While in college, I had the pleasure of working for one of the greatest nightclubs in the world, #15 to be exact. While there, I wore many hats, I started out as a lowly unpaid intern requesting Myspace friends, and hanging up 500 flyers a week. I then became a paid intern working on things such as the club’s Facebook page, Twitter page, and more. After spending about a year total as an Intern, I was promoted to be the club’s Marketing Coordinator and eventually the in-house designer. I also did things such as working box office, decoration design, and my favorite part, Resident DJ. Not only was I a resident, but also I managed all the other resident DJs. I was in charge of scheduling to ensure a smooth transition from DJ to DJ, and proper warm-up/opening sets for whoever the headliner was. I was also tasked with helping all residents promote their sets, and helping them with their branding, image, and club etiquette. When we did not have a resident DJ that was a good fit for the night, or there was no resident available, I had to make sure to book a local DJ who was. It was an exhausting job, but worth it.
During this short time at the club I probably received more than 1000 DJ sets from locals and residents and met 10 times that many. I would get CDs in the mail, links to download, links to videos, and just about everything in-between. In fact, I still get these because people do not know I have since left the industry. While 1000 mixes seems like a lot, I maybe listened to 100 of those. There was one distinct factor that I looked for from an artist before their mix ever came through my headphones. Branding.
Any time I am ever asked for advice for up and coming DJs, producers, MC’s, or any sort of artist, I generally always ask them the same question: “What does your branding and imagery look like?” Nearly every time I ask this, I get a very confused and rushed answer, or I get some sort of excuse. The confusion is due to the artist not fully understanding what branding is, or even more common, the artist has no idea what their image is or what they want it to be. If they answer with an excuse, it is due to the artist not understanding how important branding is.
Branding is a marketing strategy that involves creating a differentiated name and image — often using a logo and/or tag line — in order to establish a presence in the consumer’s mind and attract and keep customers.
I heard many times, “I just want to let my music speak for me.” And while that is all well and good, gone are the days where all you needed to be was a great DJ to become a star, today’s artists need to think of themselves essentially as a company. Your music comes first, always, but just behind that by about 1%, is your visual aspect. Your name, your logo, your press photo, the design of your website, even down to the clothing you wear while on stage, or even for a night out.
When I started out as an artist, I had the absolute worst DJ name that anyone could have come up with. It was immature, kitschy, and was going to get me nowhere. It worked for a short time while all I was doing was 15-minute DJ competitions, as most names will, but if I wanted to become an actual professional DJ and be taken seriously on any sort of level, the name absolutely had to go.
I was getting to the point where I could have been playing larger, better shows and clubs, but my name was holding me back. The talent buyer, or the promoter would see my name, laugh to themselves due to the sheer stupidity, and move on to the next artists without even giving my mix a listen. I needed to change my name, and fast. I needed something that was different, professional, and really stood for what I wanted it to stand for. I chose to go by my own name, Tommy Michael, and once that change happened, it only took a few months for me to start playing at better clubs, better shows, and for people to take me seriously.
When thinking about what your name is going to be, first think about your genre. You do not want a hardcore evil name if you are a trance artists, and you do not want something light and fluffy as a D&B artist. Pick something that you believe your fans (aka customers) can gravitate towards, and would not mind telling their friends about. Do you think Victoria’s Secret would have been successful if it had been called something like “Beautiful Bitches?” Not even close, now would that name be better for a tasteless porno site? You bet. Do you think Iron Maiden would have seen the international success they did if they had a name like “Solitary Harmony?” Hell no. Could that name be used for a high school a cappella group? Any day.
You also need to think of something that you would be ok with in 10 years. My old DJ name is still haunting me, and I have not gone by that name in almost 6 years. Granted it is just my close friends who mess with me about it, but if I had a Delorean and 1.21 Jiggawatts, I would be right there in 2008 smacking myself so hard I would need to re learn how to talk.
This part is missed more than just about any other piece of your branding. You logo takes the place of your music, your picture, and your identity when those other mediums cannot be used, for example on a flyer, or on the bottom of a CD, or a sticker. Companies spend Billions getting their logos right, and there is a reason for that.
First tip; DO NOT design your own logo. I was guilty of this, numerous times. I only realized after working on my bachelors degree in design how horrible those old logos were. You are generally proud of things you make, no matter how they look. Remember that guy in high school who had the $1000 Honda Civic he got from his uncle, and he spent an extra $3000 putting a sound system in it, rims, paint, and an exhaust on it? He was super proud of that thing. It only started ½ the time, had no heat, and was a literal piece of shit, but he was proud of it nonetheless because he spent so much time on it making it his own. Find yourself a designer. I have seen some good logos designed for about $100. Think of it as an investment. Also remember that you do not want to DJ for free, so designers don’t want to work for free either.
The next thing to think about when its time to design a logo is that if you have seen it on another logo before, guess what, you do not get to use it on yours. The whole point of your logo is to differentiate yourself from all the other artists. If your logo was supposed to be the same as everyone else’s, all logos would be in the same font, and just typed out on a word document.
I could not tell you how many times I got this in an email: “Hey Tommy, I think for my logo I want a lower case d and a lower case b right next to each other so they look like headphones and a face or record in the middle.” Yeah, I almost got sick every time, and I hope you did too just reading it.
When you find a designer, and think you have a general idea as to what you want your logo to look like, sit down and talk with them, and remember that they do this for a living, or they have experience in this. Trust them. If you did your research like you should have, they will do a good job for you.
If you are lucky, your press photo is how people recognize you at parties, at the grocery store, and on some level, decide if they want to listen to you or not. They will look at the flyer or CD cover and think one of two things, “Yeah that guy looks good,” or “Wow, did that guy just wake up, snap a selfie, and print it?”
Now I know what you are thinking, “People should not judge you as an artist based on how they look.” Well tough shit bro, they do. It is human nature. Think about your favorite artists, they have teams of people who pick out their clothing, do their hair, and make them look a certain way for press photos, commercials, gigs, everything.
Find a photographer, a REAL photographer, not your girlfriend named Tiger Lilly who has a 35mm camera, lightroom, and a dream catcher hanging from her rear view mirror. Ask around a find a local who has had some experience in head-shots at least. With your photo, remember one hard rule: less is more. Take off the sunglasses, leave your keyboard and turntable at home, and for the love of God, NO HEADPHONES. The photographer will probably have a good idea of location, and theme. Bring a few different shirts, and try some different things. Make sure the background does not detract from the main focus, you. You really only need one good photo, and make sure when the photographer sends it to you it is a decent size. I cannot tell you how many times I refused to put an artist’s photo on a flyer because it was the size of my pinky nail or because the background of a train station was pulling the eye away from the DJ.
Press Photo Examples:
Have some pride in who you are as an artist. I can tell you that one of the biggest things when I first started DJ’ing in big clubs, was that I wore a dress shirt and a tie when I played or when I was out for the night. I looked like I belonged there. I am not saying that you MUST wear a tie to your gigs, that is what worked for me, but what I am telling you is the exact same thing I said above, on some level people are going to pick whether or not they are going to listen to you based on how you look. I have been to shows and seen artists wearing shirts with holes in them, their hair was greasy enough to fry up a box of tater tots, and I don’t even know what size man their pants were supposed to be on. This is another aspect where you need to think about your genre of music and your audience. An Ed Hardy shirt with diamonds on it was perfect for the Jersey Shore guy, just as a Volcom shirt is probably a good fit for a dubstep artist (just make sure it is clean and fits properly please).
Along with your visual image, think about how you act. Carry yourself with some pride and humility. You just played the backroom of the smallest club in the city; you did not headline Red Rocks. I have personally seen DJs get kicked off the decks because they were rude to the bartender, or carried out of a club because they were so demanding. Promoters talk, and if you acted like a dipshit at one club, there go your next few gigs at the other clubs.
We live in the future, and I do not need to tell you that we have the entire Internet literally in our hands, and have access to it 24/7. One of the first things people are going to do after they hear you are a DJ/MC/whatever, is try to look you up either on facebook, twitter, instagram, or your own website. Make sure it is something your mother can be proud of, she has an account too, and will defiantly be seeing it. Share your music, share photos, and remember this is the first place people are going to come, so make sure it is good.
I could go on with all of this for hours and hours, find more good and bad examples, and get into some serious detail, but what it will come down to is you sitting down, really thinking about what it is that you want to be, where you want to go, and what you want to do. Just do so with some pride, and really think about it. Do not latch on to the first idea you have and be done with it, if your dreams do come true, you will be able to look back and think to yourself, “wow, I’m glad I thought that one through, or I may not be where I am right now.”
Please look for my new weekly blog post on topics such as music, design, nightlife, movies, really whatever. I am somewhat ADD when it comes to interests.