Is ‘Our Brand’ getting in the way of ‘Our story’

personal-branding-photoI was recently in a meeting where the coordinator said “People judge you by what you look like and how you act. It is YOUR BRAND. It is what they see”.

The phrase took me off guard
.

I’ve heard people talk about ‘Your Brand’ before. It’s not a new concept and if we were to be honest we’ve all been doing something like it (regardless of if we knew we were doing it or not) for centuries. You may have heard phrases that came out of this line of thinking such as “Dress for the job you WANT, not the job you HAVE”.

This thinking is not wrong,
as it’s good to take pride in your work place and even more importantly yourself. The issue I have with this line of thinking is that it starts to get in the way of some important stories of the communities/team’s/families we are in and makes us focus on just the individual.

So let’s unpack this a bit further. Take the example of “Dress for the job you want…” idea (just because I bought it up earlier). The intention is for people to take pride in how they look and how they present themselves, so that when people meet you for the first time there is a good first impression made. Plus the added bonus is that it makes you feel better about yourself because you have taken time and effort in how you are presented.
Unfortunately sometimes it just becomes an ego driven self marketing tool that is all about who looks best and owns the appropriate fashion for a particular role. And it potentially leads to disappointment. It’s far too easy for people to think “I dressed for the role I want and I still didn’t get it, maybe I didn’t market myself well enough?”.
We start to base things on what we think we know and not on what we have actually discovered about someone. It’s almost as if we throw out their CV and reduce them to a kids picture book ‘This is John. See John work’ .  It’s like the old adage about books being made in to movies and puts it into the context of life.

“Is like taking your oxen and seeing it made into an OXO (bouillon)  cube”
– John le Carre’

Has this grown out of our own laziness? Instead of seeing the first impression as an indication of the substance that may be hidden in the pages of the book beneath the cover, are we actually taking time to read the story rather than just the basic synopsis or overview of what the person is about?

A good friend, pastor and musician Malcolm Gordon once said “We pretend we’re people without shadows” and while he was talking about people going to church, I think it’s a much bigger epidemic.

Some of  our greatest world changers – from Lincoln to Edison,  Churchill to Princess Diana – have fought hidden demons. While these world changers were ‘flawed’, their stories made their accomplishments even more impressive. Their hardships/demons/flaws gave them the push and drive to see the world differently. Our ‘self brand’ technique has just become a way to bypass the mundane, to leap frog the pain and to ‘become the people we were destined to be’ with all the fanfare and poise of a well executed marketing campaign.

It’s actually killing our work places. Imagine great self marketers gaining great positions without knowing what the hard times are like and without understanding the pain points that lead to growth and improvement. No wonder society is becoming less engaged, less empathetic and more reactive. Isn’t this just setting people up to fail?

In the age of Facebook and social media saturation are we becoming so trained at hiding our shadows, that we don’t see the bigger story?  We don’t see the story of our community and work place it’s in?  Or even worse don’t see the story of an individual more than just at synopsis level?

New Zealand journalist and news reporter Nadine Chalmers-Ross had that dilemma at a very real level. Making a name for herself under the name Chalmers-Ross she recently got married. Should she remain Chalmers-Ross or become Mrs Higgins? What does she do? Her name was her brand, what she was known as, part of her ‘News identity’ if you will.
I love the conclusion that Nadine came to:

“My name is my brand, sure, but my marriage isn’t about what’s commercially savvy.  It’s about forming a team and a name is the loudest way I can think of saying he’s my person. So, may I introduce you to Mrs Higgins?”

YES!
Nadine has certainly got it. It’s about so much more than ‘my own personal brand’
Our ‘Brand’ affects far more than just ourselves – it affects our families, our teams and our communities.
What if instead we started looking at ‘Our Brand’ as our way to be the superstar of our own story? What if we started to see our stories interweaving with others in our communities? What if we looked at ‘Our Brand’ as something that adds to not just our own story, but the stories of our community like our own entry into a section of the Iliad.

We don’t just have one story. We have our own starring role in a story of our life- the fears, the failures, the wins, the loses and the mountains we have conquered. However we’re also playing a supporting role in many other individual’s stories, many other team’s stories, and many other community’s stories.

In these stories we’re not the superstar, we’re not the white knight, or the cowboy with the white hat. We’re the neighbour who said “Hi” every morning, the guy or girl who took time to notice the lack of smile, and the person who let you into the queue of traffic during rush hour. These stories are the mundane, but these stories are the brands that reverberate throughout the world we live.

So let’s talk brands… but let’s tell our stories.

Album Review: Switchfoot ‘Where the Light Shines Through’

switchfoot-where-the-light-shines-through-compressed“Because Hope deserves an anthem” echoes through the U2esque intro that builds into the first track of the latest album ‘Where the Light Shines Through’ (WTLST) by Californian group Switchfoot.
Imagine creating an album with this at the heart! Would the task almost feel so overwhelming that it would cripple you with fear? Switchfoot have climbed into the challenge like a surfer floating into a crushing barrel wave for the first time.They have respected the power of the wave and the result is the most personal group of songs about hope and struggle that the band have brought us.

This is the first focused album since 2011’s ‘Vice Verses’ album. In between was the soundtrack to 2014’s surf rockumentary ‘Fading West’ and while this was released as an album it couldn’t really be taken in context without the accompanying movie.

WTLST builds on the Switchfoot sound that the band has developed since leaving their major label and going on their own, and honestly, this is great. The band has merged into one body that would sound odd without the other components, as we start to hear more of the influences of Jerome and his library of sound that he brings and Drew’s colour that is added to each song. This is a band that has found it’s voice, and in the process has found it’s soul.

The album is scattered with songs that are filled with lyrical hope. They easily connect to the heart and settle in your mind as a reminder of a renewed way of thinking about the situation you’re in. The title track ‘Where the Light Shines Through’ has a chorus that has a sentiment that echoes throughout the album – “Because your scars, Shine light night stars, Yeah your wounds are where the light shines through.”  It is raw in it’s emotion but honest in it’s approach.

Some of the most beautiful moments are raised up from confronting the realness and the pain that the open wound may feel like for some people. Lyrics like “Pain gives birth to the promised land” from ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ or “I hear the shame of my accuser, but it ain’t you” from ‘The Day that I found God’ confront realness and pain and there is beauty in that. Then album turns from the hurt and only seeing the light from a distance, to a journey of chasing it and healing from it. “I want to start healing healing“.

One of the highlights of the album is the track ‘Live it Well,’ a real anthem and a song that will be a stadium hit this summer. This track throws back a level of responsibility onto us. How are we going to live this life knowing that every breath that you take is a miracle?

While we’re on the subject of tours: This year Switchfoot will tour with international rap and hip-hop sensation and billboard chart topper Lecrae. Lecrae makes a guest appearance on the track ‘Looking for America’ as the discussion turns to a nation that has been crippled by fear and entitlement.

As a bonus track it’s wonderful to hear ‘Light and Heavy,’ a song that was written 7 years ago for the annual Heavy and Light event held by To Write Love on Her Arms .This organisation exists to bring to light the often forgotten or hidden topic of depression and self harm , and although the track is a different feel to the rest of the album (as it’s a bonus track) it’s certainly a worthy track considering the theme flowing through this album.

The world is in need of Hope. It seems to be getting darker and while there are many aspects of life that make the world seem a smaller place, there are places where the light doesn’t shine and they seem separated from the rest of the world; This is where the broken live and as these areas hear albums like this, a new hope is birthed and this is where the light shines through.
The world certainly needs more albums like this.

I’ll leave the final words to Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s lead singer:

We sing because we’re alive. We sing because we’re broken. We sing because we refuse to believe that hatred is stronger than love. We sing because melodies begin where words fail. We sing because the wound is where the light shines through. We sing because hope deserves an anthem. – Jon

 

 

Album Review: Sacha Vee ‘Rising One E.P.’

Don’t you love it when you’re chilling out in a cafe or bar and the conversation lulls, and instead of sitting in that ‘awkward silence’ you find your head bouncing to the great tunes that are playing in the background? And better still, when you realise that it’s an artist that you have never heard before.
Now you have a problem – you have been bitten by the new tunes bug.

When I first heard Sacha Vee I really wanted to hear more.

The Rising One E.P. is a great snapshot of Sasha’s range and talent and almost a perfect sample of what she has to offer.
Sacha Vee isn’t just some flash in the pan type of Jazz inspired vocalist. She has the melodies, the right tone, and the soul funk sensitivity of greater and more well known artists. In fact Sacha could easily handle any tunes of artists such as N’dea Davenport (Brand New Heavies), Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. Sacha’s style sits somewhere between Erykah Badu’s breakthrough album ‘Baduizm‘ and Jill Scott’s ‘Who is Jill Scott‘. The fact that Sacha is able to be compared favorably to two of Soul/Funk/Jazz greatest albums and artists should be something that excites the listener. You’re not  listening to some second rate vocal here. This is quality.

‘Hey Sugar‘ is a perfect example of how Sacha is able to draw upon a musical knowledge filled with great artists and make it hers. This song is just one of those songs that just grabs your attention. It has it all – it’s laid back, it’s soulful, it’s funky and it’s well crafted. What makes this even better is that ‘GING’, the following track, gives you a more upbeat version of the same. It’s almost a bit of old acid jazz styled sounds reminiscent of the classics including The Brand New Heavies, Cloud 9 and Jessica Lauren.

‘Heavy Load’ brings Sacha into a heavy beat influenced R&B track that cruises and flows on a solid beat. It’s very mainstream in it’s approach and I can’t help but think of artist like Aaliyah, Moloko and TLC with it’s ‘a little bit retro’ sound over the top of a modern R&B infected beat.

Sacha Vee is your next cafe or chill album.

The equation is quite simple.
If you have a upmarket cafe…. buy this EP
If you have a chilled out bar or cool restaurant… buy this EP
If you want something to just have a few cocktails with… buy this EP
If you just like to chill out and relax… buy this EP.

When the pop world is getting more and more about antics than artistry, it’s good to hear we have the option of quality in what we choose to listen too in our down time.

This is certainly a ‘Rising One’ to watch

Album Review – Corban Samuels ‘Resonate’

Some song writers are poets that tell stories to a musicial back drop.
Some song writers are musicians who’s only aim is to get you to dance or to rock or to sway.
Sam Reed, the creator of the enigmatic ‘Corban Samuels’, isn’t really either. Sam should be considered a cinematic songwriter.
Sam’s off centre songwriting flair was highlighted with his Death to Birth (I & II) EP’s . Through music Corban Samuels made you feel uneasy, almost even scared at the darkness… Almost like when you had seen your first horror or thriller movie and you had to force yourself to say ‘Candyman’ three times into the mirror. In your head you knew you would be okay, but for some reason everything in your body told you not to!!!

Corban Samuels is going a different direction with this album. Those familiar with his work will still recognise his Indie style which brings in new sounds and textures that you weren’t expecting to hear in an electronic genre.
Resonate is certainly a ‘happier’ album than what Death to Birth gave us, but be warned this doesn’t mean that it’s going to be comfortable.
Corban Samuels becomes an old gypsy storyteller as he weaves you into the story that he begins to slowly unwind using only music. There are clashes in chords and odd piano tinges and motifs that run through the album that often make you wince and move uncomfortably in your seat. You don’t need to wait long for the uneasiness of the album to land. In the first track you are welcomed with a bright sunrise pad that is warm and beckoning, followed by some chords that float harmoniously underneath before the quirkiness of a busy piano that is a bit off the flow of the rest of the track. It was almost like a bumblebee frantically trying to collect pollen over the sound of the sun rising over a flower bed or someone viewing the awakening farm and the busy-ness start to happen as people get about the day… all the while the sun and nature do their job and slowly come to life.
It’s natural once you translate it into a cinematic world, but without such a picture you are left wondering.
Corban Samuels forces you to translate music into pictures, and in a way you kind of have to to make it all make sense.

So what do you call this style of music?
It’s been likened to Trip-hop but it doesn’t really fit neatly into that genre as it’s too clean to sit besides the likes of Portishead, Bjork, Tricky and DJ shadow… It’s either not enough ‘trip’ or not enough ‘hop’.
I would call it Cinematic trip-pop.
I think the market here would be to create Cinematic soundscapes with everyday things happening as the music tells the story of what is happening… the narrator is the music.
It’s a nice change of pace for Corban Samuels and it was great to be able to hear music I felt I could listen to in the dark or with people around without fear of being stabbed by my own dread.
I would like to see a bit more of a departure from the moody and cinematic and really just let the music be there to create an environment for people to relax to and just nod their heads to the beat of some chilled out tunes. I wonder if Corban Samuels knows how to relax and have fun, or does he need more of Sam Reed in his head?
There are glimpses of what could be a start of this with ‘Bells at Midnight’ (featuring soulUnite) – a nicely laid beat with a hip hop sensitive bell tone over top. There just needs to be a bit more of a chance for the listener to relax and let the music resonate rather than have the music prod them for attention.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to see where Corban Samuels will take us to next…
I guess that will be the next chapter of the Corban Samuels story, stay tuned!

Album Review: Ashlinn Gray ‘Self Titled E.P.’

Singer Songwriter Ashlinn Gray

Singer Songwriter Ashlinn Gray

By far the best part of my job as a reviewer isn’t hearing new music from big artists, although it’s fun to hear the progression of an artist. The best part of being a reviewer is hearing an artist that is new and has the potential to do amazing things. With this in mind I found myself excited to be listening to South African Born singer Ashlinn Gray for the first time with her first single ‘Battleships.’ Not only is it a catchy tune but it’s a slightly new take on the whole female singer songwriter patter that we hear and expect on the radio.

Battleships has a great little story attached to it as it’s not only the first single that Ashlinn has released (that will certainly help propeller her career) but it was the first song that she had ever written. How great is that?
Even at the tender age of 17 Ashlinn is showing a depth of sophistication that is well beyond her years. It would be easy for someone of her age and experience to bring out just a simple ballad laden E.P. with just a simple acoustic guitar and her well rounded vocals and be happy with it, but Ashlinn has proven she is beyond settling for mediocrity. She surrounds herself with a great band and has developed a sound that sits perfectly within an uptempo pop folk sound and power ballad.

Ashlinn has a voice that is both raw and powerful and yet shows such tenderness in emotion and a connection that again is beyond her years. We live on a planet where a majority of 17 year old kids are happy to sit at home in front of a screen of some sort and the only connection being made is via tweets and social media posts. Ashlinn is working hard balancing her school work and growing a career. Ashlinn, despite the life balance, is still able to connect on a deeper level. Songs like ‘Risking it All’ and ‘Closer Now’ show both the power and the tenderness possessed by someone so young and it’s intriguing.

I love how the E.P. ends with the track ‘Sugar Coated Lemons’ a great pop laced single that has a positive outlook to when life doesn’t go as expected. And while this fun little ditty could be seen as just another nice little pop song it shows the drive and the sense of motivation that Ashlinn has towards her fellow man. Ashlinn wants to connect, she wants to inspire, and she wants to motivate.

It seems that Ashlinn is already thinking bigger than herself already, and the wonderful thing is that if she’s creating this level of quality and depth of song writing now just imagine what she could accomplish. Imagine if Ashlinn inspired others like her to do the same. This world could be a much better place. Thank Goodness for that!

Album Review: Shannelee Ray ‘Life Boat E.P.’

Shannelle Ray 'Life Boat E.P.'

Shanelle Ray ‘Life Boat E.P.’

New Zealand has a rich history of cultivating young female singer/songwriters that are of international quality. Most recently you’ll likely recall Lorde and Kimbra who have become pop icons in their own right. However the stream runs much deeper than this with artists including Bic Runga, Anika Moa, Ginny Blackmore and  Brooke Fraser. All of these have added to the accumulated music knowledge and depth of the musical pool in this small country, and that’s what makes it such a strong musical nation.

Like Bic Runga (another Cantabrian) who released her ‘Love Soup E.P.‘ all the way back in 1995, Shannelee Ray has begun her musical career with a strong batch of songs in the form of an E.P.

The ‘Lifeboat E.P.‘ starts off with the familiar sound of an acoustic guitar strum before Shannelee’s vocals come in and build nicely to a chorus that is so catchy it’s hard to let it go… how kiwi is this?
Straight away you can’t help but make comparisons to the other great sing songwriters that have gone before her, however the great thing is that Shannelee MORE than lives up to any comparisons. The reality is that especially the Life Boat single, while a little lyrically naive, is radio quality.

Blue Skies, the second song on the E.P. follows the same recipe of fun lyrics and catchy melodies and could fit snugly on an album from an artist such as Colbie Caillat through to Ginny Blackmore.

At this point I think of how great the songwriting abilities are from Shannelee. There are surely worse songs from more well known artists that are getting radio play. It’s almost a travesty that when a particular style becomes popular that everyone pushes that direction and great songs are left in a file destined for ‘maybe when the style comes back’, but I’m all for hearing good songs regardless of trends and hearing albums like the Life Boats E.P. is surely good for your heart?

Shannelee shows her musical muscles by giving us songs that are fun and clever like ‘Starting a War‘and the lighthearted take on heartbreak ‘Pretty Dresses’, as well as giving us a sense of her musical depth with the simple and elegant ‘Take’ which is breathtakingly haunting and similar in style to the late Eva Cassidy.

As a music reviewer and social commentator I can’t help but reflect on what I’ve just heard with nothing but admiration. This is a superb E.P. from a local artist who is not just bringing out good quality sounds but music that is all ready to be packaged for radio play. Some artists are destined for the continued life of a struggling solo artist playing small gigs and a majority of people will never hear them. However in the case of Shannelee Ray I think there is enough to build on and develop.

Is it the perfect bunch of pop songs? Of course not. This is just a start of a very exciting journey, however it’s still better that some of the tripe that we have to sit through on the radio as we are stuck in the continued monotony of the drive to and from work.

These could be exciting times for Shannelee… but in the music scene, it’s all about getting the right breaks in the right time!
Fingers crossed!

If you would like to hear the ‘Life Boat E.P.’ from Shannelee Ray Click here!