, believability suffers. Going back to Lang Lang, it could well be that he could become a good ragtime pianist. The music is written out. He has the technique. He would have to capture the style. That is believable, but Lang Lang as a first-class improvising jazz pianist, playing with Joe Lovano isn’t. Jazz improvisation is simply too far afield from the Lang Lang brand.
So–this ends our mini-series on brands. The lessons learned herte should be to maintain the core of your brand, and keep it at a high level. It is easy to become a “Jack of Nothing,” when you stretch too far to master it all. But that won’t happen if you always maintain quality, grow slowly, diversify, hire the best to teach you what you don’t know, be flexible and know your competition. We’ll talk about these in other blogs.
The ultimate measures of success are trial and repeat, and the buyer is the final judge. If a manufacturer of just about anything, from dishwashing detergent to automobiles, gets you to try their product, and you are satisfied and return to purchase again, that is success. Using a music example, let’s say you get a last minute call to sub on a woodwind quintet educational concert in a high school. That’s your trial. If it goes well you are a hero, even if your playing isn’t absolutely flawless. In a last minute situation the other players’ expectations are reduced, and they will cut you some slack. They’ll be happy to get through the gig without any major train wrecks! But even if you do a great job and impress the other four musicians they might not immediately call you back. There just might not be another opportunity for a while. That quintet already has a permanent member, and as long as he or she continues to do good work, it will remain his or her position. However, the chances are very good that they will recommend you to other groups, or at least relay the story of how you saved the day.
It’s important to understand image. Your brand exudes a certain image and is made up of the following:
Tangibles & Intangibles[i]
Tangible—Can you play accurately? Do you show up on time? Are you a good sight-reader?
Intangible—Do you have a beautiful sound? Are you musical? Do you make the notes come alive? Do you add something extra with your presence in the group?
Tangible attributes are vulnerable to competition
The tangibles can be competed away. Someone will always play faster, higher and louder, but the intangibles are less vulnerable. If you have an incredibly beautiful, personal sound it is difficult to duplicate. Think of all the top musicians who play your instrument. You can usually identify them upon hearing just a few notes. It’s the intangibles—their sound, phrasing, musical idiosyncrasies, the style of music they play and so on that sets them apart.
Points of Parity and Points of Difference[ii]
Points of Parity—These are the “must haves” just to be considered at all. They are sometimes called table stakes. Every musician competing for a certain job must have them just to get in the game. For example, if you want to be an orchestra horn player, it is a given that you will be absolutely fluent with transposition.
Points of Difference—These are the things that raise you above the others. Staying with the horn example, if you have a fantastic, never-miss high register and the endurance to go with it, the number of competitors is reduced. You are elevated above the pack.
Know Your Image
This one is important. Your image lives within the minds of the market, and not within your wishful thinking. You can try to put forth the image that you want, but your audience (again—co-workers, contractors, conductors, producers, etc.) actually creates that image.
Image, Identity and Positioning—What’s the Difference? Image is the impression that the market holds of you. Identity is the impression you want to give the market. Positioning relates to the elements of Identity that you present to various target audiences.[iii] For example, if you are a composer as well as a fine instrumentalist, you might present only your composer side when entering a composition contest. But, when playing a recital you might program one of your own pieces. The important thing is to know your image. What do people associate with you? Is it good? Are you comfortable with it?
[i] Kevin Lane Keller, Strategic Brand Management (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998), p. 5.
[ii] Keller, Strategic Brand Management, p. 357.
[iii] Aaker and Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership, p. 40-41.
Here is the third installment in this series of blogs that discuss the musician as a brand. If you are new you can catch up quickly by reading the two previous posts.
You’ve probably heard the cliché, “To get ahead it’s not how you play, but who you know.” Certainly having connections or a network of friends and acquaintances can help your career, but that’s for another blog. What we will discuss here, for a moment, is the manner in which you connect, or bond, with your audience—the public, other musicians, contractors, conductors, producers, agents, etc., etc. In the end your success will depend upon how well you and your brand bond with your audience, which can be on different levels.[i] It could be that you connect:
Cognitively—They are aware of you and are familiar with your abilities. Do they consider you all the time? Are you the only one they consider? Are you one of many, one of a few or not on their radar screen at all?
Behaviorally—They may consider many, but they always come back to you.
Emotionally—They like you. They’ve hired you for years. You are friends. Or, they don’t like you. They had a run-in with you years ago and have never forgotten it.
Fit—Do your abilities and personality fit the need of the occasion perfectly, somewhat, or not at all? Are you well versed in the style of music required? Do you have a good attitude about playing it?
In the next post we’ll discuss image.
FN: [i] Marianne Foley, In-Market Validation of Connections-Based Research, Harris Interactive, Inc. (executive brief) 2007.
What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One—What Is Your Brand?
The last blog gave a few definitions to work with. Now think about your brand. And it isn’t just about your playing, but we can start with that. What do people think of when they think of you? Make a list and write it down. Here’s an example of a hypothetical musician.
Good player, great sound, terrific technique, OK sight-reader, inexperienced in orchestra and show work, a little unreliable, no car (you have to give him a ride), can be argumentative. Does this list describe a person you would hire to play a show? Maybe not. His brand has too many negatives, or liabilities. But in reality some of the listed negatives could be based on isolated incidences. The person who views this player as unreliable and argumentative could be basing that on hearsay or on just one observed occurrence.
Musicians who wear several different hats (read: Legos) may be able to extend their brands to adapt to various situations. For example, a person who is a fine composer could also be a great instrumentalist and make violin bows as well. It’s possible that some may be familiar with this person only as a composer and have no idea of these other talents.
I hope that it is clear here that the type of good brand building I am talking about is based on good deeds and good playing, both of which occur in an organic sort of way. I’m not talking about a brand that is artificially created by an agency for a movie star, pop-music artist or boy band. I’m talking about the reputation that everyday musicians build over time, as they go about their daily work.
As previously stated, a strong brand is identified with a message or image that is meaningful to the consumer, stands apart from other brands and that the consumer feels good about using. Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Renée Fleming, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Bono are all strong well-known brands. These are the brands of music mega-stars. But, there are also strong brands that are known only by the musicians in a particular subset of the music world. Think of orchestral trombonists, flutists, concertmasters, jazz saxophonists or bassists. Within each small music business subset there are those who stand out above the rest. The musicians in that field know their names. This is true of every community of local musicians, for example in your town or school.
Your brand is built over time and is determined not only by how well you play, but also on how you handle yourself. Recitals, performances and publications all contribute (read: Legos), but even non-musical things play a part in your brand, as well. For example, the people with whom you associate, your appearance, as well as your personality all add to or detract from your brand. It takes a considerable amount of time to build a good brand, but it can be tarnished very quickly with sub-par performance or actions. It only takes one example of sloppy technique to create doubt in the minds of others regarding your expertise. There is probably truth in the old saying, “You are only as good as your last gig.”No comments
The next several “lessons” will center around the professional musician as a business—a store—where clients can get musical expertise. If you buy into the idea that musicians are small businesses, you can take it a step further. Companies spend a good deal of time and money thinking about, developing and protecting their brands, and there are business professionals who think about this on a daily basis. What follows will be six, or so, blogs discussing musicians and brands.
What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One—Some Definitions
What is the first thing you think of when the company Coca-Cola is mentioned—how about Apple or Mercedes? These are all strong brands that have distinct images associated with them. As a musician you also have a brand. You, Inc. means something to those who want to hire you. Let’s think about that in business terms for a minute. Put on your business hat again. Here come some definitions.
“A brand is a trademark or distinctive name identifying a product or a manufacturer.”1 And brand equity is a set of assets and liabilities linked to a brand (name and/or symbol) that add to or subtract from the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/or to that firm’s customers. 2 Whew! Even I have to read that last sentence twice! As musicians we don’t often think in these terms, but whether intentional or not musicians develop their brands too. Some would call it your reputation or image. Picture a musician like Yo-Yo Ma. What do you think of when you hear his name? It could be—he’s at the top of his field, artistic musician, wholesome, diversity, multi-cultural, wide-range of music, personable, good guy, etc. How about Wynton Marsalis? It could be—cultural roots, has respect for the history of jazz music and its preservation, great classical as well as jazz musician, Lincoln Center Jazz, Juilliard, etc. (read: diverse Legos). If Miles Davis is thought of in the same manner it could be—innovative, legendary, cool, hip, bad boy, eccentric, etc.
In business a strong brand is identified with a message or image that is meaningful to the consumer. It stands apart from other brands and the consumer feels good about using it. Marsalis, Ma and Davis are all strong brands. It could be argued that there are other musicians who are equally talented and artistic, but the brand of these three musicians sets them apart from the pack. Some might perceive Davis’s brand as having some negative descriptors, but remember what is perceived as negative to some can be positive to others (or reason to go to a concert to see and hear what this person is about).
When people consider going to a Marsalis or Ma concert or purchasing one of their recordings, they base much of their decision on past experiences with these artists. For example, they saw Wynton on television. They liked what they saw and heard, and therefore decided to check him out in a live concert. This potential concert-goer was linking back to past experience in an effort to predict future outcomes. “I like his recordings. I’ll like him at a concert. We’ll have a good time. Let’s buy a ticket.”
We will talk about your brand in the next blog post.
FN: 1 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000
2. David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership (New York: The Free Press, 2000), p. 17.No comments