Branding for Musicians: The Importance of Visual Imagery in Music


Visual Content and Imagery Are King

In the age of social media, when users fly past dozens of Instagram photos every second and Tweets are expanded with large graphics and images, visual content is undeniably king.

When considering your next album or single artwork, or your next music video, or your new logo, website, or other visual design item, think about what you are trying to represent.

All of the above and more can carry a lot of meaning that is more translatable and easily digested than the music itself. This isn’t hard to believe – consider how artists preemptively release their next album’s artwork long before the album drops, or how much buzz a cover like “The Life of Pablo” or “DAMN.” created simply because of the artwork.

Visual content is just that: a visual representation of the music. If you were to present your music without any visuals, it would be harder to get people to listen to your stuff. Imagine uploading a new beat on BeatStars or YouTube and it’s just a black or white square. How do you think this would be perceived in contrast to a thought-out, eye-catching logo or artwork cover? Notice how unassuming the image above is; does it make you want to hear what’s on the CD?

Matthew Sebert, in an issue of The Keene Music Festival Newsletter, wrote that:

“Design is a handshake; it causes a snap judgment on your identity. Good design speaks loud, but bad design screams much louder. It’s what you represent yourself with and one of the first impressions you’ll make on your potential fans — aside from your music itself.”

Good design doesn’t scream as loud as bad design, though, so it’s even more important to take your branding and visual imagery seriously. Just because you have something doesn’t mean it’s better than nothing. Bad design can go a long way in hurting your brand, so it’s important to think carefully about the branding and marketing of your music.

Branding and Marketing for Your Music

According to Brian Hickey for eMagine, “Album covers became renowned for being not only a marketing tool but an expression of artistic intent.” Hickey also says that visual imagery, such as an album cover, “defines…and marks [the music] in time and [the visual imagery] can be adapted for any related collateral from merchandise to marketing tied directly to that album and its associated tour.”

Jay-Z Roc Diamond

Jay-Z Roc Diamond

Good graphics and branding can not only impact your streams and sales, but it can also have a ripple effect. Eventually, the graphics may become a part of your marketing material – on t-shirts, posters and the like. Fans will then buy and wear this merch or hang it up in their room or slap a sticker on a telephone pole, thus giving your name (see: brand) more recognition and additional advertising.

So when you are considering your marketing plan and imagining your brand, think about how visual imagery and graphics add to you and your music’s accessibility. Visual designs sell culture and identity. Think of Eminem’s backwards “E,” or Jay-Z’s diamond sign (pictured right). Beyond hip-hop, think of the Grateful Dead bear or the Rolling Stones’ sticking-out tongue. These images are, no doubt, paired with a brand which goes back to the music.

Chris Taylor writes for Music Gateway:

“Image is everything in the music industry. Not just how musicians are portrayed, but a specific brand is built around the image they put forward and the image needs to link to the preconceptions that form in the public mind when they are familiar with an audio component before a visual one.”

How to Visually Represent Your Music the Right Way

So now that we have a grasp on the importance of branding for musicians and the importance of visual imagery in music, we should understand how to represent your music visually.

Consider how an album’s visual artwork (music videos, covers, packaging, etc.) can affect someone who hasn’t yet been exposed to your music. What mood does it inspire? How does it make the other person feel?

You want to be able to answer these questions with your visuals and graphic design. You want to instill some kind of feeling or message with your imagery that is applied to most, if not all facets of your brand.

It should also go without saying that you need to look professional if you want to be taken seriously as an artist. Therefore, your graphic design and visuals need to look professional, too. Don’t be stingy, then, especially when it comes to graphic design and branding. If you or someone you know isn’t well-trained in this field (i.e. not your friend who knows how to use Photoshop), then hire an expert graphic designer, marketer, videographer, whatever to help create your imagery.

You spent (presumably) so much time and money, blood, sweat, and tears on your music. Why would you not contribute just as much consideration and effort to your branding and imagery?

You want to make potential listeners want to listen to you. If you show the effort, creativity, and feeling in your visuals, it will only help you in your quest to gain more attention and attract more ears to your music and your brand.

Brandon Seymour sums things up nicely in an article he wrote for CD Baby’s DIY Musician Blog:

“Image doesn’t mean changing who you are or what you stand for. You don’t need to make a statement or box yourself into some subculture. Image is about consistency and an unwavering commitment to a specific tone, look and feel. It’s about creating something that people can stand behind because they feel as if it’s more than just a product; it’s a brand they can trust.”

Pay attention to your brand and the images you present. It will only help your music go further and beyond.