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Identity & brand

Only 348 pages left on your journey to becoming a rock star!

Your band or stage name

No matter if you’re a solo artist or a band, you’ll have to think about your stage name carefully, as much will depend on it, from simple flyers over record covers to your website’s domain name. You will probably have to stick with your stage name for a long time, which means that you will now have to decide if you’ll stick with your current name, if you should slightly change it, or if you should simply forget about it and find something entirely new. Some famous artists had hilarious or irrelevant names before they really got popular, here are just a few examples:

  • Beach Boys – originally known as The Pendeltons
  • Beastie Boys – The Young Aborigines
  • Black Sabbath – The Polka Tulk Blues Band
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival – The Golliwogs
  • Green Day – Sweet Children
  • KISS – Wicked Lester
  • Lamb of God – Burn the Priest
  • Pearl Jam – Mookie Blaylock
  • Pink Floyd – Screaming Abdabs
  • Queen – Smile
  • Radiohead – On a Friday
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers – Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem

If you take a look at the greatest artists of all times, then you’ll see that most of them actually had really cool stage names.

Stage names are like company names – they have to be chosen wisely, as people will identify all of your products / records with your name. Let’s take a look at some of the greatest solo artist names of all times:

  • Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman)
  • Jimi Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix)
  • James Brown (born James Joseph Brown)
  • Elvis Presley (born Elvis Aaron Presley)
  • David Bowie (born David Robert Jones)
  • Sam Cooke (born Samuel Cook)
  • Bob Marley (born Robert Nesta Marley)
  • Margin Gaye (born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr.)
  • Bruce Springsteen (born Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen)
  • Ray Charles (born Ray Charles Robinson)
  • Aretha Franklin (born Aretha Louise Franklin)

Those are actually stage names that are quite cool.

If you want to be unique, then it will also be a good idea to have a UNIQUE STAGE NAME.

Most people have names that are quite common, so this can be a problem and it means that making changes to your name may make sense. You will notice that most solo artists keep their first name, while changing the last name is quite common. This is quite similar to the way actors change their names by the way. Using a different first name may be confusing at times, and it may also turn into a personal problem for you if you will want to identify yourself with the music you’re making. You’ll be surprised to see how many artists were born with a different family name however.

You may also just drop your last name entirely, that’s something Madonna or Prince did for example. The problem is that most first names have already been used in the past, so this may only work if your name is quite unique. Welsh singer Duffy (born Amie Ann Duffy) is using her family name as her stage name, which can also be an option. Only very few artists ever changed their stage name after they became successful – Cat Stevens named himself Yusuf Islam after his conversion to Islam in 1977, Joy Division became New Order after the death of lead singer Ian Curtis in 1980, Prince became an unpronounceable symbol (aka “’the Artist Formerly Known as Prince”, or “TAFKAP”, or “The Artist”) after a contractual dispute with his record label Warner Bros. in 1993, Puff Daddy changed his name even a few times (Diddy, P. Diddy, Puffy, Puff, …), just to name a few examples. Anyway, you should make sure that you’ll stick with your stage name before you will start the promotion of your project, and before you will release your first album.

The first thing to do is to check if your stage name is already used by some other artist.

If this is the case, then I’d recommend to change it as soon as possible and to make it unique. You may change the spelling by adding, replacing, or removing one letter, or you may simply change your entire last name. If your stage name resembles the name of an artist that has been around of a longer time already, or that even has a record deal, then changing one or two letters may be not enough – avoid legal conflicts, and look for an entirely new name then.

Use the white pages (an old phone book for example) or the internet, or try using or combining names of movie stars, of famous people of the past, or of fictional characters. Think of Brian Hugh Warner (quite a boring name by the way), who created his stage name Marilyn Manson by combining and juxtaposing the names of two American pop cultural icons, namely actress Marilyn Monroe and cult leader Charles Manson. Again, you may try replacing one or two letters to make it look more interesting.

Another option will be to use a stage name that has nothing to do with your real name at all, like Lady Gaga (real name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) or Moby (Richard Melville Hall) for example. Using one of your many surnames will be another option, which makes me think of British singer Dido (Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong). If you’re a band, then the rules are similar – try to find something unique and compelling. Here are some of the greatest bands of all time, take a look at their stage names:

  • The Beatles
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Led Zeppelin
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Who
  • The Velvet Underground
  • Pink Floyd
  • U2
  • Queen
  • The Ramones
  • The Clash
  • Nirvana
  • Metallica
  • Grateful Dead
  • The Sex Pistols
  • The Police
  • AC/DC
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers

Some of them have quite short stage names (the shortest being U2, with only 2 characters) while other stage names are quite long (The Velvet Underground*, 20 characters plus 2 spaces, or Red Hot Chili Peppers, 18 characters plus 3 spaces). It should be noted that The Velvet Underground are nowadays considered to have been one of the most influential bands of all times, but they had not been commercially successful at the time, which means that you might want to avoid names that are too long.  You may also note that many great bands used a name starting by the article “The”, and that many of them used a combination of 2 words – often an adjective (descriptive) and a noun.

Metallica even incorporated the name of their music genre right into their stage name, which is a brilliant move by the way. Sometimes people use abbreviations for bands, such the “The Stones” for The Rolling Stones for example. See if your band name allows for a cool abbreviation too. Red Hot Chili Peppers are known as RHCP, and Nine Inch Nails are often abbreviated NIN, or stylized as NIИ, which is even cooler.

Try to find something interesting, not too simplistic or too boring, but also not too complicated. Something that people may talk about, and that’s easy to remember.

Maybe something that people will have to think about, or that’s mysterious in some way. If the meaning of your band name is not so obvious, then people will have to think about it, and they may even talk about it, so that your band name will be burned into their brains and memories. Don’t forget that by making good or even great music you will be attracting an audience that will be more intelligent and a bit more educated, which means that your band name might be a bit challenging too.

Avoid using words that are so special that people don’t know what you’re talking about however. You may want to prefer words the average guy on the street knows, or that’s remembering people of something they know. Don’t forget that your audience will also include people that are not native English speakers, you don’t want to confuse them with a name they will neither understand nor keep in mind. Or just use a word in a foreign language. Why not come up with something French, a language that often sounds poetic, maybe combined with an English word? It will be easy to remember, it will sound great and people will talk about the meaning of it.

The more intelligent your audience will be, the weirder and the more mysterious and obscure your stage name can be. No matter if you’re a solo artist or a band, write down your best ideas, then select the one that looks and sounds best. Again, make sure to check the web that no other artist is using the same name, as this may get you into trouble afterwards. Avoid using company names, trademarks, product names, or other artist’s names. Calling yourself The Coca Colas or The Real Pink Floyd will almost certainly get you into trouble. You don’t want to see what happens next if you go down that road.

As said before, try to find a stage name that’s cool and that people will remember. And don’t choose something that’s too long or overly complicated. The average length of a (successful) artists’s stage name is usually somewhere between 2 and 18 characters.

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Chapter 4.3   •   Page 2 of 11

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