How To: Build An Artist’s Brand

Potentially one of the funnest jobs we’ve ever heard of, Olivia Nunn explains what she does in her role as Head of Marketing at Island Records and gives some excellent tips on getting where you want in the music industry.


“I currently work as Head of Marketing at Island Records and have been fortunate to be at the label for almost 9 years now, starting there via a work experience placement when I was 23 and working my way up through various positions. Island Records is home to some of the world’s most iconic and well-loved music stars including Bob Marley, Amy Winehouse, Mumford and Sons, Florence and the Machine, PJ Harvey, Rizzle Kicks and Robbie Williams.

I will stress now that gaining a full time job after a work experience or internship stint is not the norm, you definitely can’t rely on getting work from it…BUT I would advise and encourage anyone doing work experience somewhere they see themselves potentially working, to always put themselves forward for consideration.

Don’t simply sit quietly at your desk; go above and beyond what is asked of you, put forward appropriate ideas and talk to everyone. If there isn’t a role available for you there, someone may well be able to recommend you one elsewhere within the industry.

I was initially a TV Promotions assistant, progressing to Junior TV and Visual Content Manager, before applying internally and succeeding in moving across to the marketing team, where I had decided my career aspirations lay.

Working in the marketing department of a record label places you at the very heart of the artists’ campaigns, you are close to the artists and are responsible for helping them build their creative proposition beyond the audio and bringing their music to market.

You devise strategies to get their music heard by diverse audiences and ultimately work to create so much attention around a release and get people so invested and excited by an act, that they want to buy their music.

As a Marketing Manager you work with artists and their management from the moment they are signed, in developing their overall aesthetic and ‘branding’: logo, artwork design, photography and visual content. For me, working in music marketing is rather different to working in a more traditional FMCG or brand marketing environment, as the ‘brands’ that we market are musicians – they are human. I loathe to call them brands really, what should be concentrated on, is the artist or band and the label developing and promoting a consistent and memorable ‘brand’  around them. The artists are not the brands, but a brand can be generated around them.

Defining what an artist’s proposition is and what it is that stands out and is uniquely identifiable about them, is one most important stages of their marketing. A real sense of self and musical direction can really mark out a superstar.

More often than not the artists we sign, will have clear opinions and ideas of what they would like for the overall look and feel of the material that accompanies their music, which is great and how I feel it should always be personally. The marketing managers then work to seek out and partner the right sorts of designers / videographers and photographers with them, working collaboratively to realise the artist’s vision.

Once the initial ‘branding’ work has been done, the artists’ campaigns begin. There is obviously a big team of people involved in the promotion of an artist on many levels: online and print publicity , video commissioning, radio and TV plugging , sales and commerce etc – and it is the role of the marketing manager to work up a plot that incorporates all these elements and to hold an overview of what each department is targeting and achieving, in order to be able to adjust the plan when necessary. We also are expected to communicate the status of a campaign to the team and artist’s management at any time.

Our attention at labels is longer prioritised to marketing and selling physical products: CDs + vinyl, but has extended far more towards the digital, less tangible realm of downloads and more recently streams. It is a very exciting time to be marketing in the music industry, because the ways in which you can bring an artist and their work to the masses are far more diverse and there are many interesting opportunities to forge relationships between artists, their music and other industries, technologies or brands for example.

My favoured definition of marketing is from good old Wikipedia , which states ‘Marketing blends art and applied science (such as behavioural sciences) and makes use of information technology.’ That is certainly how I try to approach marketing with my team at Island: we take the ‘art’ (the artist and their music),  continuously build knowledge and insight of current music trends, competitor artists and consumer behaviour (the science) and then use information technology to generate new creative approaches to engage target audiences with that art, using the research we hold and our networks. This could be a bespoke website or app build, a social media initiative to build an artist database, online display or video pre-roll advertising served to specific target groups.

I definitely feel that the advance of the digital age has had a profound effect and influence over the way we market in music now. That is not to say that the advertising campaigns we run aren’t integrated across many types of media – we still run radio ads, outdoor posters, radio, press ads and Tv ads, but the online space is so vast and offers so many ways to engage with consumers, that if there was one area I would recommend gaining experience in to become a music marketeer, it would be digital.”