Ironically, most of us pick our DJ name on a lark before thinking anything will ever come of it, and then after are stuck with largely accidental results. Whether you are picking your DJ identity for the first time, or re-branding an older moniker, this article aims to help you make an important decision easier. In usual DJ TechTools style, we get into the science of DJ names, branding, and provide facts; not just fluffy suggestions.
REAL NAME VS. NOM DE PLUME
Why should you pick a fake DJ stage name or moniker in the first place, why not a real name? It’s an interesting balance – a “fake” DJ name allows you to craft an identity around the actual word itself. Skrillex, for example, has an edgy sense about his name – and it almost comes off as onomatopoeia of the sound of his music.
In the business world, coming up with a company name often has a similar dilemma: do you name your company something descriptive “Mike’s Racing Tires” or something more abstract and suggestive like “Racerz”? In a 2008 piece on Mashable about naming startups, Nina Beckhardt, president of The Naming Group, an agency whose employees have crafted names for Walmart, Target and Puma, notes:
“There’s a spectrum from descriptive names which speak directly to a product benefit or attribute, to empty vessel names, where it doesn’t mean anything about the product that we’re talking about.”
As DJs, it’s important to remember that you have the same choices. Three, to be precise:
- Descriptive: Suggests or describes the type of DJ you are
- Factual: Your real name
- Abstract: Non-English words and hybrids are common
Abstract offers the most potential from a branding and flexibility standpoint, which we will cover more later.
In the DJ Mag 2011 list of the top 100 most popular DJs, we see plenty of both types of DJ names. 42 of the DJs on the list use their real birth names (or a shortened version), while 58 of them use a unique name. In the top 10, only three DJs use their real names: David Guetta, Armin van Buuren, and Markus Schulz.
There is no hard science that we’ve found that tells us which style is more appealing to potential fans, so you may have to go with your gut here.
The number one thing (in terms of promotion and securing your identity) to consider when picking a name is how it will show up on a search engine. Is it unique? Can you actually own it? Will people hear it and then easily be able to Google it? As discussed in our recent article on the current state of online DJ promotion, you would ideally have control of all of the major DJ outlets with your DJ name as your username. Has anyone else taken them? Here is a good checklist to follow when considering a name:
- Is the .com domain available?
- Is the Facebook custom URL available?
- Is the Twitter handle available?
- What are the top organic search results for that name?
- Are there any other DJs listed under that name?
That last point is important. If someone else is using the same DJ name and you become successful with it, there’s a chance that they could come back and try to sue you for confusing the public. Their argument would go something like this:
Since our names are similar, my fans confused you for me – I should be rich and famous!
The most surefire way to avoid this problem is by conducting a simple Google search, and then if you are really serious, a trademark search.
Trademarking your DJ name is going the extra mile from a legal perspective. This isn’t always simple, and the process that you’ll need to follow in the US with the United States Patent and Trademark Office can be tricky. While every situation is different, and we’re not lawyers nor can we give legal advice, we found this helpful comment from Pamela Koslyn, a Hollywood Business Attorney, in an Avvo discussion on artist trademarks:
TM rights are acquired by use, and maybe your use of providing musical services pre-dated the use by others (…) Recording artists often register their performing name for those services, and the USPTO will do a search of others registered under the same or similar name, to prevent competitors from confusing consumers, which is the USPTO’s mission.
There are 2 kinds of TMs, word and stylized marks (Editor’s note: a stylized mark means that the physical appearance of the mark is what is unique about it, like a logo). Words marks are easier to get but harder to enforce against the use by others. Stylized marks are harder to get but easier to enforce. Which one you may want really depends on what rights you’ve already acquired by use in whatever type of TM you’ve been using until now.
(…) About 1/2 of all TM application are denied, and the fees are non-refundable, and you may want to TM your name for entertainment services, for CDs and DVDs, for clothing, and for online retail, each of which will cost you $325. I don’t know whether TMs are rejected because the applicants try to DIY, but it can only help your chances if you hire a lawyer.
You may have noticed that finding an easy to remember, one-word DJ name that’s not taken might be a challenge. That leads most DJs to start using longer names and multiple words – but will this hurt you?
Looking again at the DJ Mag list to see if the popular players have any trends in name length, the data tips a bit more heavily towards names with two or more words in them, with 68 of the names on the list being more than one word.
Only a few of the names on the list have fewer than three syllables – Deadmau5, Skrillex, Felguk, Arty and Axwell are quick names to say, but it doesn’t seem to offer any particular advantage over the other longer to pronounce names that make up most of the entire list.
THE SOUND OF A NAME
Is there a link between what names sound like and how well they perform? Is there a social bias against certain names? In his infamous book “Freakanomics“, economist Steven Levitt suggested that people subconsciously pick up on cues in the sound of a name and form bias for that person. Could the same be true for DJ names?
We looked into this a few years back and did find some patterns in the top 10 DJs list of 2010
- ARMIN VAN BUUREN
- DAVID GUETTA
- PAUL VAN DYK
- FERRY CORSTEN
- CARL COX
- BENNY BENASSI
With the notable exception of Benassi, not a single DJ in the top 10 has a name that ends with an “E” sound (like you hear in the word “crazy”). Instead they all end with a lower O sound that is produced from the back of the throat. Expand that search to the top 50 and only two more DJs are an exception, making up 6% of the group. While this example is hardly a solid scientific study- there may be something to the sound of DJ names as well and it’s worth further analysis.
More recently, Steven Levitte pointed out an interesting study on his Freakanomics blog that suggests people with easy to pronounce names tend to rise higher in organizations.
“Studies 1–3 demonstrate that people form more positive impressions of easy-to-pronounce names than of difficult-to-pronounce names.”
Even with all the marketing fads over the last 100 years, one method of communication seems to be consistently better than any other form of advertisement: word of mouth. When a fan loves your music and tells someone else about it, the chances of your sound going viral is very strong. Help things along by making it really easy for fans to remember your name and tell others about you.
Should you call yourself DJ So And So? Many people do – and this certainly is a solid way of identifying what you do. Unfortunately, that could very well be a bad thing.
Only one person in the top 100 has “DJ” in their official name (DJ Feel). Sure, we are all not trying to land top 100 slots but that’s a strong indicator that it is certainly not required. Branding yourself as exclusively a DJ could also be a really shortsighted move.
THE BRAND IDENTITY
I know you just care about the music, but let’s face facts: if you succeed, your DJ name will become a brand, and it will have a lot of value. Brands can be much more valuable if they are flexible and well crafted, so here are a few things to think about:
1. Name Flexibility: Don’t pigeonhole yourself!
2. Brand Fit: Does your name fit the style and vibe?
3. Visual Appeal: People are going to see your name, most likely in written form (hopefully in lights) – so how will it look as a logo? What will that convey?
- Big Tip: Try mocking up a flier with your photo and the potential name and party you would like to play. Does it fit?
The most important thing to remember here is brand flexibility. If you start off as “DJ AfroRhythm” and then three years in decide to move into becoming a techno producer, your options will be very limited. I was recently reading Richard Branson’s biography and he put it best:
“When considering names, Slipped Disc was one of the favorite suggestions… Looking back at the various uses to which we’ve since put the Virgin name, I think we made the right decision. I’m not sure that Slipped Disc Airways would have had quite the same appeal”
Brand fit is a bit more subjective, and in some ways contradicts flexibility but it’s still important. Certain names will fit in a Genre and scene, providing a better opportunity for success. Skratchcr8zy, for example is probably not the best name for minimal techno artist – or any artist for that matter. The flier trick is a good one once again.
VARIATIONS ON A THEME
Coming up with something from scratch is tough – so start with something you like or already know, and try modifying it.
Alter your own name: This is a common road for many DJs that feel great about their name, but tweak it a little for a more original look.
Alter a famous name or brand: We’ve seen a lot of this recently in the electronic music scene, using a familiar name and switching it around. Two successful examples of this are Mord Fustang and Com Truise, but there are plenty of other clever ways to call back to a name that people already have associations with. (Disclaimer: some brands and famous folk are likely to try sue the pants off of successful DJs that capitalize off of their name, so make sure that your name has a significant level of uniqueness to it to avoid legal action!)
FOCUS GROUPS: FRIEND-SOURCING A NAME
Oftentimes, our self image isn’t always consistent with the way the outside world sees us. Ideally your name would be consistent and authentic to the way your fans (and potential fans) see you and your music. Authenticity is incredibly important in a world crowded by fake companies selling over-hyped products that contain no real value. If your self image is a rockstar batboy but your real personality is a nerdy introvert then “BillySlash!” probably won’t last long.
Ask your friends what they’d call you, and think back to nicknames (only the good ones) that those close bestowed on you in earlier days. After the options are whittled down to the best choices, run them past your closest friends and ask them things like:
- How does this name make you feel?
- Does this name fit me?
- What kind of music do you think of when you hear this name?
- How would you spell my DJ name?
If any option scores high on all marks, odds are that it’s a solid candidate. Come back a few days later and see if they remember the name you told them. If it sticks, you might have a winner.
Some of the best names come from important references or very personal points of interest in totally unrelated places. For example,”The Doors” comes from “The Doors Of Perception”, a famous book by Aldous Huxley that inspired Jim Morrison (and myself!)
Don’t be afraid to get abstract. Forget all about what you expect a DJ to be called and go towards things that inspire you and contributed to who you are today. At the end of the day, there still is no one single formula for a great song, and we’re confident that the same holds true for a great DJ name.
What names of DJs do you find yourselves taking a liking to before even hearing their tracks? What names make you immediately dislike the artist? Let us know in the comments section.
Ean Golden is the founder of Dj TechTools and a worldwide Dj specializing in controllers and new performance technology.