Brandweek Q&A: Anthony Hamilton on What Makes a Strong Personal Brand

The musician, who performed at the recent Brandweek event, tells Adweek how he balances being a brand and an artist

Anthony Hamilton performing at Brandweek in September. Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Anthony Hamilton took the stage at the Date Shed in Indio, Calif., on Sept. 24 to perform for the crowd of marketers, advertisers and others gathered for Brandweek. A few hours before his show, he sat down with Adweek to discuss his personal brand, working with brands and how he balances the business of branding with his career as a musician.

Adweek: What does branding mean to you? How do you define your personal brand?
Anthony Hamilton: Branding is a way to reach out to people. I’m a brand myself, so I come out and connect with other brands to see if there’s any synergies and just to show my support. My brand is all about healing, music, therapeutic, relationship-building. That type of brand. I’m the fixer-upper.

When did you realize you were a brand and you needed to pay attention to that side of your career? How do you think your brand has evolved?
Getting into the music business, I thought it was just going to be music. I was wrong. In ’93, pretty early on, I signed my first deal. By ’95 and ’96 I realized you have to think more as a business more so than a musician. If not, your team may miss some things that are very important. And you have to be able to identify those things that are missing. You learn really fast that you have to sell not just the music, but the whole package. The personality, the music, all that.

How do you balance the artistry of being a musician with being a brand and a business?
You have to have a team. A real solid team can help you to keep that balance. There’s times when I just want to be a musician, but there’s things that need to be done. So if you have those key players in place, then the machine still runs.

Who are some of those key players, and what roles do they play?
My manager handles the day-to-day. He’s almost like the nanny who takes cares of the little things, the big things and all the things in between. He also coordinates with the publicists, the label and things like that. He’s the main person. The assistant, to carry out certain things that would tie me up when I could be resting. Both people are very important.

How has social media changed your personal brand and made it easier for you to connect with your fans?
Social media is access. You can get to anybody, anywhere, at any time. It allows you to see into other brands and to reflect back on your own. People that wouldn’t normally be attracted to your brand could be attracted to someone else that you’re affiliated with and they’ll see you and give you a shot. It’s a few seconds to sell yourself, but then you have them. It’s the quickest, free way to connect to someone else.

Do you have a favorite social media platform?
I like Instagram because I love pictures. Facebook is good, but it’s more like family and friends, a little more personal. Twitter is good for when you want to vent. YouTube is another one that’s very high on my list as well. But Instagram is probably my favorite.

Do you think that technology and social media have made it easier for new voices to market themselves and break into the music industry?
Oh yeah, because you can become successful before even going and getting a record deal or a movie deal or whatever, just by engaging with people and sending content out, exposing yourself. Social media is very, very important right now. It’s a no-brainer. I tell people all the time who ask me, ‘How do you get into the music business?’ I ask, ‘Do you have Instagram, do you have YouTube, Facebook or any of these outlets?’ If they say no, then what are your plans? You’re stuck in a cave.

What do you think makes your personal brand unique and sets you apart from other musicians?
I’m approachable. I’m very hands on and I communicate with my fans. I’m comfortable to speak with and engage. That helps me out a lot, because people fall in love with you and then the music.

What do you look for in a successful brand partnership?
You have to understand each other. Someone who is familiar with you, or interested in getting to know me, it has to be a sincere interest. You have to have access to a demographic that I don’t have access to, because how are we going to grow? I introduce you to my world, and you introduce me to your world. And being diverse, being creative and hungry. They have to be hungry. Brands that are hungry tend to win.

Do you have an example of a brand partnership where you thought it was a success?
Brand Jordan. It was supposed to be a two-year thing, because Michael Jordan was a big fan of mine and I’m a sneakerhead. He endorsed me early on, a non-athlete. But now it’s been almost 10, 11 years. That’s been very fun, unique and interesting. Not only for me, but for my fans.

What advice would you give to a young musician who wants to focus on building their own brand and building the business side?
Don’t be afraid to be your own unique person, your own unique musician and brand. Have your own identity, and push it. Believe in it. Consistency. It’s not always the most talented people that make it; it’s the people who don’t give up, never tire and stay the course. There’s a lot of great ones that fall because they don’t have it. Stamp out; you have to endure and have persistent effort.

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.