Shedding Skin: The Art of Re-branding

“Death is simply a shedding of the physical body, like the butterfly shedding its cocoon it is a transition to a higher state of consciousness, where I continue to understand to laugh and be able to grow.” Elizabeth Kubler Ross

If you’re a frequent visitor of this site then you’ve probably heard of the band called “Hope in Transit”. Yes the one that has everyone’s favourite drummer “Georgie” in it. In fact which band hasn’t Georgy played for? In Oath, Last Year’s Tragedy (when filling in), Seismic. Okay the guy is in plenty of bands but Hope in Transit is one of his permanent ones. The guy possesses an undying energy and unnatural skill.  These guys have been in the scene for quite a while too. Say around 3 or four years. They re-branded and now they go by the name “Culture Horizon”. Mariam Ahmed is their manager, that charming little lady we interviewed a while back. You remember that? She is behind the whole re-branding process.

How to Manage Your Band: Interview with Mariam Ahmed

So we thought it’d be cool to examine the whole thing and pick out a few pointers. Why do rock bands re-brand. And is it even necessary? There’s obviously some necessity to it, seeing as a couple of these homemade bands including ParkingLotGrass and SVNL have all employed it with mixed success.

It’s Right Under Your Nose

Examples of bands that had great content, unmatched technical ability but took several years living in the darkness, praying for one day to be noticed  by a big music producer, or marketing consultant or get to play on the biggest stage across the continent or even the rest of the globe. But that doesn’t materialise and you’ve been doing this for what, 8 years or more. There’s obviously a long list of shit bands out there that’s getting all the heads turning for reasons that you can’t put a finger on. So like two brothers who’ve been searching for their lost father, you go back to the drawing board. Or that part of the wall, in your mum’s garage that’s graced by newspaper clippings, pulling your beard for hours trying to figure out what you’re missing. If a shit band, with shit guitarists and cliché lyrics with rehashed melodies can do so well why can’t you. The answer may be as simple as selling out and be the media’s bitch. But the answer may be much simpler. It’s a neat trick that you may have to employ every once in a while but it works wonders. You must realise that sadly, in the entertainment business, image matters more than technical or creative genius. Just slight branding choices and image realignment may boost your career. The way you brand your image as an artist may vary from the colour scheme in your merch, the logo on your social media timeline. Even a slight name change could be the difference between playing across the continent and helping middle aged men drown out their sorrows in a musty bar with a name no one would mention in any respectable quarters.

What’s in a name?

Here’s the thing! With the kind of musical economy we have it doesn’t really help your band if you have an unfathomable name. Because most, if not everyone in the world nowadays is a keyboard ninja, virtual fans who’s first and most times only interact with the band on Facebook.  I know the internet has made everyone complacent sobs. But there’s no helping it and we have to make the most of that situation. Have you ever had this feeling? You’re in a banking hall and they are playing music on Capital Fm. Then there’s this pretty sweet tune that’s playing. And on the off chance that the presenter will be courteous or smart enough, they’ll tell you who did that song. Because if they don’t then the only option is to go online, assuming you remember the words, and type the lyrics into the search engine and bam you have the title to the song and the band and you can proceed to follow them and listen to that tune on replay, day and night and annoy your mom and everyone dies happy, right? Wrong! This is Kenya and who are you anyway? You’ll be hard pressed to find a Kenyan band online by searching the lyrics on Bing or google. And it doesn’t help if your name is “gumballsundermahoganytables” because there’s no way I can remember that unfortunate alliteration. I can hardly remember what my lecturer said in class. As a band you want to go out on a limb and help out prospective fans in finding you on the internet. And that my friend is an important sign that you should rebrand. Go for something simpler and leave the bombastic names to the Prog and psychedelic guys, no one understands them. And it’s worked for other bands in the past too from the Beatles to Nirvana who before breaking out went by the most shocking appellations, names that even a mother wouldn’t love.

A Fresh Start”

Okay say you have a perfectly okay name. You’re doing fine. But the world isn’t black and white. Life isn’t straightforward and shit will most definitely happen. Aside from the name not sounding right, the band may have gone through a period in its short/long life where a fresh start becomes an imperative.  Say you haven’t recorded anything or you did a few things that have made your fans disillusioned. You may now consider it in your best interests to write a suicide note, douse yourself in propane and walk off the cliff in a ball of fire!!!! Not quit the remedy we’d recommend. Dust yourself and your bandmates off, and when the sun’s rays bath the morning skies, herald that new dawn with a new name that aligns with your targets and new identity. After staying quiet for so long perhaps it was in their best interest that Culture Horizon decided for a rebrand. And they did that brilliantly by synchronising it with the release of their debut single “Baba Joshua”. Listen to it <<here>> I hope I got the name right this time Colbert.

There is also the small matter of having a name that sounds exactly the same as another band. There’s a nasty little phenomenon called copyright. And some bands are pretty particular about their copyright being violated. So to avoid confusion and lawsuits you might want to change your name. Also there’s nothing cool about creating the perception that you’re trying to ride on another band’s fame by using a name that sounds familiar to theirs.

Hope In Transit it is said have changed their name from Culture Horizon because the former sounds much better. Maybe there is a larger marketing plan at play or the name change is just a matter of housekeeping. All in all, what is most important is making sure the name change doesn’t drastically affect the band’s overall image and that fans and other enthusiasts are kept well aware of this.

Rebranding can also be a great marketing tool. What you choose to do will depend on the goals you have set for yourself as a band or the perception you want to create. This may lead to a change in logo (if you had one to begin with. And those generic letter based logos don’t count!). Other aspects of the image of the band may also need to change if you’re looking to have your band attract corporate promoters. You may want to change your whole confrontational stance with lyrics and album titles like “Death to the corporate Machine” because Safaricom won’t fancy that. Corporate promoters will want to promote a band that is in line with their corporate image so you may want to tone it down a little bit. There’ll be none of that ‘suicide symphonies’ and corpse grinding’ anymore. The only time when your image won’t matter, so much that the suits will be begging you to promote their corporations is when you are too big and powerful, but in the meantime concessions have to be made.

Iron Maiden in South Africa

I just hate how these people seem to get the best out of life. South Africa get to host the biggest bands in the world including Iron Maiden. However the unfortunate nature of life as a Kenyan rock head isn’t the point of this paragraph. Iron Maiden are. You notice how their mascot Eddy has taken on different looks over the years. The Eddy that throttled Confederate Soldiers with his musket isn’t the same touring with Tipton and Downing in Kwazulu Natal. And that too is an aspect of branding. Iron maiden have largely maintained their signature sound but over the years they have had to tweak their image to stay relevant and keep the blood flowing. It’s the same things that they do with comic books. Golden Age Batman is markedly different from New 52 series which just recently ended. The change could be influenced by a variety of circumstances for instance the departure of an influential frontman that was synonymous with the band’s image. But the change could be a healthy routine of changing the oil to keep the engine running smoothly. As a principle you have to keep in touch with the world or risk being forgotten. Like the Phoenix bursts into flames, a band must constantly purge itself of its old life. New eras and new projects must be like fresh awakenings, not too drastic to disillusion fans but the tongues of fire must sear off enough of the flesh to keep the outfit vibrant and glowing.

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