Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy



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Friday, January 12, 2018

Four Ways to Build Your Musical Brand

We often think of branding as having a fancy logo or catchy slogan. These things are great for corporate and product branding. However, as artists, ours is much more personal. It requires courage, commitment, and a whole lot patience. Simply put, our branding is the story that people tell about us and our music when we're not in the room.

Back when I had a close working relationship with drummer Leon Parker, the conversation in the room about him was usually how he only played the ride cymbal, or him just playing parts of his body, or one of his temper tantrum antics pulled that day, or him having given up playing music altogether; and of course, his infectious beat.


No one talked about his clothes, his hairstyle, his promo pictures, nor his website. In fact, you had to be somewhat of a detective to even find him. This was another conversation about him when he was not in the room. He often had no phone, email, or website. Typically you had to know somebody who knew somebody who knew him. And you know what? The jazz media could not get enough of him. The more elusive he became, the more they wanted him. All of these things would have been the nails in the coffins of most folks careers. However, for Leon, it only perpetuated the Leon Parker mystique. 

I'll admit, his case is extreme. But it does prove a point. Which is that branding is in the hands of the artist, not some publicist or record company. These mediums just magnify what's already there. They don't create it. 

Below are four ways that I've observed that we as artists can go about creating an effective brand for ourselves. These are by no means the holy grail. Just a few things that I have observed over the past 25 years or so.


1. Embrace that which is uniquely you.
Find that thing that you are good at—something you feel you can do better than anybody else, and more importantly, something you’re more passionate about than most people. This often means doing things that no one else wants to do or is afraid to do.  For me, this would be me only playing the soprano,  along with me having a geek-like obsession with producing unusual sounds. As I said, it often means doing that undesirable grunt work.

2. Develop a network of like-minded folks.
Even though we often create in isolation, all artists need a community of creative comrades with a shared vision to learn from and to share ideas with--even if it's just members of your own ensemble. Silicon Valley is a perfect example. Creating artistic communities are so much easier to do nowadays than ever before. One of the reasons I created Soprano Sax Talk was to galvanize like-minded people. Not only has this created opportunities to share, but ones to learn.

3. Spread your ideas.
Producing product and performing live is a must. As musicians, we have to make recordings, post videos, blog, tweet, perform, you name it. Releasing our work into the public domain is an absolute necessity. Otherwise, we end up boarding the bus without ever getting on the road. Oddly enough, this is one part that people neglect. I know so many musicians who've been on the scene for twenty years and have released only one or two recordings. We live in a time where we can release four or five a year in we want. We just have to get out of that "Please, pick me!" mentality. And we need to get away from the record-company-industrial-complex way of doing things. Our only limits are our imagination and courage.

4. Be authentic.
Being authentic, which is also just another way saying "be consistent,"  is how you gain trust within your creative community. This makes people feel they always know what they’re getting and where you stand. Consequently, this is also how you keep yourself focused. Personally speaking, people who trust what I do would be very disappointed if all of the sudden I started playing tenor, alto, flute, and clarinet; releasing dull straight-ahead recordings on Criss Cross; and only associating myself with the flavors-of-the-month and decrepit jazz masters. I'm starting to yawn just joking about it! But more importantly, doing these things would make me disappointed in myself. 

In closing, I'd like to point out that there are many different ways to brand yourself:

Types of Brands:
The consummate side-person who plays with everybody;
The leader who only does his or her own gigs;
The uncompromising artist;
The hardcore, straight-ahead cat;
The multi-instrumentalist;
The uni-instrumentalist;
The political activist/musician;
The jazz educator/musician;
The holistic musician type;
The musician with a strong religious affiliation;
The feminist/musician;
The trend-chaser;
The musician who only wants to get paid!;
The anti-establishment musician;
The name-association whore-type;
The weird experimentalist;
and so on, and so on....

Whatever the case may be for you. Do it, and do it well...Oh yeah, and in no way do I think that all records on Criss Cross are boring. I was merely trying to make a point.

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