Each and every one of us is born with a unique DNA strand and genetic code of characteristic qualities. We inherit personality traits and physical features from our parents. Our interactions with friends and family, as well as our education, further develop our unique personality and cultural habits as we grow into young adults. We then continue to learn new skills and expand our minds with the experiences we have and the knowledge we gain throughout our lifetime.
Our public brand may also be well established, whether we like it or not. How we present ourselves to the world is how we represent ourselves. First impressions really do matter; most of us make judgments based on the appearance of a stranger literally within seconds of casting eyes upon them!
That’s why I prefer to brand myself before someone else does. By presenting my authentic self in every situation, I take any guesswork or assumptions out of the equation. I understand that “clothes do not make the man,” but if you work in the entertainment industry your image is part of the marketing package. Think of your style and appearance as your product label and the content and substance of the product as your personality and the person that you are on the inside. And take the time to assess your public image on a regular basis to make sure you are representing your brand in a credible, current and appealing way.
For me, it’s less about fashion and more about authenticity — how you wear what you wear, your posture, personality, presentation and owning your personal space. Jeans, boots and a T-shirt are just as powerful a statement as a business suit, when they are worn with the same attitude and confidence.
Having great interpersonal skills will also elevate your personal brand. Maintaining eye contact shows that you are engaged and present in the conversation. Listen first, respond second, be impeccable with your word and above all, be a person of integrity: If you don’t back up what you say, eventually your brand will suffer and lose value.
Can we also build upon our musical identity, update and refresh our signature sound for a revitalized career? I believe so.
My students often ask me how much time they should spend working on the skills and techniques that they aren’t very good at. My response is to tell them to stop focusing on the weak aspects of their playing and instead magnify and expand upon the best aspects. There simply isn’t enough time to waste on the negatives!
Other instructors may not agree with this advice, but I would argue that Eric Clapton didn’t become an icon by practicing his sweep picking technique, and Eddie Van Halen probably didn’t spend decades practicing jazz standards. They focused on what they were good at, and the rest is history.
The videos below are live performances of me demoing guitars for Yamaha at NAMM 2019. Listen to the approach I take in playing relatively simple ideas over the chord changes for maximum musical impact:
In these stage performances, I’m using a Yamaha Revstar 720B. I love this particular guitar because it faithfully represents my sound. The FilterTron-style pickups are warm, clean and articulate, and the chords, double-stops and melodies come out sounding just the way my hands played them.
There were several custom one-off Revstar guitars on display at the show this year, just to tease us and keep us guessing as to what might appear as standard models — next year perhaps?
By the way, Yamaha did a little rebranding themselves at NAMM this year, introducing a new message of “Make Waves,” as featured on a huge backdrop facing the main stage that urged musicians everywhere to make the world listen, make music, make waves:
I came home from the show so inspired by this (and by so many wonderful interactions and incredible musical performances) that I wanted to take stock of my own evolution for this year. Where can I apply positive change in my life and my music? How can I express myself with a clearer voice and vision? One thing I do know for sure is that I will be a constant work in progress, and I’m open to the infinite possibilities of personal evolution!
Due to personal injury and tendon issues I suffered in my twenties, I was unable to play guitar for several years. I continue to have those issues, and it’s sometimes very painful when I perform. Physical speed and supreme dexterity on the guitar is out of reach for me, so I decided to focus on the aspects of my playing that would allow me to have a unique personal voice, using simple techniques and approaches that I can manage on a daily basis.
I focus on hitting the chord tones and double-stops with accuracy, and I utilize simple melodic motifs and repetitive phrases. I don’t fight my weaknesses. Instead, I choose to embellish the positives, and ultimately this gives me a distinctive sound that I’m very happy with. I know my limitations and I’m at peace with them. Understanding this allows me to focus purely on the signature aspects of my style … although I am constantly refining those traits to make them better.
So, if like me you have physical limitations, let those limitations shift your focus to finding musical alternatives around your current capabilities and define a sound that is uniquely your own. Take a moment to identify your musical strengths and make a conscious effort to refine those ideas, distill the magic and refresh some old licks or chord passages until they feel cleaner, clearer and represent your current modality of playing.