In a world of record labels, sell-out tours and celebrity news, the modern musician is much more than an artist - often, they’re a global brand.
And with the backing of label-funded multi-million-pound marketing campaigns, these artists are often cleverly branded to portray an on-trend image and attitude that translates to the masses.
Here at Paragraft, though, we’re all about the words. So, today, we thought we’d do something a little different, bypassing the glitz and glamour of music marketing to put the artists themselves to the test. Without all the smoke and mirrors of label marketing, how well do musicians fare as brands in their own right?
To find out, we’ve analysed the lyrics of some of our all-time favourite musicians to see if they pass our brand voice test. Championing three fundamentals of an effective brand voice - consistency, relatability and clarity - let’s delve deeper into whether these lyricists were born ready for global domination.
First things first, a disclaimer - Bob, if you happen to spend your free time reading up on content marketing tips and tricks, and you stumble across this blog post, I’m sorry. We know your lyrics were intended to spread ideas of justice, peace and equality. We know you probably don’t care much for the concept of branding and we hope analysing them from this distinctly capitalist lens isn’t taken as an insult. We’re just having a bit of fun. We love you.
There is undoubtedly no greater wordsmith in the musical world than Bob Dylan. The only lyricist ever to receive the Nobel Literature Prize, Dylan is famous for capturing the core values of 60s counterculture through his lyrical commentaries on social justice. But while lines such as “Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land / And don’t criticize / What you can’t understand” speak for themselves, the meaning of Bob’s lyrics aren’t always blowing in the wind…
Dylan is renowned for his word play, with extensive use of metaphor and double entendre, combined with literary techniques inspired by everyone from Dante to Kerouac. This means his lyrics aren’t always the easiest to understand - this writer should know, having spent 12 months writing a university dissertation on them!
Nobody has ever understood Dylan upon first listen. Instead, it takes time to contemplate and reflect on the meanings of his words, being sure to take into account the context within which they were written, and the poetic techniques utilised. Dylan often intentionally demands the listener to do the work through purposeful ambiguity, meaning the clarity of a song’s message is never a guarantee. For a brand, this would be considered a cardinal sin.
To make matters that little bit more complicated, Dylan isn’t always consistent in his message, either. Across his catalogue - which spans 60 years - Dylan has slipped in and out of personas, as well as providing a mixture of first and third-person observations and, at times, even experimenting with artistic portrayals of biblical accounts and historical happenings.
In essence, Dylan dons a new mask in every song - a masquerade that has led to many questioning whether we know the true Dylan at all. These inconsistencies are, of course, straight from page one of Brand Voice Mistakes 101. Sorry, Bob.
Yet Dylan’s messages, no matter how complex and inconsistent, always resonate with his audience. Why? He understands them. He understands that, while the words themselves may at times be ambiguous, the core message is one that resonates with the listener. How? By aligning the core message of his songs with the core values of the listener - a key lesson in relatability for any brand.
Bruce Springsteen is called ‘The Boss’ for a reason. With a career now spanning six decades, Bruce is known for his stadium-rocking tales of blue-collar America.
In the early stages of his career, Springsteen looked to make his mark as a musical wordsmith by emulating the lyrical techniques of Dylan, often cramming in as much wordplay as any given melody would allow. By his third album, though, Springsteen had refined his technique by stripping back the clever wordplay - instead focusing on vivid imagery projected through powerful, descriptive language.
Put simply, he embraced the mantra ‘less is more’. This clear and unpretentious approach to lyrical meaning is one any brand should champion in their brand voice - simplicity is often the most effective method.
Much like Dylan, though, Bruce is renowned for the personas he inhabits. Whether it’s a young man in search of freedom in Born to Run, the “long-gone Daddy” war veteran in Born in the USA or the nostalgic high school graduate of Glory Days, The Boss channels the voices of all of America - reflecting the diversity that comes with it as a result.
In spite of the diversity shown here, there’s one fundamental factor that remains true: these are the voices of blue collar America. Much like Dylan, Springsteen aligns the core takeaways of his lyrics with the core values and experiences of his audience. By doing so, he’s able to switch between personas while remaining relatable to his audience every time. It’s all about understanding who your audience is and why they are your audience.
Skipping back across the pond to 90s Britpop, how does indie hero and national anthems creator Noel Gallagher fare in our brand voice test?
Well, while Dylan and early Springsteen can be critiqued for their complex approach to lyricism, the same certainly can’t be said for Noel. Embracing the true rock n’ roll mantra, Gallagher’s lyrics are often bold, clear and simple. Sounds like full marks for clarity, right? Not exactly.
If Dylan and Bruce are victims of overthinking their lyrics, Noel is certainly guilty of the opposite. Sure, “Slowly walking down the hall / Faster than a cannonball” sounds great, but what does it mean? Yep, that’s right - absolutely nothing. The lesson to be learned here? Clarity in message is just as important as clarity in words.
Unlike his counterparts, Gallagher does remain consistent, though. Again, returning to this mantra of bold and simple, Noel’s in-your-face lyrics remain consistent in three ways.
Firstly, they remain ‘on brand’ with regards to Oasis’s image through the portrayal of working class imagery and rock n’ roll values. Secondly, none of the lyrics actually tend to make much sense - seriously, what is a ‘wonderwall’? And finally, they are consistent in (a lack of) form and style - or as Noel himself put it, “if I’d known how big the songs were to become, I would’ve probably written a second verse for half of ‘em”.
So, we have a message that’s consistent yet unclear - to any brand, their hopes of being relatable to their audience would end right here. Yet somehow, when it comes to Oasis, this isn’t the case. On the contrary, when thousands of music fans sing “Slowly walking down the hall / Faster than a cannonball”, it means something. What that something is doesn’t matter.
It likely means something different to each and every listener. But what matters is that the audience has connected - sure, each listener has translated the line in their own unique way, but the relatability is universal. Once again, this shows the undeniable power of truly understanding your audience to the core.
So, with none of these three lyricists passing every factor of our brand voice test, what’s left to conclude? That, without the marketing power of record labels, artists would lack the branding know-how to evolve into global superstars? Somehow we doubt it.
What we have learnt is that nailing your brand voice isn’t something that just happens. Regardless of your creative ability, an effective brand voice isn’t something born from the subconscious - it instead takes a purposeful and strategic use of the craft. Neglect this key ingredient and you could find your brand being booed off the stage.
Need a hand nailing down your own unique brand voice? Get in touch with us here at Paragraft to learn more about how we can nurture a refined brand voice across all of your business’s content.