Are you hesitant to use your real legal name when distributing music? Before you add a fake name onto the songwriting or producer credit, read this article. It could save you some headaches later.
- Should I Use My Real Name in the Songwriting Credits?
- Is There a Way to Use a Stage Name in the Credits?
- Does My Artist Name Have to Match My Songwriting Credit?
- Should I Use My Real Name as My Music Artist Name?
- Other Articles to Consider
Should I Use My Real Name in the Songwriting Credits?
When you are uploading a song you wrote to a distribution service (like DistroKid), should you use your real name as the songwriter? Yes, absolutely yes. This is a must for two major reasons:
- It gives you defense in the case of copyright violation, and
- It ensures that any royalties from the song get credited to you properly.
Let me break these two points down a bit further.
And let me clarify that I am not a lawyer so don’t take this as gospel legal advice. I’m just telling you what I’ve learned from my own research and personal experience.
1. Additional Copyright Protection
Using your real legal name as a songwriter is not what protects your copyright directly. You automatically have copyright over a work of art as soon as you create it. But in the event that somebody steals your work, like sampling it without permission, having that automatic copyright protection does not grant you the power to claim monetary damages on it’s own.
In order to file a lawsuit for infringement against another party, you must have a copyright filed with the United States Copyright Office (USCO).
Having your legal name as the songwriter on a musical work gives you validity in court should the need ever arise that you must defend your song. It will be much harder to defend your claim in court if you listed a random pseudonym as the songwriter with your distributor. Can you even prove that alternative name belongs to you?
If you want to get paid all the royalties for your song, then the people paying out need to know who you are. ASCAP and BMI collect on performance royalties for you. This means any time your song is played in a public venue (in a mall, on the radio, at a concert, etc), these companies are the ones who collect the fee and send you a check. They won’t put your pseudonym on the check (or on the bank ACH transfer, but you know what I mean) if your bank account is under your legal name. In short: if a performing rights organization cannot verify your identity, then they probably won’t pay you.
It’s Not Worth the Risk to Fake Your Name
For both of these reasons, streaming services may actually remove your music and refuse to accept future releases from you if they cannot verify your identity. That is the response I even got back from a CDBaby representative when I asked. It’s bad business for Spotify and the like to allow fake names in songwriting credits.
Is There a Way to Use a Stage Name in the Credits?
There is a legal and correct way to list a stage name or pseudonym as the songwriter or composer in your song credits. To do so, you must register that stage name as a trademark and then register that trademarked name with the PRO (like ASCAP or BMI).
However, getting a trademark costs thousands of dollars. You have to pay a fee to the United States Patent and Trademark Office; there may also be attorney fees for conducting a name search. It’s not very practical for the average songwriter. That’s why most artists who do this are already famous, like Sting and Madonna.
Does My Artist Name Have to Match My Songwriting Credit?
No, your artist name on a song can be whatever made-up band name or pseudonym you like (as long as you aren’t violating the copyright of someone else). As long as your songwriting credit has your legal name, you can release every single song under a different artist name if you really wanted and the money will still go back to you.
Should I Use My Real Name as My Music Artist Name?
Your choice of artist name comes down to personal preference and what image you want to convey as a musician. But people may attach certain connotations to your songs based on the name you choose. A few reasons to use a pseudonym instead include:
- Unintended genre associations
Legal names, when used as an artist name, often get associated with singer-songwriter acts—people may assume you play folk, indie pop, or maybe even country. Of course, there are exceptions to this and the music landscape is changing; a few decades ago, the usual artists performing under their real names were indie songwriter acts or big-name pop stars. In the brave new world of digital music and social media, I’ve seen a huge variety of musicians in many different genres opting to use their regular name for their work.
Let’s not forget how many different languages and ethnic groups exist on this planet. Your legal name will always have a connotation linked to it because of the culture it derives from. A name like Calvin Johnson sounds more familiar to a North American market than a name like Ola Svensson or Dhvani Bhanushali. In fact, studies show that having a culturally-common name can even impact a political candidates chances of election. This all relates back to the Mere-Exposure Effect.
This means your real name could cause unintended implications about your genre, which could deter new listeners. Haseem Ahmad is a Trap producer and rapper, but if you heard his name off the bat what would your initial assumption be about his music style? Depending on your own cultural background, you may assume he produced Indian world music or something. Perhaps that is why he releases his trap music under the name DripReport. Likewise, if your legal name is Bubba Jenkins and you want to release some baroque pop songs…people may see your name and assume you play country music.
If you personally feel limited in your target market by your name, you could try using a pseudonym to remove any subconscious connotations from the minds of potential listeners.
This one should go without saying, but if your name is hard to pronounce for your target fanbase it may be easier to operate under a pseudonym. I’m not trying to offend anyone; the language that a person grows up speaking can affect how well they can pronounce other languages. That’s why Germans have trouble saying the word “squirrel” (no, I’m serious).
You may feel uncomfortable putting your real name on a songwriting credit that will become public information. But the safest course of action is to use your legal name anyway or else risk trouble in the future with the courts, the performing rights organizations, or the streaming services.
If it eases your concerns, please remember that your artist name does not have to match your songwriting credit name. And the majority of people won’t go digging into the credits of a song just to track you down.
Other Articles to Consider
Thanks for stopping in. If you found this article helpful, here are a few more you may be interested in: