Indie Label Branding in The Download Era- Branding and Advertising Week


By Matthew Waters

The branding and advertising work done by independent record labels might be an overlooked aspect of the sovereign music scene. Because the presentation of product invokes a subtle approach to specifically engage a distinct audience, the details of advertising in this particular realm could strike one as mysterious.

A continually evolving landscape, altered most significantly by technological leaps, requires both innovative thinking and the ability to make difficult decisions. The owners and behind-the-scenes coordinators at independent labels are confronting the same issues encountered by big business. Everyone could probably agree that things have changed. Even still, as Lio Kanine, co-founder of the independent label Kanine Records, points out in an email interview with BreakThru Radio, the changes may be pushing evaluating processes back toward familiar roots.

Kanine acknowledges the freedom and complexity involved with decision making at the label. “The coolest part is that you can create anything that you want. Your own image, personality, etc. All of it is up to you. It is super fun to come up with new ads, designs, logos, ideas. No one can tell you what to do. I love brainstorming ideas for ads, press, and marketing campaigns. I often stay up late at night thinking of rad ideas for new bands,” Kanine says.

A tour poster for Zambri. Image courtesy of Kanine Records.

Because branding and advertising decisions are so important for making profits, a consensus is required to move forward with a plan. “Of course, the most challenging thing is that when you work with an indie label, well at least our label for example, everything is voted on. So it sometimes is hard for everyone to come to a compromise on ideas, designs, etc.  And, well, you may have your heart set an idea or piece of artwork, etc. and be the only one that is in love with it. But you have to let it go if the rest of the label is not into it.”

In an era where the internet has become an institution and file sharing is essentially unstoppable, the degree of difficulty entailed with marketing and transitioning an intriguing artist into a successful, working musician has risen substantially. That success shouldn’t be confused with notions of glamour, underground credibility, or any other type of value accrued through perception. The success here simply refers to the musician attaining financial stability through the writing, recording, and performing of song.

“Nowadays it just seems that the majority of kids feel like they are owed everything for free,” says Kanine. “… People in general need to go back to the attitude of appreciating other people’s hard work, when I’m walking my dogs at the park, I look at the park ranger or gardener and am grateful that there is someone there cleaning the park for me to enjoy. Why shouldn’t we have the same feeling for artists or bands?” Kanine continues. “Many people think that by not buying albums that they are just cheating the labels, but if the labels don’t get paid, then we can’t afford to pay the bands to record, etc. So the quality of their music goes down. It’s a cycle. And believe me, 90 percent of cool labels are not rich. We are just getting by ourselves.”

This new world has also permanently affected large scale advertising approaches, but Kanine believes that some things never change, but only become more evident with time.

“Word of mouth is the best advertising,” Kanine concludes. “Always has been and always will be. The internet had killed 99 percent of the cool magazines and will continue to do so. Advertising on the important blogs has gotten so overrun by major corporations that most indie labels barely even get noticed for their ads on the sites.”

The surprising part is where all the wires could be leading us: “More than ever it is important to learn about cool bands from the traditional way. Going to shows, talking to friends, hanging out, and actually socializing with people,” says Kanine. “So turn off the TV and computer, go hang out in your buddies basement, and listen to some records and talk.”

Kanine Records logo. Image courtesy of Kanine Records.

Like the reenactment of ancient plays, the scenery and faces may change, but the same archetypes appear to be reoccurring. In certain ways, we end up similar to someone else before us, or coming next. Ironically, it’s what brands and advertisements count on. Though technology has evolved and basically created a new reality, the manner in which people express a true passion for the art they care about remains participatory.

“And if that is what the blogs/internet are doing to our present state, then I’m cool with that,” Kanine mentions in closing. “Bring out the true music lovers again.”

It’s easier for the consumer to reach today’s product, but true devotion to a band or artist is never about ease. Is that something to bank on for a sustainable independent future? The answer will unfold slowly, like a frozen download.