Halvor Marstrander is a manager of Norwegian rising pop star Astrid S. He has been in the industry for over 20 years and worked with such big brands as Virgin, EMI, and Sony.
Halvor knows all the ins and outs of artist marketing and kindly agreed to talk to Show4me blog about his experience managing and creating an artist brand, as well as tips on how to build your own artist brand and succeed in your music career.
Let’s start with your credentials – how long have you been a music manager and what drew you to the profession?
I have been in the music industry for nearly 20 years now. I actually started in Virgin with radio promotion, then I was lucky to spend some time with EMI before I ended up at Sony with sales and marketing.
After a few years, I started a company with some friends called Playroom where we worked with artists, live touring, and later expanded into corporate event marketing. After nearly 9 years we sold the company to Modern Times Group, and I went out and started my own company.
Now I work with Astrid S, as well as Ada Hegerberg, the world’s best football player, and do consulting. We are a small and very good team, we only do things we love.
Since you’ve mentioned Astrid S, a rising Norwegian pop star, let’s talk a little about her. What made you decide to work with her?
I LOVE her and her music, and we get along. I think that it’s the most important thing when you work with artists, everything else you can work around.
Could you please describe the key branding direction for Astrid S that you are currently taking and why?
Based on her thoughts and ideas, we wanted to create a brand which combines her sporty, girl-next-door image with her Norwegian roots. So we came up with a concept: Fairytale Adidas. That concept is something we are using in everything we do. We try and make sure we are always within that concept whenever she does something.
It’s important to remember that everything has to come from the artist, so Astrid’s brand is her personality 100%. We are just trying to put things down on paper to make sure everyone knows where we are going.
How would you define an artist brand? What would you say that term includes?
In 2020, an artist brand needs to have a full ‘universe’ – you need to be present on so many platforms and you need people to recognize you. Therefore, you need to be coherent in what you are putting out.
The music has to always lead the way, but with 35,000 songs coming out each day, you have to offer more. You have to have a purpose with your brand. You want to be ‘everything’ for some people, not ‘something for everyone’, and, hopefully, with time, you will become ‘everything’ for a lot of people.
What would you say is the most important part of a musician’s brand? How do you feel about an artist changing their brand for each album?
Overall I think it’s really important to stick to your brand when you are a developing artist, you are still in the process of getting more people to love you and people need to know what they are going to fall in love with, over time.
When you are a more established artist or a global superstar, I think you can play a little bit more and push your brand further. In these days [of global interconnection via the internet – ed.], you will get an instant response [and learn – ed.] if people like it or not.
Same goes for the media – don’t pitch or try to be everywhere, try to target those media outlets that you feel work for you as an artist and develop from there.
The musician’s looks and their communication style often play a huge role in the way their brand is perceived. In your experience, how often does it happen that other factors, other than actual music, have more impact on the artist’s brand than their music?
A lot in today’s market. These days, it’s all about the platforms.
For example, you can have an influencer or a YouTuber wanting to do music with a huge platform. That background will, of course, affect your brand and how people see you, etc. But over time you see that true artists will always be present and if you have something to say, people want to hear it.
A lot of emerging musicians are reading our blog. Where would you advise them to start when building their artist brand from scratch?
It’s all about the music. I don’t think an artist should be talking about brand or strategies, that’s up to the team to think about that. If you have a strong ID, strong music, something to say and present something different, well, that’s your brand right there. It can’t be forced.
Does it make sense to try and create an artist brand that’s significantly different from the personality and looks of the artist? Is it just a bigger financial investment? What difficulties an artist might encounter when going down this path?
I think you as a brand, artist, a human being – need to be the same. Over time I think it’s very hard to be something else than who you are. But you can have an artistic universe which becomes a reinforcement of your creative thoughts, like Lady Gaga.
Many new artists focus on creating and distributing as much good music as possible. Would you say that maybe having a good set of promotional photos and selecting a limited but coherent set of music to promote and focus on that is a better strategy?
I think the artist and the team have to choose the strategy that works for them. But you have to be aware of the reality in streaming, YouTube, social media, etc. For example, if you are not present all the time [on social media – ed.], your algorithms will get ‘colder’, which will mean that it’s less likely that your music or music videos will show up on people’s YouTube stream or in Apple/Spotify. I am not saying this should decide your artist strategy, but this is important to be aware of.
Every choice in a strategy has consequences, and I think it’s important that the artist and the team are aligned about this.
What role do music videos play in building an artist brand?
They are very important because it’s valuable content you can provide to your fans and partners. Music video is so important because you can make so much great content for socials and it allows you to make the story in the song so much stronger.
And also, if you look at it from a YouTuber perspective it’s an amazing way of communication with fans on YouTube. So use the comments fields as much as possible, rather than use YouTube as just a platform for getting the video out, just like YouTubers do.
Do you have any advice on using collabs as a branding tool? For example, Astrid S provided background vocals to Katy Perry’s Hey Hey Hey, how did that contribute to Astrid’s brand?
Nowadays everyone is chasing a good collab to tap into other people’s fanbases. I think you should push for collabs that make sense for you as an artist, that feel natural. Don’t do anything just because the numbers on paper make sense.
Many big artists are demanding a huge amount of money these days to do collabs with less known artists. That just makes me sad to see, and in many cases, it has no impact at all. People are not stupid, they can see or feel when something is coming from a marketing perspective than an artist's perspective.
When Astrid did some backing vocals for Katy Perry, it was just because she was working in the same studio and it was a natural, low-key thing. No strategy or managers involved.
How can a self-managed musician be strict with themselves and stay critical of what’s coherent with their brand and what isn’t?
As mentioned earlier, I don’t think an artist should be focused on what their brand is or strategy, you have to figure out who you are and you have to stick to that. That will be your brand and as long as you put out things that are you or you feel good about, you should do it. Don’t ask too many people too early, spend time with you. Because if you don’t know or believe in you who are, why should anybody else?
Want to learn more about building an artist brand? Check out our latest piece on the topic here.