THE ART OF BUILDING A MUSICIAN’S BRAND: AN INTERVIEW WITH ROSS BARBER-SMITH, ELECTRIC KIWI

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1. Ross, what is your earliest memory when it comes to music ?

My earliest memory when it comes to music is probably hearing a lot of Michael Bolton and Mariah Carey when I was growing up - as those were two artists my mum listened to a lot. Michael Bolton’s Steel Bars always brings back memories of long family car journeys to Edinburgh!

Some people might consider that to be an embarrassing memory, but one that is probably even MORE embarrassing is when I discovered the Spice Girls (as many of us growing up in the 90s did), and wanting to be them. Myself and a few friends of mine banded together to create a band we thought could replicate their success… we posted an advert on MTV’s teletext service (this is making me sound REALLY old) looking for a manager, and basically broadcast my parents’ address to the world… they were not happy!

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2. So with a Popular Music Performance Degree, what made you decide to focus on the Design & Marketing element of the Music Industry? Did you see a gap in the market or was it pure passion ?

Deciding to move more towards the design and marketing side of things was actually more down to my final year performance going badly, and making me realize that performing just wasn’t for me. I don’t think I could have coped with the rejection!

Luckily during my final year at university, I also did a promotion and marketing class, which I (unexpectedly) received a really good grade for. My project was to design a website to promote myself as a singer & songwriter, and drive people to the website using social media, with the aim being to get 100 people signed up to my mailing list. I’d already been designing websites on and off since I was around 12, so this project combined something I already liked doing (web design) with something I loved (music), so it was the perfect fit.

After I got some great feedback from lecturers and other music industry professionals, I felt like this was the route I should follow. I decided that I wanted to focus mostly on music and entertainment clients because that was what I was passionate about - I didn’t really have any interest in doing work for corporate clients.

 

3. Since you started, how has the music industry changed especially for new acts coming onto the market ?

It’s definitely changed a lot in the past 5 years. Streaming has become such a big player in the industry, which has brought a new set of challenges in terms of royalty payments etc. Performing live (and selling merchandise at shows) still plays a big role, and I think it’s more important now since less people are buying music - artists need to make money through live shows, merchandise, and other avenues like sync and licensing for Film & TV.

 

" Social media has also become such a big part of a musician’s day-to-day work - and using these platforms to their full potential is definitely really important these days. "

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4. What advice would you give to an aspiring artist, looking to make it in the music industry ?

Aside from the obvious advice about working hard and making sure your music is great, the advice I would give is actually some of the advice I wish I had paid more attention to when I was studying - and that is to always be networking!

I think we’re all put off by the term networking because it brings to mind people in a room handing out business cards, but really, it’s more about having conversations in your day-to-day life, building relationships with people, and seeing how you can help people out.

Relationships are the most valuable thing in this industry - whether that’s with your fans, or others in the industry. I think that’s something that people often forget or underestimate.

The other advice I would give is to treat people the way you want to be treated - attitude matters, and if you treat people badly, word will spread and others won’t want to work with you.

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" the advice I would give is actually some of the advice I wish I had paid more attention to when I was studying - and that is to always be networking! "

 

5. Aside from a fantastic album cover & website, what other marketing routes do musicians have nowadays and which to you are the most effective ?

Social media is a great way for artists to meet new fans, and grow their relationships with existing ones. It’s all about using it in a personal way, and focusing on each fan as an individual. The independent musicians I’m seeing have the most success at the moment are the ones who have those relationships, and show their fans how much they’re appreciated. Nothing beats that, in my opinion!

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" The independent musicians I’m seeing have the most success at the moment are the ones who have those relationships, and show their fans how much they’re appreciated. "

 

6. What genre of artists tend to approach you and how do they find out about you ?

I’ve worked with artists in various genres from all over the world - I’d say most are singer & songwriters, and the majority of them find me via word of mouth. I get a lot of referrals from existing clients, either directly (through them recommending me), or from people clicking the design credit link at the bottom of an artist’s site. I get some enquiries as a result of Google searches and connections I’ve made on Twitter, too.

 

7. Describe the most enjoyable project you have done so far. What made it so special ?

That’s a tough one! I’ve enjoyed so many of the projects I’ve worked on. I would probably say that working with Tyler Hilton on his website and Indian Summer album artwork was one of the most enjoyable, because he and his team were so open to me trying out different ideas and gave me quite a bit of creative freedom. They made it a really fun process.

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8. Who is your dream musician, label or band to work with ?

To be honest, I don’t think I have one dream musician, label or band to work with - but the clients I love working with are those whose music I really believe in, people who believe in collaborating rather than competing, and who are really driven. Those are my favorite types of people to work with. However, on the off chance that Mads Langer (one of my all time favorite musicians) is reading this, then I’m going to have to say him! I think he’s incredible.

ELECTRIC KIWI

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Thanks again for the interview!

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