A brand is a promise of quality and consistency. No matter where in the world you go for a McDonald’s hamburger, you know what to expect. No matter what product you purchase from Apple, you can expect sleek high-tech design and an easy to understand user interface. Brand management is protecting the image of the brand and carefully selecting how to best exploit it.
For an artist, that means a consistency of persona, and usually a consistency of sound. Regardless of what genre of music the artist delves into, the feel is the same and you can tell it's the artist. Madonna has changed directions many times during her career but her brand remained consistent. Here persona remained the same even as she changed to and from the "material girl." The Beatles tried a wide variety of directions but you never once questioned who you were listening to. It was always fresh and exciting, but distinctly them.
On the other hand, Neil Young almost killed his career with an electronic album called "Trans" that alienated all but his hardiest fans, and the well-respected Chris Cornell may have done irreparable harm to his long-term career with his recent album with Timbaland ("Scream") even though it was the highest charting of his career. Why did this happen? For both artists, the album no longer "felt" like them. Both Young and Cornell built their careers on organic music played with a band, and as soon as their music became regimented and mechanical, they lost their brands. After Trans, Young returned to his roots and slowly built his brand back to superstar level, but it's too soon to know what will happen with Cornell.
How do you determine what your brand is? It's easier said than done.
In order for an artist to successfully promote their brand, they must have a great sense of self-knowing. You must know who you are, where you came from, and where you're going. You must know what you like and don't like, and what you stand for and why. And you must have an inherent feel for your sound and what works for you.
And that differentiates a superstar from a star, and a star from some who wants it really badly but never seems to get that big break.
Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.