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Ideas and Advice for Finding an Artist Name

Coming up with the perfect artist name is an important part of the branding process when putting your music out there into the world. It's the first piece of world of mouth that will be uttered from fan-to-fan, it's what people will search for and it will form associations and connections in your listener's brain without you even knowing. Get it right. Here are some of my thoughts on this process.

1. Emotional Expectation

I don't really like using the dirty 'M' word: Marketing. But when it comes to working out a great artist name you can't avoid it. And the watchword of any good marketing is: emotional expectation.

So when thinking of a name you want to work out what emotional resonance that has. Once you have your name: sit down and write a list of emotional adjectives that names makes you feel. Is that the emotion of the music you make? If not, the name isn't right. Or worse still, if it doesn't make you feel anything then potential listeners won't feel anything too.

Or go at it the other way around, write a list of all the emotions your music is expressing and then write a list of other adjectives or nouns that you express the same emotions as your emotional adjective list.

2. Genre Expectation

When potential listeners stumble across your name they will make a split-second decision based on the artwork they see but also on the name of the band. If it sounds like a genre they listen to a lot they'll be more likely to check you out. Think, George Milton Trio, or Dark Destruction, or Billy-boy and the Delinquents. We already already sort of know the genre of the bands just from their names.

A great way to test this out is to get your musically literate friends the name, tell them it's an artist you've heard off and ask ask them what genre of music they think the band is (don't tell them it's your artist name because that will just muddy the waters in their responses). Did they get it right?

3. Quick Avoid List

There are a number of things you should avoid, simply because it makes it harder for potential listeners to pass on or for you to be found when Googling. Here the list of no-nos:

  • Silly Ways of Writing It. Removing letters so you can get a domain name: there was a big spate of this about ten years ago. It might look cool. But, it could end up with a completely unpronounceable name. Also how would Amazon Alexa deal with it?
  • Impossibly to Pronounce. Are they different ways of saying the same thing, because it's a completely made up work? A good example of this is something like Autechre. I have three different friends that pronouce it differently and we all feel dumb talking about that band, even though we all like them.
  • Odd to Say. It just simply feels dumb saying it because it doesn't sound right in your mouth. Find something that just sounds cool to say.
  • Over-long names. Something like: Godspeed You! Black Empires or And You Will Know Me By the Trail of Your Dead. The observant amongst you will have spotted both of those are wrong. You see my point.
  • Unprofessional names. Ones that just don't seem like they'd look good on a poster. A good idea to test this out is to get a list of your favourite bands in the same genre and put them together in a hypothetical festival line-up. Does your name look embarrassing? Or does it hold up?
  • Non-searchable. Something that is impossible to find on Google because it's just too generic, even if you type it into Google with the name band or music. We're gonna call ourselves The Synthesizers or Rubber Ball. You do the math.
  • Odd Characters. Remember Witchhouse? Yep, no one does. It died a death because all the titles and artist names were odd characters found in extended character-set. Completely unsearchable. Same goes for using fancy umlauts or what-have-you. Stick to the letters of the alphabet and numbers.
  • Offensive Names. It might be fun to drop an F-bomb in name but YouTube, for example, does not allow profanity in their titles. And it might sound correct for a punk band, but there might be a group of punk fans that don't like profanity, why close off that possible listership. A caveat to this, it's always a good idea to look up a name on Urban Dictionary, you might have stumbled inadvertently over an odd sexual practice with your artist name.
  • Spoonerisms. Not clig, nor beaver.

In short, you don't want to create all that extra extra effort for your fans when they're passing on your details to another music lover? Do you want your name to be easy or hard to search for? And say?

4. Find Your Own Originality

Getting something that is truly original and easy to say is the holy grail of artist names. And an original name is important. It will make you stand out. Too many times you see the same thing: put black in front of a word (Black Lips, Black Keys, Black Mountain, Black Midi, Big Black), or there was a spate of bears fifteen years ago (Grizzly Bear, Minus the Bear, Polar Bear, Panda Bear, Golden Panda). Those types of names all seem to mesh into one thing after a while. So avoid doing whatever one else is doing. Keep working at it till it sounds like nothing else.

And it goes without saying if there is another band out there. Do not use the same name. So check on Spotify, Google, Bandcamp, etc. There could be legal problems but it just creates brand confusion with your own music as you're trying to establish yourself. It will make it harder to find yourself on Google too.

And if you're in any doubt whether it's hard to find a good simple name where the URL hasn't already gone, look no further than AvoidCliche.com, we registered this name in 2020. It just takes time to find something. Don't be lazy, you'll thank yourself.

5. Have a Great Story (Even If It's Made Up)

You can bet ten-to-one that when people run across your band name they'll want to know what it means; where it came from. Us humans are an inquisitive lot; friends, family and fans will always want to know the story behind the name. Why did you call yourself that? A name is great when it has meaning behind it, both for yourself and for others. Does this story have to be true? Of course not, stories are best when they grab our attention, pique our interest. Some come up with a story before someone asks.

6. Ask Other People

The easiest way to get a really biased response from your friends and family is to ask, "I've come with this artist name, what do you think?" You'll get patted on the head, well done, and sent on your merry way with no feedback at all. The smarter way to do it is say to them, you've got a little quick quiz for them. Ask them what sort of music (not genre) they think these artists make and present them with eight, nine or ten options. Watch their faces for emotional reactions and listen to their words. They'll give you more information about your ideas than you think. And even if you don't have lots of ideas just put some made-up ones on the list. See if your idea stands out.

7. Don't Be Smart

All the good bands names have gone so you hit the thesaurus. You want a great name for your Krautrock style band so you look up the word repetition. And you come across the word: Parataxis and you look it up, to know what it means. It's a literary word for repetition, which means starting a sentence with the word 'And' ... 'And this' and 'And that' ... it's what children do. It seems to fit your music perfectly.

Don't. Just don't.

Avoid being clever. It never works. Stupid people won't get it, they won't think you're somehow smarter than you are, they'll just rescent you. And smart people will think you're pretending to be smart. Because smart people always try and communicate with simplicity, because they understand that not everyone will get it. So stick to words everyone knows. Call yourself Tiny Mouth Repeater or The Childish Repeats if you like the concept you've found. Or use that as an idea to create a name like The Ga-Go-Gas or Toddler Tantrum.

Use a dictionary and thesaurus for concept surfing only. Fancy words suck.

8. One Name to Rule Them All

If you make lots of different genres of music then the question of always arises of whether you should have multiple monikers or just one. The simple answer to this is: one!

Let me explain why. You might make music in one genre now but that doesn't account for your evolution as an artist. There are many artists over the years that move in different directions. Secondly, if you have a relatively popular song with one moniker how do you tell them about your other music. If it's the same moniker, they're more likely to discover the breadth of your musical output. Rather than just that single genre.

Of course if you're involved in multiple bands they'll have different names. But if you're putting music out as one person keep it all the same.

9. Naming Timing

This will be a controversial opinion but it's vital to get the timing right when it comes to settling on your artist name. And that point shouldn't be before you start making music, but only when you're ready to release.

If you're pre-releasing songs, on something like Soundcloud, then put it out as any old name not your finalised name. Because you get one shot to get that name out there. If you put out demos of your songs on that name, anyone who has heard music will automatically associate half finished songs with your name. First impressions last.

There is an advantage to doing this. You can take lots of time to settle on your great artist name! You can sit on it to see how it feels, if it sits right with you, and gives you a chance to change your mind. It gives you a chance to get the feeling right, so it gels with your music.

A good name should fit well, like a nice armchair, you love sitting in. It takes time to get that to chair to take the contour of your shape.

10. A Name is For Life, Not Just for Christmas

Some names sound cool at the time, fit with the zeitgeist, and completely match your genre, have the right emotional response to your music. And you've had it rattling around your head the whole three years you've been working on your first release. You've hit the jackpot! Job done.

Not so fast.

You need to stop and think about how this name is going to feel for you going forward into the future. You might be in your twenties now but how will the artist name feel in your thirties, or fourties. Or even in your sixties.

A truly fantastic artist name is something that has the traits of being utter specific and oddly generic at the same time, with an extra sprinkling of wildly originality. It's the combination of that holy trilogy.

Good luck.

And here's some fun reading, that might give you some ideas of how other artists came up with their own names.


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