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The Reluctant Marketer

How To Think About Your Personal Brand As A Jazz Musician, And Why It Matters

How To Think About Your Personal Brand As A Jazz Musician, And Why It Matters

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How would you describe your personal brand? It is worth thinking about because improving certain aspects of it could elevate your reputation and as a result, the opportunities you are offered. I can sense people thinking, 'All that matters is how I play jazz.' But I think that’s short-sighted.
In the mid-1970s, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio became the spokesman for the coffee maker Mr. Coffee. On the day of one of their commercial shoots, the producers of the Mr. Coffee commercial asked DiMaggio to wear a shirt displaying their logo. The baseball legend refused, insisting on wearing his own clothes instead. He then took a pair of scissors to the shirt to remove the logo. The producers were furious and threatened to sue DiMaggio for breach of contract. But DiMaggio stood his ground. "I'm not going to be turned into a walking billboard," he confidently told the producers.

He knew the effect of his association with a particular brand and how that would significantly impact the personal brand he worked so meticulously to nurture and protect. He believed that wearing that shirt emblazoned with a logo would cheapen his image and tarnish his reputation as a dignified and respected athlete.

Stories of DiMaggio's fierce protection of his brand were legendary, including his refusal on principle to promote cigarettes. He understood better than most how seemingly small things could diminish one's personal brand.

What is your personal brand? What? You say you don't have one? Of course, you do. You just are not paying attention to it, and I'm suggesting that you start.

Most people think of a brand as being exclusively a business asset. And even business marketing people tend to think of a brand simply as a logo, a tagline, colors, and their website, but it's so much more than that.

For both a company and an individual jazz musician, their brand is the sum of their actions and communication, including the quality of their product or service, their interaction with customers, their values, their stand on social issues, and much more.

Being a technically skilled musician isn't enough. Have you ever declined to hire someone because of their personal baggage? Have you ever hired someone who may not have been the best available musician, but provided you with something beyond that which was more important to you?

How would you describe your personal brand? It is worth thinking about because improving certain aspects of it could elevate your reputation and as a result, the opportunities you are offered. I can sense people thinking, "All that matters is how I play." But I think that's short-sighted.

As a jazz musician, your brand is some combination of how well you improvise and play your instrument, how many tunes you know, your ability to interact with an audience on stage, your look (think of Randy Brecker always wearing some version of a Flat Cap), your résumé of well-known players with whom you've performed or recorded, and your ability to collaborate with others musically and otherwise.,

It might be worth your while to take a moment to reflect on your own personal brand. Maybe start by asking people close to you. "What is my reputation in this town or in the school in which I teach?" "What do you see as me being at my best at and me at less than my best?"

In business, we call this a branding audit. It helps confirm strengths and identifies areas of weakness.

If I were to do an audit of my personal brand as an example, I would say that I'm viewed as a good player, consistently dependable, "user-friendly" in the projects for which I'm hired, and I find solutions to problems and resolve them quickly. One thing I make sure to do is to add greater value to anything I'm part of, which could mean creating arrangements that aren't expected of me and going above and beyond in promoting the projects I'm part of. That tends to surprise people, and I enjoy delighting the people I work with and for. That's another brand attribute.

I'm clear on those branding elements because I think about them, and make sure to consistently deliver on them. This may be the first time you've thought about your "brand" so consider doing some reflection on what it means for you. So, what is your personal brand? Besides asking others as I suggested earlier, one way to do a personal brand audit is to objectively look at your social media posts. The way we express ourselves through social media is very telling of our instinctive proclivities. Look at what and how you write and post. Are you focused on dressing people down or are your posts predominantly providing constructive value?

Think about your communication style. Pay attention to how you communicate with others, both in person and online. Listen to your tone of voice, language, use of humor, etc. Assess your appearance. Consider how you dress and present yourself on stage. What is your appearance saying about you?

Another valuable question to ask yourself is if there is a difference between how you want to be perceived by others and how you are actually perceived. Try to be as specific as possible in identifying those differences. Obviously, you want to align your intent to your actual as much as possible.

Based on what you discover through your personal branding audit, you can make changes to your personal brand, such as updating your online presence, improving how you communicate, upgrading your appearance, or focusing more on adding value to people and projects.

The goal is to create a strong and authentic personal brand that aligns with your values and helps you achieve your personal and professional goals. Write down in specific terms what you aspire to be as your personal brand, and then ask yourself what changes you can make to align your actions with your intent. Writing tends to make things clearer in your mind.

All of this takes effort and sometimes difficult introspection, so why should you take the trouble to do this? What can result?

  • Increased job opportunities: Building a strong personal brand can help to differentiate you from other players and make you more attractive to hire.
  • Higher income potential: A strong personal brand can also lead to higher income potential, as clients, contractors, and other employers may be willing to pay a premium for your value-add on a performing or teaching gig.
  • Greater credibility and influence: A strong personal brand can help to make you a more credible and influential person.
  • More fulfilling work: Building a personal brand that aligns with your values and interests can also lead to more and better gigs as you are able to be more valuable to the people who hire and work with you.
  • Increased networking opportunities: A strong personal brand can also lead to meeting people you might otherwise not have the opportunity. People are more likely to seek out and connect with individuals who have a strong reputation and brand that aligns with theirs.
  • Improved personal relationships: Building a strong personal brand can also lead to improved personal relationships, as people are more likely to be drawn to individuals who have a clear sense of purpose and direction.
Don't take your personal brand for granted or think of it only in very narrow terms. How you show up to the world in all your various ways can make a huge long-term difference in the trajectory of your personal and professional life as a jazz musician.

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