Making Your Own Shadow: Tips to Establish Your Own Visual and Musical Persona

Creating an identity, persona, shadow (whatever you wish to call it) is as integral to your musical expression as it is to your audience's perception and enjoyment of you. GW Childs explores it here.  

Over history, we’ve seen many examples of the iconic in all walks of human expression. From professional archaeologists to millionaire playboys, to daring generals—Human beings excel at individuality, and style. The music industry is no stranger to living icons, or large identities. If anything, it’s one of the few industries that still seems to thrive on individuals both young and old that have made, and maintain a distinct musical persona. Johnny Cash, for example, built and maintained, up until his death, an amazing persona of being the ‘man in black’, the outlaw, the rebel. Regardless of whether he really was this person, when he went on stage, that’s the person you got—The outlaw. In this quick tip, let’s take a look at a few ways you might build a musical shadow (identity) of your own... Or, just for you to have the satisfaction of building a cool alter ego.

It’s All Colors and Symbols...

Many artists have had a lot of luck with the creation and incorporation of a logo. After all, a symbol is easy to remember, and fans can draw it, stick up logos in weird places, and proliferate the religion that is themselves. However, logos can take time, especially if you have more than one person involved in the approval of the symbol you’ll be using. Also, if you’re a new artist, trying to shove logos down people’s faces can come off a little grandiose. 

Have a favorite controller with a distinctive color? Use it on stage and use it in your artwork!

Have a favorite controller with a distinctive color? Use it on stage and use it in your artwork!

One great, subtle move towards  establishing at least a visual identity would be the move towards regularly incorporating a particular color, or even establishing a combination of colors that represents you, and your music. This is a move that has worked well for both musician (Johnny Cash and black) as well as many popular brands. For example: Can you think of the movie Tron without thinking of the color blue? As you perform in even your first shows, DJ sets, galleries, or whatever, choose a color that you feel represents you. As you go from show to show, and as you continue to incorporate that color, you’ll eventually become known for it. As you start pressing albums, incorporate that color, or even a combination of colors into the artwork, videos, etc. Eventually, you become known for a certain color, or palette. This is powerful, as when fans see your colors in passing, they will be subconsciously reminded of you!

Distinctive pieces of gear, like guitar straps with bright colors are great for establishing a bit about yourself to new listeners. As well as a nostalgic visual for old fans.

Distinctive pieces of gear, like guitar straps with bright colors are great for establishing a bit about yourself to new listeners. As well as a nostalgic visual for old fans.

Narrow your Audio Palette

A clever way of establishing a clear musical identity—and, this can be especially shrewd in an age of technology that has no limit on the variety of instruments that even a child can get a hold of—would be to establish a basic arrangement of instruments, or unique patches that you always use. For example: build a template that has a select number of patches, samples, drum samples and effects that you continue to use regularly. This seems limiting to many, because it seems counterproductive to limit your palette of instruments. However, a regular template is highly advantageous in the sense that through repeated use, you continually dial in your arrangement, your drum kits, vocal settings, and more. So, over time, that template, arrangement, and sonic environment will continue to become polished and unique to you. For example: I tend to love working hammered dulcimer into songs of mine. I keep a hammered dulcimer patch, eq’d, and effected, along with a badass drum kit, that I love using. These are always in my kit. And, when I write a song, you can generally rely on those elements being there. As a result, my listeners begin to associate me with an instrument like the hammered dulcimer that is a little more mystique, a little more, elemental. I, in turn, continue to get to learn new ways of experimenting my hammered dulcimer patch, and making it my own. Also, because drum kits and effects loops establish so much of the perceived sonic ‘scenery’ within a song, my environment is already dialed in before I even lay down a vocal track. And, it’s distinctive to my tastes—which is, ultimately, the taste of my listeners, because they buy my music. Everyone wins.

Conclusion

Of course, the suggestions above are not intended as pertinent, or even necessary for success as an artist. But, think of it this way: color, symbols, ritual and even selection are all major mechanisms of human behavior. And, as a species, and as a culture, it’s ingrained in our DNA to rally behind symbols, behind colors, and even particular sounds (trumpets, anyone?). We’ve survived as a species by getting behind flags, uniforms, logos, and many different icons. To ignore psychological triggers such as these would be folly. After all, if it works for a million different ad agencies, why can’t it work for you?

Sound Designer, Musician, Author... G.W. Childs has worn many hats. Beginning in the U.S. Army back in 1991, at the age of 18, G.W. began learning electronics, communications and then ultimately audio and video editing from the Department of Defense. Upon leaving the military G.W. went on to work for many exciting companies like Lu... Read More

Discussion

TORLEY
Friendly greetings G.W., I've really been enjoying this and other articles you've written lately... I am drawn to music with personality, both in the compositions themselves and the person who created it. I've observed an excess of music that is technically well-produced but indistinguishable from other producers, it fails to say something memorable, it's treading the same polluted water as so much else. That isn't intriguing to me.

Great point about colors and theming. Just like sports team fans garb themselves almost patriotically in their home team colors. I've long been drawn to "neon watermelon" so pink + green have become my thing. And re: "signature sounds", it seems to take a certain freedom to make the mind supple, respect one's "inner child", and use sounds NOT because they're expected of a genre, but because they appeal to you in some undeniable degree — perhaps it's nostalgia. I often opt for outerworldly extrapolations of real instruments that might sound native to an alien culture.

Make it easy for people to get to recognize and know you!

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