“He’s the biggest music brand in Canada,” said Ted Ellis, VP Head of Programming for Corus Entertainment which includes CMT Canada and Nickelodeon Canada. Ellis, of course, was talking about artist Paul Brandt, keynote speaker at the Canadian Country Music Association’s Saskatoon-based event (9/9/12). Many Nashvillians remember Brandt from his successful U.S. artist career on Warner/Reprise Records which began in 1996 with the million-selling album, Calm Before The Storm. Later in 2001, what he described as “creative tension,” led the artist to ask to be released from his contract. The label agreed and Brandt returned to his Canadian home in Alberta to form Brand-T Records.
Ellis introduced video director Joel Stewart to the audience. Stewart recalled meeting Brandt after his return to Canada and said he could sense that the artist’s confidence was a bit shaken after leaving the major label. Brandt and Stewart set off together across Canada on the Small Towns Big Dreams tour, which became a live album, plus was captured on camera for a TV special. Stewart and Brandt immediately connected and the video director soon added making Brandt’s music videos to his resume. Small Towns… was named Album of the Year by the CCMA in 2002.
“Joel has a clarity of artistic vision that makes his work exceptional,” said Brandt as he finally arrived at the podium. Modestly he added, “I’m not sure exactly what makes me qualified to talk to anyone about branding. I take no credit for my successes and accept full blame for my failures. But here’s some of the things which I have found to be important.”
Brandt has actually had a lot more of the former (success) than the latter. In addition to his music, he holds an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the University of Lethbridge and Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Briercrest College and Seminary.
“Be clear about who you are and what you are about,” he began. “When brands marry it is best that both brands win.” To illustrate, he related a story about how hard it can be to choose between “better and best” when multiple options come your way. Shortly after moving back to Alberta, Brandt received a call from his Nashville business manager letting him know that he only had a few months worth of income in reserves. “My future was so uncertain,” he recalls. It was then he got an offer to play a corporate gig for an oil company that would pay enough money to insure his fledgling company’s survival for over a year. Gladly he accepted the offer and did the gig. It wasn’t until later he discovered the oil company, “didn’t care at all about me or my music, they only wanted to look good by aligning with someone who was known for caring about the environment.” Brandt remembered feeling used and told the audience, “You can’t put a value on the purity of your brand. Be true to your brand.”
Brandt also noted that sometimes being the leader simply means, “Keeping the main thing the main thing by going back to it over and over, so your team always keeps it top of mind. A certain insecurity comes with building dreams,” Brandt warned. “Sometimes the creative process can make you doubt yourself.” One way around that insecurity he counseled is to “define success with a mission statement. Defining success also speaks to your motivations. Way too often I find my dreams are too small,” Brandt chided himself.
Many in the audience and around the world might take issue the artist’s self-inflicted criticism. Brandt has already raised millions of dollars for Samaritan’s Purse, The Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. His CMT series “Build It Forward” has created housing for families in need and he has established a charitable foundation which is active with international organizations around the world.
Speaking about change and the evolution of a brand he added, “Your brand should be a pillar of consistency, but it can stagnate without developing the story. A brand dies when it compares itself to others and/or chases money but will reach the minds and hearts of people if it inspires them.”
“Imagine your brand (or life) as an empty box,” Brandt continued. “If you had to put one word in the box what would it be? Successful brands know that word. For me that word is God.”
Commenting on todays media-driven world Brandt said, “I used to pose for one camera at a time, but now I’m in front of thousands of camera all the time. Everything you do is under a microscope so you better know what you’re about.” In closing Brandt said, “I know it sounds a bit morbid, but I like to look at my life from the tombstone backwards and keep asking myself, ‘What do I want to see written on it?’”