.I’m With the Brand: Music, marketing, and making it

Indie music is about the freedom to make music in one’s own way, and create the image one chooses for oneself.

To make it at this level, truly independent, takes a whole lot of hustle and a real sense of self. Two independent artists I talked to use very different approaches toward similar goals.

What’s It Like?

Nick Petty is a songwriter and guitarist of the North Bay punk outfit The Happys.

I asked him what it looks like, in reality, for a songwriter to follow their passion.

“For years, it was just hard for me,” Petty said, “because I’d be doing these like 14-hour union shifts and then, you know, a show till like 1 am that night and have to get up at 6 am to get to the [job site].”

Giotis: Playing what, 100 gigs a year?

Petty: “Like 110 to 120 shows a year.”

When I mentioned to my son that I am interviewing The Happys, he said, “Oh, I know them. There was a sign on an overpass.” Indeed, The Happys’ signature cardboard sign advertising perfectly captures both the ethos and the power of the indie way. Self-promotion, no rules, easy, cheap, memorable.

“I’m just trying to be conscientious and basically, as the saying goes, like, not to be a dick,” quipped Petty. “I’m repurposing something. The cardboard was already there.” The ethos in a simple image.

Another indie artist of a very different stripe is synth producer and singer Nic at Night, whose 2023 EP Mirrors is a wonderfully sultry ride. She’s a Bay Area transplant with feet in multiple worlds, mixing the southern culture of her Virginia upbringing with the influence of her Chinese family and the daily realities of a real-world job in tech. But this female won’t be constrained by someone else’s ideas.

“The trajectory [of] what I do day-to-day does not fill me with any good feelings,” she laughed. “It makes me think a little bit of like drinking the Kool-Aid, or drinking the free beverages that the company …”

“The kombucha,” I suggest.

“Yeah, the La Croix,” she added.

“Nice. Topo Chico now,” I said.

“Yeah, very true,” said she, in her southern vocal fry.

How does a woman in tech find herself moonlighting as a bedroom-eyed electro-diva?

“People have asked me, like, ‘Would you ever want to be famous?’ I feel like it’s not about that for me,” she said. “My goal is to have some sort of cultural impact or like to shape the cultural landscape, even, just in my own small way. My current day job does not have room for that. Like it’s not granting me that, and that makes me deeply unsatisfied.”

Giotis: And so you are driven to take charge through your music career?

Night: “It feels kind of as if I don’t have another choice, right? Because if I want to propagate my vision or like my vision to have some impact, connect with others emotionally, it doesn’t feel like I have any other alternatives.”

What Makes a Star?

Trey Hicks is the founder and president of Painting Pictures, a national PR firm that handles several local events, including the upcoming Mill Valley Music Festival.

“You really have to be true to yourself. Authenticity, and having a vision of where you want to go and what you want to build with [your career],” said Hicks. “That’s probably the hardest question that these artists get asked, ‘Who do you want to be?’ You know, ‘Who do you want to play for?’”

Defining an image, adopting an ethos, or communicating authentically with one’s audience helps to create a narrative about “who you want to be as an artist.”

No doubt that labels are part of the monetization solution. There is after all a whole indie music industry that includes indie labels.

“Labels are ultimately looking to leverage your audience for their own, to build their base,” said Hicks. Being able to show an engaged following helps an artist make their case for a partnership. Unlike the major labels, where access to resources can seem remote, indie labels are built on partnerships where artists, producers, and executives all contribute to the common goal of passionate music.

The Power of Image

I asked Nic at Night about social media and the impact of comparing one’s body and beauty to others on Instagram and the like.

“I craft my persona around the person that I am,” said Nic at Night, “the one thing that I can be the best at. Allowing people to take whatever they need to from my lyrics is something I’m more interested in, rather than sexually explicit [lyrics]. Some things are better left unsaid and left murky, I think.”

“When you look at social media,” said Hicks, “you have to separate the entertainer a bit from your personal life and separate the business side from the professional act. The personal/professional [separation] makes it a little bit easier from a mental standpoint.”

When talking about how punk influenced his image and approach to work, Petty said of his childhood, “I didn’t fit in because I had like bad ADHD, always getting in trouble. So I just related a little bit more to the outcast side of things because that was just kind of how life presented itself to me.”

Discovering ’90s punk bands Pennywise and Rancid in those formative years helped cement his punk identity.

Petty understands how to let his passion lead him. He recalls being awed by his father’s work as a firefighter.

“The best side of him, the side that he lived for, was chasing fires. A lot of people don’t like their job, but he genuinely liked that,” Petty reminisced. “He loved to chase. He said it was like the funnest thing for him. Like how I love being on stage. I hate the feeling right before, but I looove once I’m in the groove of it.”

Follow The Happys on Spotify and YouTube. Follow Nic at Night on TikTok, Twitter and IG: @niicatniight. New music is coming from both soon.


  1. Read Dick Bright’s “Working For A Living”, Makin’ it in the Music Business

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