The Starving Artist: What’s in a name?

Tim-Salem

Published Nov. 5, 2009

Hello, fellow Sarasotans. It is my pleasure to introduce you to my new blog, which I have oh-so-fittingly dubbed “The Starving Artist.” My goal for these posts is to give you an insider’s view into the trials and tribulations of a musician trying to start a music career on the Suncoast. I plan to provide you with some valuable tips on how best to market your music and get shows booked, and also what it’s like to play at our local establishments from an artist’s perspective. I’ll let you know who draws the best crowds and how receptive they are to the music, what venues have the best sound, what it’s like dealing with the booking agents and what you can expect to earn for a night’s work. I hope I can entertain and enlighten you on what it really means to be a starving artist on the Suncoast.

First thing’s first. Any musician that wants to break into any music scene has to start by getting their name out there. And before you can do that you have to have a name. I will be writing this blog from a solo artist’s viewpoint, but most of the information should translate to full bands as well. A stage name or band name can be the most important decision a musician will ever make. Once you put all the legwork into marketing your name — website, MySpace page, press kit, promotional materials and, most importantly, public name recognition — you’re pretty much stuck with it. Unless you’re Jack White and you can come out with a new band every few months, you will probably be tied to that name for the entirety of your musical career.

For all those musicians who are hesitant to adopt a stage name, it may comfort you to know that the majority of the famous artists you have come to know and love are not actually going by the name their momma gave ’em. Believe it or not, Bono is not his real name. It’s actually Paul David Hewson. But that doesn’t quite have the same rock star connotation to it. Your name is just as much a part of your image as your tattoos and black leather pants are. And one thing you will discover in the music industry is that image is very important. The name that someone reads on a flier or a sign when they walk past the front of a bar can be the difference between having that person in your audience or not. And once you choose a stage name you better love people calling you by it, because for all the folks who don’t know you personally, it’s your real name.

This is something that became painfully obvious when I originally decided to go by Timmy John. I played a few shows under that name and I had people coming up afterward calling me “Timmy.” I had never gone by Timmy and it just didn’t feel right. And nothing will make you change your name faster than hearing audience members shouting “Timmaaaayyyy” in the key of South Park while you’re trying to play a song. Needless to say, Timmy John didn’t last long. As my good friend Rich said, “You’re just not a Timmy. You’re a Tim.” And I couldn’t agree more. Your name has to be who you are.

After a bit of indecision I settled on Tim Salem. Salem Street in Lafayette, Ind., is the street I was born and raised on, so that word is just as personal to me as my real last name. You have to ask yourself what images your name will evoke when people hear it. I asked one friend who said Tim Salem made him think of cigarettes and another who said it brought witches to mind. Now, both cigarettes and witches are pretty rock-star-oriented things, so I’m cool with that. It’s much better than the images that come to mind when hearing a mispronounced version of Sukits. Trust me: It’s been a lifelong lesson.

Once you’ve firmly decided on a stage name and all your friends have given it their approval, the next step is to put together a press kit. In my next addition to “The Starving Artist” I’ll explain what it takes to put together a good press kit and show you some resources you can use to make it a gig-booking machine. I’ll also talk about some different aspects of the Suncoast music scene and what venues you may want to target depending on what type of show your looking to land. I hope you’ll join me for the next leg of the tour so we can all take this musical journey together.

 

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