A lot of musicians don’t know what to do when it comes to promoting themselves. Sometimes, they don’t even want to promote themselves. They believe that promoting yourself is narcissistic and that it has to be phony or inauthentic for it to work. Joining Bree Noble to dispel this misconception is Megan Kuhar, a professor of Music Technology, creative brand and tech coach, audio engineer, videographer, social media manager, percussionist, and entrepreneur. Megan dives deep into branding, social media content, and all the things you need to be working on in your marketing to help you profit from music.
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Branding Strategies To Help You Make Profit From Music With Megan Kuhar
I am excited to be here with Megan Kuhar. We are going to talk about branding, social media, content, and all that stuff that needs to be working for you in your marketing to help you make a profit from music. Before we get to that, I’d love to have Megan to let you know a little bit about her background, her musical background, how she got into working in these areas of music marketing, and what she does on a daily basis in the different parts of her business and her work.
Hi, thanks for having me. I am a professor of Music Technology. I’m a creative brand and tech coach. I’m an audio engineer, videographer, social media manager. As a musician, I play percussion and a little bit of keyboards for fun. I have been a musician all of my life. I love singing, harmonies, and all sorts of things. I went to music school. I studied percussion. When I graduated, it was when the Great Recession started hitting. I was majoring in Arts Management at the time. I couldn’t find a nonprofit arts job. It was hard, plus I also didn’t want one. I think it was a little bit of a blessing in disguise. I ended up going back to school for audio engineering and then I went to teaching. I started working with individuals that were musicians or artists that wanted to get more into technology.
As I continued to do that, I had my own business on the side where I was recording on location and enjoyed being an entrepreneur and working on my own thing. I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit. It was natural to me to want to start projects all the time. As I grew this business, I didn’t know what I was doing about marketing myself. Every gig I got was word of mouth. It was friends of friends or people that knew people that knew me. I grew my business that way. It was always a tiny side hustle. What I ended up doing was diving into learning about branding, marketing, and social media.
I ended up getting my Master’s in Music Technology but when I was doing that, I inquired with the Communications Department and asked them if I could take courses in communications as well, which I did and I loved. I had a particular professor that was a great influence for me. I learned a lot about marketing because I always wanted to merge the two fields. I felt like musicians didn’t know what they were doing when it came to promoting themselves. Sometimes they didn’t even want to promote themselves.
The biggest misconception that I want to squash is that promoting yourself is narcissistic or that it has to be phony or it has to be inauthentic for it to work. I think that’s so common. I see it all the time in my college students and in my clients. I try to work on instilling more hope that you can promote yourself and feel good about it. You can grow a business as an artist, as a creative and feel good about it. As soon as I merged all of my interests and expertise into one blended person was when I started growing this business of mine that I’m in. I love it. I love coaching and I love working with clients. I do the same thing in my professor job as well. My whole life is the same every day. I talk about the same stuff all the time. It’s a lot of fun to help creatives rethink, branding, and marketing.
First of all, I have to circle back to the whole arts management and nonprofits. I did the same thing. I wanted to get a master’s degree in Arts Management. I had applied to UCLA, which they only accept ten people a year into their Arts Management Program. I didn’t get in but I had thought, “I’m going to go get a degree in MBA. Maybe I’m going to use that in the arts in some way.” I ended up not getting that, which was a super huge blessing because I ended up getting a job in a nonprofit in Arts Management anyway after a few years. There are some great things about working in a nonprofit. I worked at an opera company. It was amazing to see these awesome productions put on the stage, be able to sit in the front row, go to all these fancy parties, and things like that.
Nonprofit world is hard. I ended up leaving because of the stress. It’s a feast or famine situation where we’d be doing our subscription run, getting millions of dollars in the door, we’re flushed, and everything seems good. In the summer you’re like, “Am I going to be able to make payroll?” I’m glad that I did it but I learned a ton. It is stressful. It also helped me see how can we, as artists, not have that feast or famine thing. That is not fun when you’re in it and it doesn’t inspire you to be creative because you’re always thinking about, “When am I not going to be able to afford to do this anymore?”
I wanted to mention that because we had that in common. What you were saying about bringing all these things together into one cohesive person of the marketing, the music, and all that stuff. I had the same situation when I first started trying to be an artist out there and not knowing how to merge those things, not realizing that I could put the marketing together with the music. I think that I had always seen that when you’re doing music, you’re not promoting, you’re doing the music. Maybe you’d bring someone else on later on when you got big enough that would do that “promotional stuff” for you. That’s the way I thought in the beginning. When I realized, “The chances of me getting big enough where I would have beyond a label or have a manager were pretty small. I needed to figure that stuff out for myself.” I went through the same thing you did. Finally, I was able to merge that entrepreneurship and music into something that worked.
I got to ask about branding. For me as a musician, branding was hard. I’m not a visual person. I’m not a designer. I second guess every single design choice that I would ever make for my brand and all that stuff. Let’s talk about the mistakes, first of all, the artists make. Let me tell you, I made all of them in relation to branding, content, and marketing. We’ll get into how to fix these and how to do it correctly. Why don’t you outline the mistakes that you see that people are making?You can promote yourself and grow a business as an artist, and feel good about it. Click To Tweet
First of all, branding isn’t just about design. It is primarily about message. I said that out loud and I thought to myself, building is not quite the right verb for that because it’s more about uncovering your brand. Your brand is your identity for people that are working in personal branding. That’s mostly what I work in. I don’t work with companies to help them brand. Even if I did, I would give them similar prompts and they would be thinking more about the personality of their company. Those who are working for themselves as a personal brand, what you’re doing is you’re learning how to be yourself clearly and consistently. A lot of people don’t know how to do that and they don’t. They look at social media and they think they have to be that way, this way, that person’s way, or the other way. “How am I ever going to get 20,000 followers unless I follow these whatever Instagram is telling me to do all the time?” It’s not about that. It’s about learning how to uncover your identity and be able to communicate it clearly.
I was trying to project this other thing over me as a brand. I thought I had to be a corporate brand way back when I was starting to try to brand myself as a musician. I was trying to create this logo that was corporatey. I wanted people to think that I was professional and all that stuff. Do you see artists trying to do that?
I see a lot of artists trying to fit a mold, for sure. I work in a conservatory so I work with mainly classical musicians. In that part of my job, in my business, I work with all creatives but the classical musicians in particular. They are set on a specific mold that they’re supposed to follow. There is a formula that they think they need to follow in order to be successful. It’s hard to break them out of that mindset, you don’t have to be buttoned up all the time. You can definitely be yourself and have personality. People want that. Even the opera companies want that.
They’re not looking for a perfect person. They’re looking for a beautiful voice, obviously and the music itself has to be stellar and amazing. They want that person to represent the new face of opera. We have singer from the metropolitan opera that’s an alumni of my university who talks about this all the time. She’s like, “Can you sell tickets?” People who sell tickets are people that have personalities. It’s important to break out of that mindset of, “I need to fit this mold in order to be successful.” That happens all the time.
I think it was because partly I was coming out of a corporate career. That’s what I thought. I thought logo is one major thing when I thought brand as a musician. When you teach branding, do you think musicians should have a logo, colors, fonts, and all that stuff?
Yes, for sure. I talk about that a lot but it’s not the first thing. The first thing we talk about is what’s your message? What’s the bigger picture here? Before we started this interview, I got out of a class where we were talking about connecting with your audience and trying to get them to think about like, “I’m not just an actor. What’s the next level up from what I am?” We use Dove soap as an example. They don’t always talk about soap. They talk about self-esteem and things like that. What are the bigger things that you’re talking about that people can connect with? That’s super important to know. We start with that.
As far as logos, colors, and fonts, yes, I think it’s super important to have a consistent visual presence, especially on social media because the truth is it’s a visual platform. People are not only looking for clarity in the message but they’re also looking for clarity in what they see, which means if you’re using ten fonts on one picture, it’s hard to read. It’s hard not to look away from that. Figuring about, “How do I make this clear for people to read?” It’s important. Also the consistency is important. I use a lot of pink in my branding and people know that’s me when it comes up on their feed because I use the same colors, the same fonts, the same vibe with everything I do.
I’ve evolved it over the years. I think it’s a representation of my style anyway. If you’re looking at this video, you can see that I pretty much already live in my brand. It’s the same everywhere. It’s about uncovering your personal style and being able to be consistent with that. As people, we don’t ping pong back and forth between polar opposites. We stay in the same zone and then slowly change over time. That’s what your brand should do too. It shouldn’t ping pong all over the place. It should maintain some consistency. As your taste change, your brand can evolve too but it’s not a back and forth polar change all the time.
I think some people are afraid to brand because they’re afraid they’re going to pigeonhole themselves into this space where they then can change. They’re afraid they’re going to make the wrong decision and they’re going to be stuck with this brand forever. We can evolve our brand for sure.
People will often worry about pigeonholing too because they’re worried about maybe isolating certain people away. If I have pink, does that mean guys aren’t going to follow? It’s not true. What I like to make sure people realize is that your goal is to ring a bell for a certain ideal follower or audience member. You want to reach that person like, “You are on my frequency. You’re on my vibe.” If you happen to catch the frequency of somebody else while you’re doing that, that’s okay. I have male clients. I have male followers that engage with what I do and they appreciate the content. They’re not turned off by pink.
I’ve spoken to women for years. I’ve discovered I had 20% males on my list. Sometimes they would be like, “Is it okay that I’m following you?” I’m like, “Of course.” We’re moving more into to helping all musicians but trying to have a platform to raise up women. I do want everyone to be involved. You’re not going to turn people off. If you do, it’s not right anyway.
You should be turning some people off. I think musicians have this mindset of the scarcity thing, like you said, feast or famine. They’ll take anything they can get. it’s like, “I don’t know when I’m going to get another gig so I’m going to say yes to this one.” That’s not a great way to grow as an established career. It’s a great way to maybe get a lot of random people following you that don’t have any connection to you. You want to start thinking of things differently because the more strategic you can get, the more you know yourself and what you want, the more you’re going to be able to say no to stuff that comes up. It’s important to be able to do that.
Are there any other major mistakes that musicians make with their branding and marketing that we haven’t covered yet?
I think one of the biggest things regards content. A lot of musicians think of Instagram or social media like a bulletin board. They use it to post information like, “I have a show coming.” COVID obviously, not during this time. “I have a thing coming up. It’s Friday at 5:00 for $5. Make sure you come.” That’s the only time they show up on social media. It’s not a great way to grow. Think about it. You’re using your audience to get them to do something that you want, which is show up to your event. Rethinking social media to be less like a bulletin board and more like a plate, like literally a room.
Consider it a room that you’re walking into. When you walk into that room, you have to offer them something so that they feel comfortable coming back. It’s a conversation. If you’re continually asking them for support without offering anything in return, they’re not going to stick around. I think that’s a big thing to remember is that social media should be social. It should be connection-based. It should be based in conversation and in sharing value and not just posting information.
I always encourage my artists too. I realize it’s hard to be everywhere. We can’t focus on all the different social media platforms. Choose one you’re going to go all-in on and focused there. Let me ask you this because we have made this mistake in our business a little bit. We were all in on Facebook and we were doing Instagram but we were almost doing it like you said. We didn’t have time to focus on it but we had quite a lot of followers on Instagram. We were using it like a billboard. I didn’t like it but I knew I didn’t have the time to invest. We’re at the point where we have totally switched our strategy. We are investing there and we’re doing content specifically for that and what is going to resonate on that particular platform. If you’re at that point where you’re like, “I know I can’t invest in this other platform,” do you think it’s better to stay off of that platform until you can focus on doing stuff specifically for that one? Doing that whole billboard thing, does it hurt you for your future of that platform?
I would say yes but it’s easier than you think to be involved in more than one place. The reason why is because when you create content that is value-centered, you can share it more than one place without diluting the content. For instance, my podcast episodes are solo. They’re all verbal blog posts in a way but then they become literal blog posts because I will take the transcription and post it on my blog. I’ll take pieces of that and create social media posts out of that. It’s reused over and over again so that it’s showing up in different places. I think it’s good to do that. What kind of content were you creating on Facebook that you were engaged with? Was it a group or a page?Branding isn't just about design. It is primarily about the message. Click To Tweet
We do have a group. We’re engaged in the group. I would do lives and stuff on Facebook for sure. We were putting our show on Instagram. It’s not like we weren’t providing value but we weren’t doing anything specifically for that platform. We’re doing stories that are specifically for that. We’re doing videos specifically for IGTV and stuff like that.
I don’t think it necessarily hurts your presence to be reposting stuff on a platform without engaging but I would consider that you should be engaging at least in one place. You’re focusing on Facebook. You had a great presence there. You had an audience there. You were growing your audience there. That’s the audience that wants to follow you and that’s good. Having that presence on Instagram be a little bit less personal, you would have to start over if you wanted to start growing that account. You would have to pick up where you left off and start growing the account. You wouldn’t be able to expect that those people are immediately going to start engaging with you if you suddenly come back.
I wasn’t doing a lot of stories when we first started having this engagement strategy and starting to do stories. We weren’t getting a ton of engagement at first because they weren’t used to seeing stories from us but we’re getting more. It does take a little bit of a ramping up period.
It’s probably two different audiences. You probably have new followers on Instagram that didn’t participate on Facebook. It’s a new phase for you.
I get a lot of students that are like, “Should I turn on that thing when I post here, it also posts over here?” What is your opinion about that? That’s kind of a billboard strategy.
It is if your content is value-based in the first place. Billboard strategy means literally posting something that’s like, “I have a song coming out. Make sure you pre-save it.” There’s nothing else. Things like, “Practicing today. #scales.” It’s not a great content in the first place. That’s what I mean by billboard or bulletin board posting. It’s like you walk in a room and you go, “This thing,” and then you leave. People are like, “What are you talking about?” If you create a fantastic post for Instagram and then re-share it to Facebook, that’s okay. I do that. I’m not super active on Facebook on my page but I share my content over from Instagram. I think that’s fine because the content itself is good. It’s not like I’m being like, “I have a course coming out. Make sure you buy it,” and then leaving. That’s not a great content. People aren’t going to resonate with that. The takeaway here is make good content that’s something that people can connect with and feel that you get them, they get you. You have a two-way relationship. There’s give and take. When you do ask for stuff, then it doesn’t seem so out of the blue or spammy. It feels natural to that point.
It’s like if you were to only write to your email list when you had something to sell.
It’s the same exact thing.
I think then the next level of this when people are like, “I get it. I need to post value and all that stuff.” How can they create a system where they’ve got consistency, where they know what they’re doing, and they’re not getting up every day being like, “What am I going to post?” That’s the worst. When you wake up in the morning and you’re like, “I have time to think, to figure out what I’m going to do.” How can they create a system where this feels easy for them?
By planning content and creating it ahead of time, I talk about this all the time. I have a product called The Content Alignment Toolkit that helps you to plan a month in advance. When I say that to people, they’ll be like, “I can’t plan content. It’s going to be canned.” That’s not at all the case. Here’s the thing. I call panic post. It’s that feeling of I’m waking up and I’m like, “I have to post something.” You are creating inferior content by doing that because it’s not going through a thought process. You’re not thinking about what your audience needs from you.
You’re not thinking about what you can provide for them that day, what their pain point is, or what they’re struggling with. You’re panicking in posting something. Even if you’re good at spontaneously coming up with a super awesome post, it’s stressful to think of it that way. When you post that kind of content in the moment, you’re not thinking of a big picture. It’s so important to think about a big picture. You have to think of when you’re creating content, what’s the point A that my audience is at and what’s the point B that I want them to get at? How can I get them through that journey?
That’s taught a ton for entrepreneurs but for musicians, there are people aren’t necessarily in a pain point. Maybe they don’t know that they need your music to make them have a better day. How do we utilize that idea as musicians when we’re trying to entertain people or maybe get a message out there to people with our music and our content?
It’s not just about the music. The music is part of it but it’s not about that. It’s about get a message out there. That’s what it’s about. I was saying with my students, “Take the next step up. What’s the next level? You’re not just a musician. You are here to tell people what? You are here to help them feel what? You are here to help them open their eyes about what?” Every musician has something they care about. That is why they write music or part of why they write music. Maybe there’s more than one thing. Sharing that stuff is a big deal because it gets people to connect with you, even if they aren’t a musician or understand the jargon of being a musician. They’re still connecting with you as a person. That’s important.
The other thing is value for your audience. If they are already fans of your music, might be giving them more perspective on your music that you’re not sharing with them. How do I write songs? How often am I practicing? Who do I work with and why? How do I choose what goes on an album? All those things, fans care. They want to know that stuff. If you already have a devoted fan base, I’m sure they’re hoping for more information from you about their favorite songs. I would say both of those things. It’s not just about listening to the song, it’s about connecting with you as their favorite musician or as a human being, both of those things.
I’m always looking for everybody’s perspective on that one because I think that’s one that musicians struggle with a lot. Regarding the consistent content and the planning a month in advance, I have to throw this in there because we’ve started doing an Instagram strategy. I would recommend to everyone, gets somebody on your team, even if it’s a volunteer, even if it’s a fan that wants to help you out that does a content creation session with you once a month. What we’ve started doing is we plan half a day once a month where we’re going to record the video content that we want. We’re going to write the posts that we want. I’m doing a Tip Tuesday. I’m going to do a Q&A post. I’m going to do a couple of video stories every month. We get that bang all out in one day. I did that and I feel like, “I accomplished a month worth of stuff in one morning.” It feels so good.
That doesn’t mean you can’t post things on the fly. Those are in addition but you’ve got this stuff in the bank that you can deploy and you know it’s there for you. You don’t have to stress about it for the entire month but don’t leave it up to yourself alone. For me, I would keep procrastinating that if it wasn’t on my calendar where I had to meet somebody at this particular time. I had to get all prettied up, be on video, and all that stuff because I had put it on my calendar and someone’s expecting me to be there.
I love the idea of having a fan help moderate stuff too. That made me think of if you have a Facebook group as a band, having fans that are moderators of the group that can help create content would be cool. Thinking about community, about connection, how special are those people going to feel that they get to be curators of your content?
They easily create engagement questions for the community. If they’re fans, they have those same questions. What’s your favorite song? Which song do you think that our favorite band should cover next? Things like that. Is there anything we haven’t covered yet that you think needs to be covered around these subjects of marketing, branding, and content?
I’m reiterating that you can be in alignment with what you share on social media personally. You don’t have to feel like it’s a chore or a job that you have to put on a specific hat to go do it. Everything that we do as far as administration, content creation, or email marketing, all that stuff, allows us to be creatives and share our work with others. There’s no world that exists, not even if you’re Rihanna. She has to go do interviews and things like that. Where you only get to create the music, you have to be open to the idea that the other stuff allows you to create the music. Being a musician, being a creative means that you are an entrepreneur and that you have to have this holistic mindset that the music itself is not 100% of what you do.
Phoebe Bridgers was talking about this the other day where she was on SNL and somebody was like, “How cool is it that you get to be on SNL and perform your music? That’s awesome.” She was like, “It’s cool but I also have to do other stuff like interviews like this, rehearse, and play the same song 280 times. There’s more than just playing on SNL.” It’s important to remember that. It’s reminding people that it’s all part of being able to be a creative and a musician. It can all feel good if you are aligned with what you do.
We both said in our own stories that we needed to put all these pieces together into one person. Don’t think about, “I’m going to put my marketing hat on.” You’re always wearing your marketing hat and it doesn’t even need to be “marketing.” It could be telling stories or talking about deeper things about my personal life or the message that I want to convey. It doesn’t have to be marketing. That marketing word trips people up a lot. Let everybody know how they can find you online. I know you’ve got a show as well. If they’re reading this, they’re going to want to check out your show.
My show is called Creative Brand Sessions. You can find me there. If you go to Megan-Kuhar.com/roadmap, there is a free download. You can grab the roadmap to brand alignment. It teaches you how to uncover your brand, communicate it through impactful content, and feel good about your business. People can go ahead and grab that for free. They’re welcome to join me on Instagram as well. It’s @MeganKuhar on Instagram.
Thank you so much. This has been amazing.
Thank you, Bree.
About Megan Kuhar
Megan Kuhar, Creative Brand & Tech Coach and host of the podcast Creative Brand Sessions, empowers creative entrepreneurs to step into their true potential and make an impact with their brand and business online.
Her coaching is grounded in the belief that creatives can stay authentic and aligned while also employing savvy and accessible marketing strategies.