The Art of Stage Names

Living in music city, one gets accustomed to hearing about upcoming concerts of all kinds. There are the huge shows that come through town, of course, but more often than not in Facebook land and on the Nashville for Free site, they are local and independent artists, which is a great thing. I’m equally inclined (if not more so) to go see a small artist than a national act. That is, if I can figure out what kind of music it is. Since I’ve been turning an eye toward Hilltops and Coffeeshops stuff again lately, I’ve been thinking about all the benefits of utilizing a stage name for that project and wondering why more people don’t do such a thing.

A lot of people just go by their names. I mean, it’s usually unique enough, but is it really? At the same time, it’s something I didn’t really question until I first came across Dashboard Confessional, the then solo project of Chris Carrabba from Further Seems Forever. But the more I think about it, the more reasons I see for artists to go a little further and come up with a stage name. And really, I see no downside other than not getting personal name recognition.

  • The stage name lets the artist portray to the listener what they’re getting into before they hear a note. This can be both enticing if the vibe is in the vein of things they like and polite if it lets them know they would not at all be interested in the artist’s style. One could easily argue that the solo artist name “usually” denotes singer/songwriter, and much of the time it does. But before I go to a show or check out a profile, I’d like to know if I’m signing up for Bob Dylan or Elton John or Taylor Swift or Louis Armstrong. In the cases of those artists, you only know what to expect because of their already-garnered fame. In the case of a local guy, I have no idea.
  • Without sounding too much into marketing, it is a good way to build a brand for your music. Truthfully, I don’t know very much about marketing or branding or anything of the sort, but given the incredible thought companies put into naming their products to elicit the right “feel” and associations, it only makes sense to me that an artist would want to do the same with a collection of music they produce. Yes, this is true at the album level, but also at the artist name level, I believe, maybe even especially if one has a common-sounding or hard-to-pronounce name.
  • It is easier to include others in the project without confusion. Many times I don’t know whether to expect to hear a full band or a singular person if I pull up a solo artist. I’m always more receptive to multiple instrumentation if a stage name is used, even if it was one guy doing all the recording himself. Either way, it makes it seem like more of a team effort when playing live. Also, although I know the vast majority of solo artists are not egotistical, it comes across very differently if an entire band is named after one person. So why not take the chance to show your listeners you’re a humble and creative participant not bent on name recognition?
  • Similar to the first point, it could allow the musician to shift styles without irking existing fans. If I were an artist going by my own name playing folk music but I suddenly discovered the lure of jazz and completely changed genres, how confusing would that be to followers? I know most musicians like to experiment and hope to grow in their musicianship over their lifetimes, and sometimes that leads to drastically different places. Utilizing a stage name allows fans to make a clean mental break and realize that, “Oh yeah – Schnazzy Moon is the jazz project from the guy who played in Wheatgrass. I like that side of him.” Plus if you ever change your mind and want to return to a former style, it would be easier to pick it up again.
  • Lastly, it is a chance to be creative, and a relatively easy one at that. For a musician, a lot of creativity must take the form of somewhat long, drawn-out pieces (several minutes of music, multiple stanzas of lyrics, a dozen songs on an album). So it seems to me a good opportunity to come up with something that portrays as much as possible in a few words or less. It’s not necessarily easy to land on a good one, but it is a nice exercise in inspirational brevity.

So those are just some thoughts I’ve had about artistry and how I don’t understand why more “solo” artists don’t take the chance to define themselves with a moniker. Maybe it could invoke some consideration and we’ll see more enticing show flyers around the city instead of [firstname lastname] with [other name] and [other name]! Obviously people have succeeded using their given names, and they will continue to do so, but I would much rather see the opportunity for creativity taken. Peace.

1 thought on “The Art of Stage Names

  1. Pingback: Throwback Thursday – “Sometimes” by City and Colour | Ty DeLong

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