Mastering the Hustle: Building Your Music Brand

Mastering the Hustle
Photo by Amber Knecht

KEXP, Upstream Music Fest + Summit, and MoPOP have partnered together to present Mastering The Hustle: a new panel discussion with six annual events, tackling a different topic to help emerging artists make better decisions earlier in their careers. Throughout the series, we’ll be discussing everything from how to get airplay, legal and licensing, healthcare for artists, and promoting your brand.



Here at KEXP, we firmly believe that music matters. But we live in a world that is more awash in music than ever before. So how do you, as a musician, make your mark? How do you stand out and create a brand that will get you noticed and while still being true to your image and intent? What tools are best leveraged to amplify your brand out into the world? And how does any of this work, anyway? In our first installment of the Mastering The Hustle workshop series, we invited a panel of Seattle musicians and music industry professionals to give presentations on building your music brand. This series is in conjunction with Upstream Music Fest + Summit, MoPOP, and KEXP’s Artist Education Initiative — a new program dedicated to providing educational resources for local artists.

Megan Tweed of Edelman and Assembly PNW Digital talked about the importance of conscious branding. All four members of the band Thunderpussy (Molly Sides, Whitney Petty, Leah Julius, and Ruby Dunphy) and Tacocat bassist Bree McKenna shared their firsthand experiences, both successes and pitfalls, of figuring out their bands’ unique image and style. And Sub Pop Records CEO Megan Jasper talked about the music business and some of Sub Pop’s diverse and uniquely branded acts, as well as the label’s brand itself.

Why Brand?

Megan Tweed, Edelman and Assembly PNW Digital explained that you have to have a brand in this day and age — it’s unavoidable. Talking about branding your band early on will serve you down the road. Brands are successful when they meet the needs and expectations of their fans and audience. People need to get something from your performance and your brand to keep them coming back for more.

So, how exactly do you establish your band’s brand? Tweed says to start with your mission and ask yourself these questions: What makes you different? How would you want someone to refer to you, or to think of you? What is your image? How do you want to project yourself? What feelings do you want to evoke in people? Actually, sit down as a band and think about these things.

Think about all the details. Colors, language, and merch all need to snap to the same image that should evoke a feeling. Think about yourself — what makes you like, follow, check out a band, etc.? Tweed encourages artists to design a unique world and invite audiences along for the ride. Watch her talk below to find out more.




How Do You Get Connected and Inspired?

Thunderpussy is a force to be reckoned with and they are taking stages by storm. But it didn’t happen by accident and it didn’t happen alone. Bandmates Molly Sides, Whitney Petty, Leah Julius, and Ruby Dunphy talked about the importance of just getting yourself out there and involved in your scene. Go to shows, see what other people are doing, introduce yourself to bands, bartenders, and sound people. Get to know the venues. Get yourself out there. Don’t underestimate the importance of that.

As you figure out who you are and what you want to be, don’t be afraid to live it and manifest it fully. If you’re an artist, you have to live like that every day. Breath and live your band. When you wake up, it’s another chance to create who you are. You get to morph your personality. You have a vision and ethos that you get to build and create, but it has to come from somewhere. That theme is a bloodline that goes through everything you do.

And just as importantly, Thunderpussy stressed the need to divide duties and run your band as a business. Dedication and persistence to the business side of things are key. Don’t let it fall by the wayside. Figure out the roles for each member of the band: marketing, booking, money, etc.

For more practical tips on running a successfully branded band, a business, and sticking together like a family, watch Thunderpussy’s talk below.




How to Be a Popular Band?

Bree McKenna of Seattle pop punk powerhouse Tacocat injected her talk with plenty of humor and heart, qualities that have served them well as a band along the way. From having no idea what they were doing to picking up local, regional, and now major festival slots like Coachella, Tacocat has learned a ton about branding and connecting with audiences and peers.

Creativity and creative control go hand in hand. Tacocat succeeds by doing a lot on their own. From creating their own album art, costumes, and music videos, to taking their own spin on social media, this band has carved their own path and they’re sticking to it.

Have fun, but get ready for hard work and plenty of struggle. Watch McKenna in the video below as she talks about Tacocat finding their own brand, and where it is taking them.




What Makes Branding Good, and Real?

Megan Jasper, Sub Pop Records CEO, finished out the workshop with an inspiring take on branding. Instead of something to be feared or wrestled with, a good brand is simply an extension of yourself. Sub Pop is arguably the country’s most successful independent record label. They have a number of artists who have branded themselves very well and in very different ways. Jasper shared stories of Shabazz Palaces, Dum Dum Girls, and Father John Misty to show the many ways a brand can be approached.

She also stressed the importance of learning from the experts, suggesting aspiring bands read the book All You Need To Know About The Music Business by Donald Passman.

Yes, it can sound sort of gross to talk about branding, but when it is done well, you don’t really think about it on that level. When it is done in an authentic way, it makes artists feel like they’re are being themselves.

Jasper used to work with teenagers and say to them, “figure out who you are and how you want the world to see you.” Do the things that will show the world how you want to be seen. When you act on it, it becomes reality. Bring that intention to who you are as an artist and as a person. If you do that, the branding can be right because it actually represents you.

Watch Jasper share stories of Sub Pop and how to be an authentic brand in the video below.






This workshop on Building Your Music Brand is the first of twelve in the Mastering the Hustle series. Join us in person, or follow along here in the KEXP blog, as we bring you stories, tips, and strategies from the best voices in the industry

Key Takeaways:

  • Branding can sound uncomfortable or even gross, but your band should utilize it as an opportunity to express yourselves in an authentic way. Your brand is just an extension of your band’s personality.
  • Be detailed with your brand, thinking about everything from the colors and language you use to how your merch will look. Think about what appeal to you about how other bands you love present themselves and how you can define your band with as clear of an aesthetic
  • Carve your own path and have fun with it. Make your own album art, music, videos, costumers, etc. Whatever you think represents your band your music best. Make it unique to you.
  • This is your chance to define how you want your band to be seen. Take advantage of it and make it clear.





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