Artist Branding: Finding A Place in Your Audience’s Heart

Please let me introduce you to my friend Kevin Tucker and his branding/design company Collide Creative. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Kevin during my years at Word Entertainment. Kevin’s creative design and branding excellence has helped build the story for an impressive list of music artists. His design work has provided the foundation for numerous successful marketing launches from major Country & Christian record labels. Collide Creative gets our One Great Business award and I highly recommend you check them out for your design and branding needs. Kevin is based in Nashville, TN but works with clients across the US.


By Kevin Tucker


Every successful artist has found a way into the hearts and minds of those who support them. One of the major keys to engaging fans in a way that develops their loyalty, even devotion, over the course of the artist’s career. There are a lot of ingredients to the recipe for that kind of success, but a large portion of it boils down to branding. I know, you’ve heard people talk about branding so much in the music industry that it seems like it’s this nebulous, all-encompassing buzzword devoid of any definition. Does it even mean anything anymore? I’m here to tell you that it still means… everything.


But let’s set music aside for a moment. Think about your favorite consumer products or services. What makes you loyal to them? It’s likely a combination of factors, largely the promise of quality in what they offer, and the consistency in which they deliver on that promise, but there’s likely an intangible quality about the brand that you inherently connect to on an emotional level. Somehow what that brand stands for just “clicks” for you, and you sing their praises to all of your friends, even defending them to those who would criticize it. This kinship and loyalty didn’t develop through haphazard circumstance, and to accomplish that for any brand requires a great deal of expertise working together in a concerted, purposeful effort.


A brand is quite simply a reputation, and the experts in the industry who work under the umbrella of branding are those who play a part in the development and management of that reputation. That’s a big job… so it’s no wonder that the word is so prevalent. It encompasses many aspects of industry expertise in any industry, and for music it includes many fields including artist development, management, marketing, public relations, image development, photography, and design. The latter three areas are where the root of my personal expertise lies, but more on that later on. Branding requires a centralized effort in which everyone involved shares in the common goals. This is crucial for an artist’s initial launch, but it’s equally important throughout the process of promoting the artist and project. All of these areas combine to build stories around the brand and create an ongoing narrative that connects people to this brand/reputation. (As another example see Keith’s post about Nashville’s boutique jeans makers Imogene + Willie)


For the music industry, the longer-term effort is career-level brand-buildling; but the boots on the ground are typically working on one project at a time (typically an album or a tour), and usually each project has its own unique brand aspects which, though they relate to the long-term branding effort, are part of that project’s unique identity.


There are many artists out there who have leveraged branding well throughout their careers. Some contemporary examples include Mercy Me, Kanye West, Eric Church, Eminem, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Weird Al Yankovic, Beyonce, and Kid Rock. Odds are you find it difficult to compare that list of artists, because you don’t have an equal appreciation for their work. And that’s completely appropriate, because odds are that you’re not the intended audience for every single one of those artists. It’s crucial to know your audience… trying to be everything to everyone is a dead-end that leads to bland results that appeal to no one in a meaningful way. For example, make a list of your 5 favorite foods. Now imagine putting them all in a blender and drinking a smoothie of that every day. Yuck!


Throughout an artist’s career, they will evolve, sometimes even “reinvent” their sound and/or their look, and successful examples of this are the result of building on the established loyalty of an audience. Taylor Swift is a great current example of this – the shift she has made stylistically over her past couple albums would likely not have sustained her success without her devoted legions supporting it, and without careful attention to managing the transition and maintaining the fan base throughout the process.


Now, I haven’t talked much about design & visual brand development yet, which may come as some surprise if you know my work. But I think it’s important to talk about how visual elements work within this branding ecosystem, because there are some out there who would use “branding” and “design” as if they were synonymous, and I think that’s a mistake. Design & visual development do play a very crucial role in branding, though, for two very important reasons.


First, an artist’s image allows all of the intangible ideas about their brand to be made tangible; to provide a set of visuals that symbolize that reputation in the minds of the audience. It’s somewhat comparable to what a logo represents for a product, or umbrella brand of products, but more like the complexities of how a product is consistently represented through advertising and packaging.


Second, those visuals are frequently the first impression of an artist’s reputation, especially in this digital age. While radio still plays a big role in providing first impressions (especially in Country and CCM), more and more people are initially introduced to an artist through visuals, and this is the beginning of the relationship with each audience member. It’s often that first impression that will factor into whether the music is heard, and will accompany it when it’s shared, repeating the cycle. And these visuals, again, serve as a symbolic reminder of the artist’s brand repeatedly, throughout the development of that relationship.


In this increasingly noisy world, how can an artist stand out? In the days where music retail was one of the key first impressions for artist visuals, some would suggest that an album cover should “pop off the shelf” as compared to those around it. Even then, I would suggest that, instead, what it needs to do is connect to those to whom it’s intended to appeal in a unique, meaningful way. That may sound like a subtle distinction, but if everything on the shelf were competing with one another to jump out at you at you, we’d have nothing but screaming neon, holographic, googly-eyed product everywhere and no one would want to go into that room, let alone browse the product. But I digress… the point is that these days, there’s a drastically larger amount of visual competition, and standing out online in a world of postage-stamp-sized covers is impossible without a purposeful, targeted effort.


I’ve had the privilege through my career thus far to be charged with developing the visual branding elements for a vast variety of talented and successful artists. Each one has their own unique appeal to a particular audience. There’s no formula for success – each one is the result of understanding the goal. Speaking from my own experience, here are a few examples:

I worked with country superstars Big & Rich via Warner Music Nashville since their debut album, and have been involved in art direction & design on a total of 7 releases for them. From the beginning, these guys had a unique twist on Country music, weaving together a seemingly contradictory mixture of quirky humor and heartfelt messages into an entertainment spectacle that one can’t help compare to a circus (and who doesn’t love the circus?). As they developed and grew this reputation, I was privileged to have the opportunity to define the visuals that conveyed it and played a part in shaping it.


Big Daddy Weave are a well-established 5-piece band in Contemporary Christian Music, and their album imaging has focused on the typical rock look, with covers usually featuring conceptual artwork with less focus on recognizable imagery of the members of the band. As their popularity and relevance increased, they began to build an appeal as personalities, and on their latest album Love Come to Life, we put their faces front-and-center, and built a set of images that pair that with conceptually centric imagery that stays true to their personality and message.


Working with artists with more familiar brands has its own set of advantages and challenges. There’s no need to establish in audiences’ minds who Amy Grant and Willie Nelson are, but in the case of both Amy’s Legacy: Hymns & Faith, and Willie’s Remember Me, Vol. 1, their typical brand took a slight detour to convey the unique qualities of the project. Amy’s project took a more organic turn and a focus on worshipful music, and the value of traditions. Similarly, Willie’s project were his versions of the Country classics he most admired. Each required playing off of the respective familiarity, each with its own an artful twist.


Often I work with new artists, helping define their look and brand. As a current example, I worked with Ele – a teenage Christian pop singer with roots in the classics and a modern sensibility (and a powerful voice to boot). Her first album Your Girl helped to begin the process of building her reputation, but as her second release, an upcoming yet-to-be-titled EP, is coming together, taking a fresh look at her look to reflect her personal and professional maturity (her first album was released when she was only 13) has turned into a discussion of whether to revisit her professional name. As simple as “Ele” is (pronounced “el-ee”; short for Eleanor) is it recognizable enough to be memorable? What trade-offs would there be for alienating those who are already familiar with her as “Ele” as compared to how a new name might be a factor in building her reputation among new audiences? Tough questions, and a process we’re still discussing.


Sure, branding decisions can make or break an artist’s career, but it’s not something to be intimidated by. Any artist preparing for success is already surrounding themselves with a team of trusted experts who will guide and collaborate with them through the different aspects of this process. As the artist keeps making great music and building their reputation, the team will help manage it and introduce new people into their audience, many of whom will eventually become the devoted fans every artist seeks.


About Kevin: 

Kevin Tucker is a Creative Director in Nashville who has worked in the music industry since 1996. He helps artists, companies, and organizations bring personality to their brands in digital and traditional media through impactful art direction and strategic consulting. To see more of his work, visit

Using Story To Build A Brand



Each morning I awake in search of that ingenious music marketing plan that will significantly change and impact the way music is sold. One that turns an ordinary musician into a house hold name overnight. While chasing that elusive groundbreaking overnight plan, I like to study other marketing and branding stories in hopes of gleaning nuggets that will lead me to the Holy Grail. Along the way, I stumbled across a branding story that captured my heart in a way no other brand has done. It’s the story of a Nashville based company, Imogene + Willie.

I first heard about Imogene + Willie a few years back from photographer, Joshua Black Wilkins. We were at a photo shoot for an artist that we manage and somehow got on the subject of Joshua’s jeans and how he hadn’t washed them in a year. What! Why? Surely those had to be some nasty jeans? Photographer, Thomas Petillo, was driving the shoot and he was also wearing a pair of Imogene & Willies. Both had done photography for the new jean brand and knew the owners and their story well. Thomas and Joshua shared enough of the Imogene + Willie story to spark my curiousity. After the photo shoot, I began to research the story and their well crafted marketing.

Being an avid blogger, I was instantly impressed to find that the Imogene + Willie website was built on a blog platform. I clicked the tab labeled Our Story and dove in for a read. Learning a bit of the story of the owners, Carrie and Matt, and the inspiration for the Imogene + Willie name began to draw me in for more. Reading the story and watching the video about their desire to make things in the USA and their excitement about building a small business that provided jobs for others was heart warming. Even though we had never met, I instantly felt as if I knew Carrie and Matt well. Even so, I still couldn’t get past the fact that it would cost me $250 for a pair of those special jeans that you aren’t supposed to wash. As I began to read more about selvedge denim, I learned from Carrie & Matt about the superior denim that was used to make the early Levi’s that built America. For some reason, I felt drawn back to the Imogene + Willie website on a regular basis to read more. Carrie and Matt had used story to pull me deep into their brand. I actually shared their story with others for a year before purchasing my first pair of Imogene + Willie jeans. My first purchase was fueled with a desire to support a local Nashville business with heart and soul and to become part of their story. After joining the mailing list, I noticed something even more brilliant. They tell a story behind every product they sell, offering the consumer more than just a piece of clothing. It’s pretty incredible how story makes it possible for them to sell a $68 t-shirt or a $62 bandana. At times, they send emails that tell the story of other local businesses. Through their story telling, I  discovered Otis James bow ties, Emil Erwin leather goods and the wonderful food of  Mas Tacos. How amazing that a company would go to such effort to build community by giving props to other local businesses. 

The catalyst that finally got me to purchase a pair of jeans was seeing the brand incorporate music into their story. Carrie and Matt began hosting Supper & Song nights in the backyard of their store. The Supper & Song nights were complete with live music, community and food trucks. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the Supper & Song until after they were forced to cease hosting them due to local sound ordinance codes, but I somehow felt like I had attended as I read through their blog. Recently, they announced that they will be starting them up again and I absolutely can’t wait to attend. Another way they incorporate music in their story is by creating and sharing Spotify playlists. Music appears to be a big part of the culture they are creating so naturally, customers would want to know what Matt, Carrie and the other employees are listening to. Wouldn’t it be great if all businesses incorporated music in their culture and branding?

Imogene + Willie has created quite the brand and finding themselves featured in the New York Times, Vogue Magazine and they were even invited to do a TED talk on their business strategy. Last week, I attended their five-year anniversary party to celebrate the remarkable Imogene + Willie branding story. Story was a huge part of the celebration as they asked customers to drop off some of their worn jeans ahead of time. They lined the walls of the party with customer’s jeans along with a short story card below each pair with the customers name, the age of the jeans and how many washes each jean had seen.

Congratulations Carrie & Matt on your 5 year anniversary of Imogene + Willie! You have successfully marketed your way into the hearts of many through your story.

Holly Starr Partners With Sisterhood Magazine For Fall Tour

Artist Garden Entertainment announces the partnership of Holly Starr, Sisterhood Magazine and author Laura Smith for the Through My Father’s Eyes tour. Young Adult author Laura Smith (Skinny and  It’s Complicated) and artist Holly Starr (Top 25 Radio Hits “Don’t Have Love” and “Through My Father’s Eyes”) will be delivering a night of celebrating true identity this fall. Confirmed dates will be announced soon.

For information on bringing the Through My Father’s Eyes tour to your city call 615-834-8615 or email

Artist Garden Entertainment Creates Top Performing Marketing Campaign


With the onslaught of digital space, anyone can pretend to market music. Simply throw an ad together, buy some cheap space and sell millions of records right? Unfortunately, that is a common mindset for many new generation marketers. What some fail to understand is there are a few rules of marketing that worked 50 years ago, still hold true today and will most likely hold true in 50 years. 1) Know Your Target Audience and where to find them and  2) Keep the ad simple, focused & targeted. Many marketers fill ads with too much messaging. I’m a firm believer in “less is more” when it comes to creating ads. Consumers’ attention is more difficult than ever to hold so generating just enough curiosity to get the consumer to press that ‘click button’ is my primary objective.

I recently had the opportunity to create on a marketing campaign for new Save The City Records artist, Amanda Noelle. We were launching with very little radio play and introducing a new name to Christian listeners. Fortunately for Amanda, she landed the worship leader slot for Girls of Grace for 2013-2014 season. That gave us a couple of things to target 1) Christian Music fans who are interested in new music and 2) Girls who follow & attend Girls of Grace events.  We of course looked at marketing vehicles available at Girls of Grace events and implemented a contest with Sisterhood Magazine ( official magazine handed out at Girls of Grace conferences) where girls register to win Forever 21 Gift Cards & Women’s study Bibles. Knowing that is an extremely popular hangout for people interested in discovering new Christian music, made it a natural space to target. Working with talented graphic designer, Jekob Washington, we created the ad above. Our ad ended up being one of’s most successful click-throughs ads so far in 2013, clocking in double the click-throughs they normally see for the space we booked! Check out Frontgate Media’s Case Study on the campaign here Amanda Noelle Ad Case Study

Super Bowl Commercial Winner!

While America’s top watched TV show of the year was the SuperBowl at the New Orleans Superdome on Sunday Night, the top social network and Monday morning water cooler conversations were centered around the Super Bowl commercials. As a music marketing professional, I am particularly interested in the ads that stir emotion as that is how we sell music. Dodge Ram & the Budweiser Clydesdale commercials did just that.  I personally liked the Dodge Ram ad with the deceased Paul Harvey commentating. It made the Ford truck owner, inside me, contemplate checking out a Dodge. While the ads were enjoyable and several that most definitely created action, there was one incredible ad that didn’t appear on TV. Nabisco’s marketing team rushed out the ad via social networks during the “blackout” situation. The Oreo “You Can Still Dunk In The Dark” ad gets my vote as the most effective ad of the night and it cost $0 to circulate vs $4-6 MIllion others paid to actually place the ads on TV.  Dynamic marketing at its best! The Oreos ad will be a game changer in the way advertisers approach major TV events in the future!


Win A Pair of Nike Delorean Dunks

Through the years, I have seen many creative music marketing campaigns but a particular one that I ran across this week really grabbed my attention. The Washington Projects and Save The City Records are giving away a pair of Nike Delorean Dunks to promote their May 22 release Space Time Continuum. Yep. Special edition Nike shoes inspired by the Delorean car which was made so famous by the movie Back to The Future! The music listening experience in the ad is enhanced with a flying Delorean which I find quite entertaining. The ad also includes a countdown timer to street date reminiscent of the time machine in Back To The Future.


Three Key Elements that Give this Campaign Great Potential for Success.

1)  Connects The Washington Projects with Nike, one of the most successful brands in history. NIke shoes are a fashion icon in the dance/hip hop culture which is The Washington Projects target audience

2) A social network sharing function is incorporated giving the viewer an opportunity to share the fun experience with friends.

3) Delivers the simple message The Washington Projects “Space Time Continuum” streets May 22


Click on the ad below and give it a spin. I think you will enjoy!




Marketing Music On Pinterest

As a music marketing professional, I like to explore all things new on the horizon and especially when it comes to social network marketing. When I first heard of Pinterest, I avoided joining due to the reports I was hearing that its primary users are women trading recipes and craft ideas. Afraid of losing my manliness, i decided to hold off joining. To my surprise, news recently broke that Pinterest is now ranked the #3 social network behind Facebook & Twitter. That definitely got my attention! After attending Podcamp Nashville and listening to a panel on Pinterest, I knew it was time to join. One of the panelist, Daniel Bear Hunley, talked about the explosion of Pinterest and how he had picked up 2 million followers in just a few months. That excited me and made me realize its okay for men to join. I am now the proud owner of a brand new Pinterest Account.

Up till now, the music industry hasn’t found a way to maximize Pinterest as a platform to drive sales. I am sure we are minutes away from some new artist exploding due to a clever way of using Pinterest. I of course would like to be the person to figure it out, so I am madly attempting to master the technique of being a great “Pinner”. This past weekend, I uploaded and pinned a photo I took of a beautiful door in Nappa. Within five minutes, I proudly had 20 re-pins from total strangers and my door photo appeared on the main page of Pinterest! Wow! The adrenaline was pumping. Through my experimenting, I discovered that food, gardening, architecture and fashion are huge items of interest. We just have to figure out how to sneak music into those buckets.

I would encourage all artist to join Pinterest and start building your platform. That brilliant idea of promoting music on Pinterest is just around the corner. I look forward to hearing any ideas you may be trying?

Follow Me On Pinterest



The New Artist Development Department

Artist Development is a process that was originally created by record labels to groom young artists for the big leagues. Many young artists have raw talent that needs refinement and that process takes time. Unfortunately, the new music business economy left record labels with a lack of resources to fund artist development. Record labels now want “fully baked” artists who are ready to release music immediately. So who fills the role of artist development?

Artist Management companies are the new “Artist Development Departments”. As an artist manager, I find myself in the process daily. While it requires patience, it can be quite rewarding when you find an artist willing to listen, learn and work hard.

5 Key Steps To Artist Development

Songwriting – The most important element of artist development! Without great songs, everything else is meaningless. The first thing we do with new artists is set up co-writes with great writers in an effort to grow them into great songwriters.

Vocal Coaching – Some artists may only need to learn how to protect & take care of their voice but most artists will take huge performance leaps with the right vocal coach.

Performance Coaching – While we do a great deal of this ourselves, we also bring in performance coach professionals as needed. Fortunately, we have an artist roster to pull from who offer some of the best coaching.

Live Producer – This involves bringing in a producer to help with instrumentation & arrangement of songs. What the audience hears out front can differ greatly from what the artist hears on stage or in a rehearsal room.

Image Consulting – Many new artists think they have a great look. “Think” is the key word in that phrase. Artists need a look that is memorable & sets them apart. Fortunately, my wife & business partner, Diana Stancil, has a great eye and talent for this. The tough part in image consulting is convincing the artists to stick with the new look and resist falling back into old comfortable habits.



Postage Stamp Marketing

Postage Stamp

As delivery methods for selling & consuming music changed drastically with the launch of iTunes & the iPod, so have methods for marketing & branding music. Record company marketing departments are now forced to think in 1″ square due to the space that iTunes uses to feature album artwork. With the decline of music sales, Target, Best Buy and Walmart began shrinking their advertising space in the weekly circulars to match that 1″ square. FacebookTwitter and other social networks have driven the world even deeper into 1″ square with the tiny space dedicated for profile pictures. The inevitable 1″ square, which is roughly the size of a postage stamp, is now the world that marketing & branding must operate in. How we maximize that space is more important than ever! I call it Postage Stamp Marketing.

Five Key Rules For Postage Stamp Marketing

– Every pixel matters. Determine your primary message & use every pixel at your disposal for that message

– Use color & design that pops making your cover stand out amongst other 1″ squares

– Use as few words as possible to deliver your message

– Developing artist – your name is the most important thing on the cover!

– Compare your 1″ square side by side with other covers on the current iTunes front page