Here in Nashville, we are in the midst of the Country Music Association's CMA Music Festival, where fans flock into our city to meet and hear their favorite artists. Our city is inundated with music branding. While some artists use their actual names, in the world of arts and entertainment, it is very common for an artist to adopt a stage name or to otherwise be known professionally as something other than his or her given name. The journey toward becoming "Professionally Known As", already a complex path, is made even more complicated by the realities of today's digital world. As I've traveled this road with several of my musical artists lately, I've seen several similarities in the process across the board.
In the music industry, the first consideration is music, but the very next consideration is image and branding. When considering a name, everyone on the artist's team works together to identify a name that is strong for purposes of marketing the artist. We ask ourselves a list of questions:
Does the name create the image and branding that we want for this artist?
Is the name consistent with the artist's sound?
Is it a name that can stand the test of time so that the artist can tour with that mark in his or her more senior years?
Will people want to wear that name on their t-shirt?
Can a graphic designer create a logo with the name that will grab fans' attention and reflect who the artist is?
Could consumers be confused by the spelling of the name?
Will we lose fans/followers by making a name change?
When is the best time to make the name change?
Will the name be easily searchable online?
Will corporate sponsors want to co-brand with that name?
Will the name help create ancillary marketing opportunities outside the music industry?
If the artist plans to cross genres, will the name allow for that transition?
The most famous artist rebranding was Prince Roger Nelson. Prince went by more than a dozen names over the course of his career, including simply "The Artist" and his infamous Love Symbol. For more on Prince's trademark journey, check out our prior blog post. Princeâalways unique and unmatchableâseemed to be rebranding because he felt his moniker had too much recognition (or the wrong kind of power) and wanted his music to be elevated above his name. For most others, finding a name that will allow you to stand out in a crowd and gain more recognition drives branding.
Even if we can answer all of our branding questions to our satisfaction, we may still face several hurdles. For example, the name is only as strong as its marketability in social media. If the artist cannot acquire the domain name and all social media handles, then marketing can be very difficult. I always recommend that an artist acquire domains and handles the first time they search for them, and also acquire all misspellings and derivatives so that they can redirect fans to easily find the artist. This is equally applicable to anyone choosing a new trademark.
Of course, even if all of the above considerations are satisfied, the most significant legal hurdle can be trademark registration. I advise my clients to contact me as soon as they think they have found a name that they like so that we can do a trademark clearance search for the key services and products you will want to sell. This search is a valuable tool to identify major barriers early in the process and save the artist from having to later rebrand and lose momentum or fans. When we hit a barrier, it's back to the drawing board to find a new name, which is why it is better to do the search early in the process. As an added layer of complication, even if the trademark appears to be available in the United States, it may not be available internationally. Since most artists plan international careers (and since all businesses are becoming increasingly global), it is therefore critical to consider availability of the trademark in key countries as well â touring countries as well as any other countries where you anticipate you will have fans/customers, distributors, or manufacturers for your merchandise.
The journey to becoming "Professionally Known As" is not an easy one, but if it is handled correctly, it can create a powerful and valuable brand for a successful artist.
By: Guest Blogger and Entertainment Lawyer Extraordinaire Stephanie Taylor