If you're a songwriter and/or producer in the music industry, it's time to consider how you present your personal brand. In the past, working primarily as a creative "behind the scenes" meant most of the fanfare went to the artists and not the songwriters or producers.
With very few exceptions, the people who wrote the songs and produced the music earned all their praise within the industry. But as the economic tides shifted over the past decade, songwriters and producers needed to be more outspoken to make sure they weren't left behind in the new era of streaming.
And while there are still tons of challenges facing the people who help craft the music but don't perform it (most of them monetary), we've definitely seen some of the biggest music platforms make at least somewhat of an effort to shine a light on the creative people behind songs.
In 2018, Spotify started showing songwriter credits on tracks and creating playlists and spots to highlight writers. Most recently, YouTube Music launched a new section of their website to help highlight writers. For the first time, many fans are learning they may love certain songs from artists because of who wrote or produced them as much as who sang them.
Why Songwriters And Producers Need To Think Of Themselves As Brands
Look, we get it. A lot of songwriters and producers chose that lane of the industry because they don't want to put up with a lot of the marketing (and smoke and mirrors) artists put up with. For many, focusing primarily on songwriting or producing allows them to express their creativity without dealing with words like "brand."
But the truth is, it's never been a more crowded space. As many new artists find their traction online, they're working with their friends and friends of friends. They're finding each other online, whether it's through sites that supply beats and samples or social media and Discord servers.
The most successful artists of the future are making music in their bedrooms right now, and they're usually writing and producing it with people who are doing the same. You need to be visible to these kinds of artists. It's not about having a super impressive digital presence so you can convince Universal Music Group to sign you to a publishing deal and put you in the room with whomever.
It's about being visible and searchable so your peers can find you and you can start making music and getting cuts without all the major label or major publisher red tape. And if you're already getting cuts, it's about reminding the industry of your value as a creator so they think about you for their artists.
Even just recently we received an email promoting a conversation with a mixing engineer. The title of the email? "How Did You Reach 1 Billion Streams?" Yeah, even mixing engineers are thinking about their success in modern artist terms and (rightfully) staking claim to some of the success these songs are seeing.
Creating A Calling Card
When you think about it, producers have historically been a little better at branding themselves than writers. This is particularly true in the hip hop and pop world, where the term "producer" can also apply to somebody who builds tracks or makes beats or musical elements without actually having a fully finished song in mind.
Some producers even put "watermarks" in their tracks that become calling cards. The "Maybach Music" snippet on records released by the Rick Ross-led Maybach Music Group is a good example. Or in Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" — right before the initial drop you hear the words "Kio," a calling card dropped by Dutch producer YoungKio on the track he uploaded to BeatStars, which Lil Nas X eventually purchased and used for the massive hit.
That's not to say putting your stamp on everything you do is feasible or even advisable. But it exemplifies a greater point: don't be afraid to develop traits and trends you can "own" as one of your staple styles. Most great writers and producers naturally fall back into certain elements that they may become known for.
Rick Rubin is known for producing lead vocals in a pretty dry/sparse way. Shane McAnally is known for clever double entendres and turns of phrases. Nobody wants to be reduced to a singular sound or style, but you shouldn't shy away from being vocal about what you love and do best as a writer or producer.
Starting With The Obvious
Alright, so what are some things we actually need to do as songwriters and producers to develop a brand? Well, let's just rip the Band-Aid off and get started with the obvious place: social media.
As much as possible, you need social media accounts that represent what you go by as a creative. If you use a specific name as a producer, you need to have accounts that all represent that. If you mix and mingle your personal friends with your professional brand, you should consider creating a separate account and making your personal one private.
It's up to you depending on how many accounts you like to juggle, but it's best to at least keep as much of your public profiles to things that represent your talent and personality as possible. That's not to say it all needs to feel stifled and about work 24/7. By all means, post your adorable cat pictures — but make sure it's still somehow related to what you do the vast majority of the time.
It may be also very helpful to develop an aesthetic around your brand. It wouldn't hurt to actually have some professional photos and to pick a color scheme. If you're the type of person who loves a good logo and font, seriously consider following some simple branding guidelines to develop a look.
There's nothing that says you can't change it in the future, but when you develop a consistent look across multiple platforms, people have to spend less time associating them with you — and you with what you do.
That also means you should consider having similar biographical information in your social profiles and short briefs for when you're communicating with people via email. Building your own multi-link landing page to lead people to different things you've been involved with is also helpful. It's also cool to shout out some people you've worked with (regardless of their popularity level) and tag them in these social media bio spots, too, if you like. The faster people can associate an artist's song with you, the better.
Make a website. Seriously. They still matter a lot and they're one of the only places where you completely control your image, content, and how you reach out to and meet people.
Your website should include things like a brief bio, images, colors and fonts consistent with your social media, lists of people you've worked with or cuts you may have, and any notable press. If you can embed songs or videos that are out in the world that you've worked on or demos of things you've done, all the better.
Most importantly, create an easy place for people to reach out to you. And once you have a website, you can easily create a more professional email address, too. This is perfect for the day you're so busy you need to hire somebody to help you manage everything. You can have email addresses liking booking@[yourproducername].com.
Talk About And Listen To Music — A Lot
The most important thing you can do as a songwriter or producer (outside of working on your craft) is support your friends, peers, and other people in the industry. It's so easy to get jealous of others or protective of your career and contacts. But there are few parts of the industry that rely more on good relationships than being a songwriter or producer.
At the end of the day, being known as a good person and good confidant will help you go so much further in this corner of the industry. A lot of times, songwriters and producers end up taking on a lot of the emotional baggage from artists. And then they're tasked with helping craft something both artistic and commercially viable from it. There are parts of your days you'll be more of a therapist than anything.
Talk to your friends and artists about their favorite bands. Listen to music you've never heard of before and look up who wrote the songs and produced the tracks. The more you share your love for the craft (not just the love for your career), the more you'll be known as not just a serious professional, but a dedicated music lover.
And Of Course, Take Care Of The Business
Make sure that you're squared away with all of your PRO necessities, both as a writer and a publisher (if you don't have a publisher). Look into platforms like SongTrust for administration if you aren't signed to a publisher. Be vigilant about making sure your credits are represented. Check the MLC. Check SoundExchange.
It's not the fun part, but it's the part that gets you paid as a writer (and in some cases a producer). You'll need to make sure you're represented in all the right platforms. After all, Spotify showing the songwriters is only beneficial to you if you make sure the person uploading the tracks enters in the proper information.
You should even consider creating an LLC for yourself if you're based in the United States. It usually costs a little money, but it's an important step to protecting yourself the more you create as a songwriter or producer.
Ultimately, it's time to embrace the idea that you as a creator are a brand. What you do has value, and the more you show that to the world, the more your value grows.