Finding and choosing your artist name can feel like a very heavy task.
You want to pick something that fits your style while also feeling unique and true to yourself as an artist.
On top of that, you don’t want to pick something cheesy, dated, or something that has already been taken before.
Today we are going to talk about that. We’re going to go through:
- How to pick your alias (and how to avoid getting caught in an indecisive spiral)
- Whether aliases are even important
- Things you must check before choosing a name
- Some creative tools for generating artist name ideas
- Examples of artist names and why they work
Let’s start by establishing if you even need an artist alias yet.
Do I Even Need An Alias?
Some people are under the impression that the day you finish your first track you must pick an artist alias.
I would disagree.
An artist alias is something that you should think about while you explore the world of music production. When you get started making music, chances are you’ll want to explore different genres and styles and that could affect what you pick for your alias.
So if you are a new producer who is still learning how to arrange a piece of music you can come back to the name later when you have a body of work completed.
You might be asking, “but I want to put my music on Soundcloud! How can I do that without creating an alias?”
If you are dead set on uploading your music to Soundcloud, I would say just use your given name or a random name. That way you can always pivot later when you are ready to create a brand around your music.
That leads me to my next point. What is the purpose of an alias? Why do you need one at all?
Well, the truth is you really don’t need one. It is just a tool to help you brand your music.
One all-encompassing name that categorizes your music, visual aesthetic, and message.
Can that be your given name? Sure! But you will want to make sure that it helps you advance your brand and doesn’t hinder it.
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When Should I Make A Name?
So now, let’s say you are more advanced in your production style. You have a cohesive body of work, you have developed your own style, and you have advanced to the point where it is time to start developing a brand around your work.
These are a few questions you should ask before deciding on an artist alias and you decide on an idea.
1. Does it have meaning to you?
I probably haven’t played as many out of town shows or done as many interviews as your favorite artist, but I have done a few and by FAR the #1 question I get when I arrive at the venue or start an interview is, “How did you come up with your artist name?”
It’s a very common question.
If you plan on your music taking you to new cities, meeting new people, and moving up in the industry this will most likely be the #1 question you will be asked.
So it is best to have a good answer for this. It doesn’t have to be tear-jerking or have a monumental story behind it but a good story can go a long way.
It can be an excellent conversation piece when your fans tell their friends about your work.
Example: Deadmau5. His alias derived from a screen name on a forum. He literally found a dead mouse trapped in his computer.
He tried to change his name to DeadMouse in that forum but it was too long so he had to shorten it to Deadmau5.
That is a great conversation starter and gives his fans something to talk about outside of his music from the get-go.
Sure, a name generator can be helpful. But meaning always wins.
2. Has it been taken already?
This is a BIG one. Do not skip this step.
Building an artist brand is like building a company.
You wouldn’t want to start a company that shares its name with another already established company. Your alias is the foundation of your brand.
Once you get an established body of work and your fans learn what your music sounds like it will be tough to disassociate the two if you have to change your name later on.
You will want to:
- Do a Google search
- Check Apple Music
- Check Spotify
- Check Soundcloud
- Check social media
- Check and your country’s trademark database
…to see if your alias is available.
If it has been taken by another brand, this isn’t the end of the road.
For example, just because there’s a boutique cola shop with the name you’re planning to use, doesn’t mean it’s completely ruled out. However, you may fight to compete for Google search results.
First, check to see if they have the name trademarked. If not, you can trademark the name so you own it.
Trademarks can be expensive so it should be a decision you are 100% sure of before pulling the trigger.
A friend of mine recently found out that the alias he had been using for 6 years was trademarked by someone who was only using it for 4 months. In order for him to fight it, he would have had to hire an attorney and spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours to get it back.
Trademark your names if you can afford to!
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3. Is it easy to communicate?
Do you have a hard time explaining to your friends what your name means and how it is pronounced?
It might be a good idea to simplify it a little bit.
There is always an exception to this rule. Someone might reference an artist with a difficult name to pronounce, spell, or search for it on social media and point to them as a rebuttal to this question.
In essence claiming that this artist with a bizarre, hard to pronounce and spell name is killing it so why can’t I? The point here is to make it easier for your audience in every way to become a raving fan.
Sure, you can make yourself FG42$$!*&$ and be massively successful but it won’t be because of that alias, it will be in spite of it.
You want your grandma to be able to pronounce your name, if she can so can everyone else. The only time I would make an exception is if the story behind the name is so powerful and it fits your brand like a glove.
The adage that, “if you are good enough people will learn your name” does ring true. But if you don’t absolutely need to complicate it, it’s best to keep it simple.
So if you are still unsure of what direction you want to go when choosing your alias. Here are a few different naming styles you can choose from.
This one is the most obvious direction. A name literally describing what it is you do. This one works well with companies but can also be good for a musician.
Examples: Netflix, Dropbox, EDMProd
This style implies a specific attribute about yourself or your style. If you want to convey a message about your work in the name alone this is the style for you.
Examples: Delta Heavy, RL Grime, Boombox Cartel, Sub Focus
Metaphors compare unrelated subjects by referring to one thing and meaning another. The name typically has a subtle connection to what your music conveys.
Examples: Marshmello, NGHTMRE, Eliminate, Nonsens
Coming up with your own word can be a great approach. Using pieces of existing words or names to create your own is a creative way to catch someone’s attention.
This is the one I chose for my artist name – Haterade.
Other examples include: San Holo, Shadient, Taska Black, Flosstradamus, Skrillex
Your name could have a historical connection. For instance, naming yourself after an influential figure’s signature technique or after a historical figure in your industry.
This is what companies like McDonalds use – name after the initial restaurant owners.
This one is where you can get creative. You can name yourself any word made up or not. It’s important to consider a personal connection you have to the name but usually isn’t apparent at first glance.
Examples: Avicii, Rezz, Flux Pavillion
Moving Forward With Your Artist Name
After picking one of these styles you will want to really think about the name you choose thereafter.
Picking an artist alias is almost like getting a tattoo. Sure, you could get it removed but it is extremely expensive and hurts like hell.
So be sure that you believe in the name with full confidence.
One way to get around the full commitment right off the bat is to do a ghost test drive of your name for a while.
Start saving projects with that alias, create a Soundcloud, make a Gmail account. You can test drive it for a couple of weeks and see how it feels before committing to it publicly and investing money into the branding side of the project.
One very important thing to remember when you are closing in on a name is to not tell a bunch of people before making that final decision.
My mom always told me, “When you get ready to have a kid, don’t tell anyone what you are planning to name him/her.” “People love to tear down name ideas until after the kid is born.”
This is a perfect analogy to naming your artist project as well. Sure, people still might poke fun at the name from time to time. But once you commit to it people are much less likely to give you their input.
If you really need help (and I mean really need help not validation) ask a close trusted friend.
Explain your reasoning behind your thinking, what the name means to you, and ask if they get it. They don’t have to like it 100% just as long as they understand it.
Finally, your name doesn’t have to be perfect.
You don’t have to have the most intricate story behind it or sound the coolest or be the most clever. Your music is more important.
As long as you are ok with telling complete strangers what your artist alias is, and have a story behind the origin of the name you are good to go. Even using your given name and changing your last name is a great option.
There are countless examples of this in the EDM world most prominently Martin Garrix.
It’s much less about what the alias is than what it means to you and your fans. Sure, having a catchy cool name is awesome but if it doesn’t have any emotional weight behind it other than “I thought it sounded cool”, it won’t stick.
Don’t rush into it, take your time. Sit with it. See how it feels. Once you feel confident about it, pull the trigger and start building around it.
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