Music Career Strategies: Brand Identity Development for Artists, Songwriters, and Producers

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Authored by Erin Barra, Patrick Ermlich


Course Code: OSONG-505

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


This course is a shift in perspective, a look in the mirror, a new level of self-awareness, and a heavy dose of clarity and direction. 

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Branding is what the world sees, how you present yourself to your audience. Your brand identity is what informs and leads that branding: The genesis of it all. It is that deeply rooted, extremely personal layer of your musical development that is rarely discussed, let alone taught. You may sense what your brand identity is, you might feel it without being able to articulate or visualize it. When you bring anything to life in language, it becomes real, and that’s what we will do together in this course.

We begin by diving into the basic principles and distinctions of branding and brand identity, uncovering the underlying mechanisms at work. We will open your eyes to why it is that you engage with, and consume, the things that resonate with you. By reverse engineering successful, and internationally recognized brands, you will learn how to apply their fundamental tactics to your own career.

This new level of understanding and shift in perspective prepares you for the deepest work of the course. We will direct you on the development of your own personal mission statement and what we call the “resonant frequency.” This set of guiding principles is foundational, a north star, critical for any student pursuing a life and career in music. 

After building your brand identity from the ground up, we transition to selecting your brand identity positioning, giving it context and depth with your origin story development, and bringing it all together into your music and production through sonic branding. 

Halfway through the course, we bring your identity to life through photography, videography, and your own personal brand identity guide, providing you the tools to effectively communicate with anyone who becomes a part of your creative team. 

For your brand identity to effectively resonate with others, it must be integrated throughout your entire brand experience. We will teach you how to let your brand identity speak through social media and websites, live performance, as well as PR and media, all the touchpoints where people might interface with you as creative professionals. 

The course concludes with a look at how artists, writers, and producers evolve over their careers and how your identity can, and will, shape your own career evolution.

Throughout the course we’ll hear from a diverse set of writers, producers, and artists, learning from their own personal journeys and experiences.  

By the end of the course, you will be able to: 

  • Define what a brand, branding, brand identity, and brand image are
  • Discuss the basic principles of how branding applies to artist and creative career paths 
  • Reflect on the brands you consume and understand consumer/creator relationships 
  • Create your own brand filter as well as analyze other brand filters
  • Generate a mission statement and “ultimate why” 
  • Analyze and synthesize both “hero” and “authenticity” branding in relation to external and personal brands
  • Create connections between brands and songwriting/production
  • Develop content which accurately represents a brand
  • Discuss and navigate the use of still and moving image in relation to branding and careers
  • Create a lookbook and personal branding guide  
  • Engage external partners such as photographers, videographers, and PR firms
  • Create connections between branding and social media, personal websites, release strategies, and live performance
  • Synthesize brand messaging specific to your career path 
  • Test and measure brand effectiveness 
  • Build a “true north” plan for your future which is guided by your mission statement and brand         
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Foundations and Principles

  • The Origins of an Iconic Identity
  • Definitions and Distinctions
  • A Very Brief History on the Origins of Branding 
  • Depth and Delivery
  • Application to Artists
  • Writers, Producers, and Other Music Careers
  • Assignment 1: Brand Profile Research

Lesson 2: Reverse Engineering

  • Examining Major Brands of Popular Culture
  • Keyword Mapping: Reverse Engineering
  • The Brands We Consume
  • Finding the Branding Bridge
  • Artist-Brand Partnerships
  • Assignment 2: Applying Reverse Engineering to Brands

Lesson 3: Mirroring

  • Mirror Neurons 
  • Seeing Yourself in Another’s Brand
  • Billie Eilish’s Brand Identity
  • The Share Trigger
  • Finding Your Audience and Building Community
  • Assignment 3: Understanding Your Fanbase

Lesson 4: Mission Statement and the Resonant Frequency

  • The Mission Statement
  • Mission Statement Applications
  • The Story of Augustines
  • Mission Statements for Artists, Producers, and Songwriters
  • The Resonant Frequency
  • Accessing Your Resonant Frequency
  • Condensing for Clarity
  • Assignment 4: Developing Your Mission Statement

Lesson 5: Brand Identity Positioning

  • Personal Branding
  • Hero/Character Branding
  • Dual Branding
  • I Am Snow Angel
  • Exploring Familiar Archetypes
  • Story Development (The Context for Listening)
  • Origin Stories, Familiarity, and Connection
  • Assignment 5: Developing Your Brand Positioning

Lesson 6: Sonic Branding

  • Writing/Producing for Others
  • 'A Matter of Time'
  • Writing/Producing for Yourself
  • Writing/Producing from Your Identity
  • The Sound of a Brand
  • The Sound of Apple
  • Sync and Writing to Brand
  • Real World Pitches
  • Assignment 6: Composing the Sound of a Brand

Lesson 7: Brand Identity Development: Photography

  • Your Visual Brand
  • Visual Brands for Writers and Producers
  • Visual Brands for Artists
  • Collaborating with a Photographer
  • Assignment 7: Creating a Lookbook

Lesson 8: Brand identity Development: Video

  • The Evolution of Video in the Music Industry
  • Present Day Video Opportunities for Musicians
  • Traditional Music Videos
  • Long Form: Documentaries
  • Short Form: Brand Bites
  • Short Films
  • Process and Behind-the-Scenes Videos
  • Brand Bite Video Applications
  • Collaborating with a Videographer
  • Working with Artists
  • Assignment 8: Building Your Brand Identity Guide

Lesson 9: Integration and the Brand Experience

  • The World of the ‘Why’
  • Social Media Integration
  • Integration through Visuals and Language
  • Official Websites and Other Touchpoints
  • Touchpoints for Writers and Producers
  • Release Strategies: Shared Expectations
  • The Slow Walk
  • The Fast and the Furious
  • The Surgical Strike and the Jab-Jab-Jab-Hook
  • The Long Tail and the Steady Assault
  • Live Performance
  • The Screen Is Your Stage
  • Assignment 9: Brand Experience Research

Lesson 10: Messaging

  • Voice of the Brand
  • Contextual Social Media Messaging
  • Media Messaging
  • Media Messaging Examples
  • Assignment 10: Brand Message Research and Analysis

Lesson 11: Measuring, Testing, and Amplifying

  • Brand Identity Effectiveness
  • Interaction
  • Engagement
  • Participation
  • Testing
  • Amplifying Your Identity through Publicity
  • Working with a Publicist
  • Assignment 11: Identity into Action

Lesson 12: Your Brand Identity Shapes Your Future

  • Evolution of the Brand
  • Reframing the Next Level
  • Defining Success
  • Stop Being Linear
  • Stop Being Narrow
  • Be Vague
  • Be Appropriate
  • It’s about the Journey
  • Build Your Own Fire


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Students should have:

  • Previous songwriting experience
  • Overall knowledge and understanding of how the various sectors of the music industry interact, communicate, and collaborate
  • Overall knowledge and understanding of music marketing initiatives, including fan-building, awareness, and engagement
  • Ability to create a professional level demo, including vocal produced to pro standards, arrangement/parts played in tune, in time; drum programming, and rough mix


Media and Subscriptions

  • RISE: The Story of Augustines (2018) (Film, available on Amazon and Vimeo
    • Note: This film may contain triggering content. Check the course after enrolling for more information.


  • Full-featured Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as Pro Tools (Studio or Ultimate), Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Ableton Live (Suite or Standard), Reaper, Reason, or FL Studio (Producer or Signature). Note that GarageBand is not acceptable.
  • Basic video editing software, such as iMovie (Mac only), Shotcut (free), etc.
  • Photo editing software such as Photoshop, GIMP (free), etc.


  • Audio interface
  • XLR microphone and cable
  • One of the following studio monitoring options (both recommended):
    • Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as necessary cables
    • Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.
  • Professional camera or smartphone with high quality camera

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Erin Barra


Erin Barra has been a key player in the creative process of many projects from conception to final master to stage performance. With a wide ranging skill set (educator, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, music technology consultant), she enables people to create content they’re personally invested in and execute their ideas.

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Specializing in music technology integration, she works with artists and bands looking to integrate laptops and digital technologies into their writing, production and stage setups, and has developed, taught and executed several music technology curriculums at the open source (Coursera and ROLI), K-12 (Beats By Girlz), and collegiate levels (Berklee College of Music, Berklee Online).

An authoritative voice in music, tech, and education, Barra is the Director of Popular Music at Arizona State University, Executive Director of Beats By Girlz, course developer for Berklee Online and former Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Specializing in composition, performance, and creative music technology application, she has worked with and represented companies such as Ableton, Splice, ROLI, MusicTech, Moog, and iZotope. She has presented at Loop, NAMM, SXSW, Moogfest, Gearfest, KIEM, Future of Music Coalition, Yale’s EXPOL, and Re-Mixed Media Festival. Check out Barra’s work as an artist on all platforms, and catch her live electronic performances on YouTube. Read Less

Patrick Ermlich

Author & Instructor

Patrick Ermlich is a 20+ year music industry veteran living in Brooklyn, New York. The son of two opera singers and entrepreneurs, music and business is in his DNA. He is educated through Northeastern University’s music business program in Boston, and the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Phoenix, Arizona. His career began in New York City at the renowned Cutting Room Recording Studios, where he started as an engineer and producer and grew to managing and developing the studio into one of the most successful in New York, working with some of the biggest names in music along the way. His entrepreneurial instincts led to the launch of an independent record label and later the founding of a music publicity agency, serving artists at all levels and styles. In 2017, he signed the K-pop group BTS to his agency, who launched their career in the US with great success. Patrick has consulted with more than 1,000 artists in his career and is known for his insightful, thoughtful, and direct approach to artist and business development. He is the author of the forthcoming book The Compass Method, designed to bring clarity and direction to artists as they navigate the complex world of the music business. 

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Music Career Strategies: Brand Identity Development for Artists, Songwriters, and Producers can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


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