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If My Music Changes, Should I Change My Artist Name?

1Many musicians tend to go through an artistic evolution over the course of their career, and there can be any number of reasons why a band or artist might seek fresh moniker at some point to during their time in the industry. That said major rebranding, as Chris Robley here explains, can be a risky proposition.

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By Chris Robley of CD Baby from the DIY Musician

5 reasons you probably SHOULDN’T change your band name.

Re-branding your music? It’s something you should consider carefully.

When companies change their names, they can spend years sometimes figuring out how to do it right, working with consultants, running every decision up and down the corporate ladder, mustering their armies of designers, developers, copywriters, and marketers.

Meanwhile, you’re an army of one. Or maybe if you have a band you’re an army of four or five.

Without a huge team (and even WITH one) re-branding is hard. Companies risk losing brand loyalty and causing customer confusion. Musicians, in a way, risk the same things. So maybe you shouldn’t change your artist name!

A letter to an artist who’s thinking of changing their band name

A friend of mine who has a respectable career asked my advice last week about changing his artist name because he was going to start making a different kind of music. Seeing as a I get asked this question all the time, I thought I’d share my response. Maybe it will help you answer the question for yourself:

Hey man,

I got your message.

So my gut response to this type of question in general, but PARTICULARLY in your case, is to KEEP your current name. You have a brand, a name, a reputation, a touring circuit, a following. You can change musically and still keep all (or most) of that.

But if you change your name, you’ll double your effort for potentially less results.

If you’re still going to be the driving force and main voice of whatever kind of music you’re shifting towards, I think:

1. It’s worth keeping all the music under your existing name, in the interest of building and managing your catalog altogether without a bunch of different streaming profiles, social profiles, email lists, etc.

2. It’s worth keeping all those fans in one place too, and not splintering the attention you get across two Facebook pages, two email lists, two Spotify profiles, etc.

3. It’s totally okay for your music to change as you change, or even to just change for one album as you try new sounds, and then come back to your more widely-known aesthetic.

If your fans know you now as one thing, and you want to do an album of intergalactic trance polka, well — they’ll either love it or hate it, but if you prepare your listeners for the change well enough in advance, they’ll be predisposed to buy into the musical departure because they’re invested in YOU and had fair warning. So as long as it’s YOUR creative decision-making, and YOUR singing, and YOUR lyrics, they might realize your intergalactic trance polka is rad and not that different from your older stuff (in a deeper way, even if the surface stuff and production is different).

4. It’s inevitable to lose some fans throughout your life. You’re going to lose them — for a hundred different reasons — whether or not you stay the same or change. So you might as well follow “the muse,” or else what’s the point? The fans who you might’ve lost because your new album is too much like all your other ones, well, maybe now they’ll stick around BECAUSE you’re changing. The ones who only like the “old stuff,” well, you’ll probably return to making more stuff like that one day, right? So you’ll have a chance to get them back on board. And for every change you undergo, it’s also an opportunity to make new fans.

5. It’s a good idea to put up posters of Bowie, Miles, Joni, Radiohead, Dylan, and Elvis Costello on your bedroom ceiling (until your partner gets sick of sleeping in a college dorm room). Yes, those are artists from a bygone era, but those artists all made lifelong careers where the throughline was evolution, the constant was change. If you’re not allowed to change today and STILL be yourself, then the world is bunk. I bet your listeners are smart, kind, and cool enough to let you be you. 

Why do artists want to change their name?

4We live in a strange age where unicorns seem to emerge from the forest; young, fresh, talented artists who somehow have both a clean slate for their careers AND music industry “buy-in,” otherwise known as buzz. It’s a miracle! Those new artists have an edge on streaming platforms, just like they did in the blogosphere a decade ago. (Standing further back in the forest you may or may not see a label services team, a trust fund, or an older brother.)

Let’s assume you’re NOT one of those unicorns.

You have a history, a catalog, a career, a following, a reputation, a brand, however modest or mighty, and a name. If your artist name feels like an asset, great, there’s no need to change it.

But if it feels like an albatross —because you’re embarrassed,  because there’s bad blood in the band, because you want a fresh start, because you’re gonna change your sound — read on!

Is that band name TRULY holding you back?

If you listen to our Authentic Artist Branding Bootcamp and answer yes, well, probably you SHOULD change your name.

But if not, maybe you want to jump ship on your old artist name because you think you’ll have a better shot at becoming one of those unicorns mentioned above. Statistically speaking, all you’ll probably get is wet, and then you’ll watch the ship you built sail into the distance.

So…

  • Don’t abandon your past in an attempt to please an algorithm. It’s an algorithm. You’re a human. You matter more than it does.
  • Don’t abandon your brand every time something doesn’t go well. Keep building.
  • Don’t abandon your name any time you get a bad review, or a bassist quits, or your dreams seem to get further away. Find the next step forward.
  • And DEFINITELY don’t abandon your fanbase just because you want to explore new creative directions.

Just. Don’t.

 

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