I recently received an email from a guy called Oscar B, who wanted to know my thoughts on what’s more important: your brand or your music? If you’re an artist who doesn’t feel like your music is ready to release yet, should you focus on honing your craft until you are good enough, or should you also be building an audience and a personal brand?

This is a really great question – and also a very controversial one, because I know people will believe very strongly in both sides – and it got me thinking. So let’s get into it – here’s a breakdown of that I think the pros and cons are of both approaches.

Focusing on the Music:

The great thing about taking this approach is that all of your time, effort and energy can now be concentrated a clear goal – improving your music, your artistry, your songwriting and playing skills. This was the approach I took back when I was a kid – there was no social media, my gig as a bass player was just to get as good as I possibly could be. My whole world revolved around it, and that meant I got pretty good pretty quickly. If I’d had distractions and hadn’t been so obsessive about playing, I don’t think I would have gotten as good, and I genuinely don’t think I would have become an employable bass player, purely because I would have been working on too many things at once.

On the other hand, if you’re putting everything into the music, how do you know when you’re ready? And will you ever feel like you’re ready, like you’re good enough to start releasing music? You’re also missing out on a huge opportunity which could be key to building an audience – sharing your journey. It’s all well and good becoming the best musician you can be, but you might find that once you decide you’re ready, you’re shouting into an empty room.

Building a Brand:

The first pro of building your personal brand and trying to gain an audience alongside working on your music skills, is that you have started – and as silly as it may sound, starting is always the hardest part. Secondly, you get to test your music on a real life audience – which means you can get no-holds-barred feedback on what you need to improve, on what is working and what isn’t working. Finally, you are giving people what they want – a story. Your journey as you discover your sound and what you stand for can be a great tool in getting people to engage with the music.

However, you might be putting a lot of effort into building an audience who at the end of the day, could turn around and say they don’t actually like your music. They might like you, they might have enjoyed following your journey, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be a fan of your music once it’s out there. Plus, you are gambling on the market. You are gambling on where social media is going to be in 2, 3, 4, however many years it takes for you to hone your craft. Social media changes every single day, and the techniques and platforms you use to build an audience might actually be irrelevant once you’re ready to release music. Finally, the most obvious negative to this approach – by dividing your time, you’re only spending half as much time on your music, so you’re probably not going to get as good as fast.

So which do I think is better? Without wanting to sit on the fence too much, my honest answer is… either. I think both approaches can work. It depends on who you are as a person, and as an artist. If you decide the focus on the music, set a deadline and until that point go hell for leather – learning, writing, putting a band together, rehearsing, etcetera – it will certainly make the next few years after that much easier. If you’re going to build a brand, you’re learning how to market yourself and your music, and how to use social media most effectively, and that too will be a huge advantage down the line. The most important thing is that whatever approach you choose, you stick with it and put your all into it.