Hi, Doctor Nick! - The Trouble with Aliases and How to Dig Yourself Out of a Music-Making Rut

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There are plenty of guys who like to playfully refer to themselves as "Renaissance Men," but it's hard to imagine someone whose qualifications for the title stack up to those of Nick Hook. (For the record, Nick would NEVER refer to himself as a "Renaissance Man.") Seriously, the guy travels the world, makes tunes, collaborates with artists from across the musical spectrum, and flat-out lives life. That's why we started calling him Doctor Nick and asked him to start sharing his knowledge with the world via a weekly advice column here on XLR8R. He may not be a real doctor, but he's more than capable of helping people, which is why folks should feel free to send him questions at doctornick@xlr8r.com. This week, Doctor Nick tackles the wisdom of musical aliases and advises a young producer about how to deal with a tough case of writer's block.

Hi Doctor Nick,
What are your thoughts on having many aliases? I thought this might be a solution for me since the music I make ranges from abstract, indie-electronica space-outs to 4x4 funky electro. On the one hand, I think people listening to my stuff might be way too confused, and on the other, I am reading some hipster bloggers labeling artists who go through such wild stylistic swings as "tryhards." For me, the issue is that I get excited about a lot of things I come across and they influence me personally and artistically. I know "thou shalt develop thy sound," but maybe I'm not interested in having a sound after all. Maybe I'll have several sounds.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Jack-of-all-genres

As far as I'm concerned, the allure of having aliases is that it's fun. The internet is making it harder and harder, but it's fun to not know exactly who is making a track and then to find out. I really miss that in music. I love the Daphni-Caribou connection and I was stoked when I found out Les Sins was Toro Y Moi. When Prefuse 73 had five billion names, I would try to find all of them. So I say go for it. Maybe you have 10 names and if one takes off, roll with that.

For me though, I tend not to worry about this stuff. The greatest strength an artist can have is to actually be known for being diverse and doing whatever the fuck they want. My three greatest influences as far as building a career are Mike Patton, Brian Eno, and David Bryne. They've shown year after year that they can do their own projects however they want. They can go into a giant project with Coldplay or U2, and then go into the strangest collaboration with dudes in Africa or something, plus everything in between. I respect them for being bold enough to not have many aliases.

When I made my record, which was my first under my own name, it was all over the place stylistically, but I felt like doing that first would leave me with an open palette for the future. I can side with you about not having a sound—it's 2012, and we all grew up on so much stuff that really inspires us, so why should we be forced by some dudes that write for a blog to pick a genre?

Hi Doctor Nick,
I've been producing music for about two years now, DJing for about three. When I first started the whole producing thing, I was so headstrong and arrogant about it that I wound up on a few blogs after my first few dick-around remixes within my first month of making my own tunes. It was awesome, I was able to make whatever, whenever, without "the game" or "bandwagoning" effecting my level of output. Fast forward to now, I'm stuck. I know what I want to represent as far as a sound , but it's been eight months since i've actually finished something. Listening back to all my crap tunes from two years back, I realized I was good at trying to sound like whatever was buzzing at the time, with my own twist. I don't want that anymore. I want to be able to make what feels right with all that I've learned. What do I do? I'm not ready to give up on myself.

Well, at least you realized that you had a big head about it. It's just music, it's not rocket science. There's no reason to feel special just because you were on a blog. I wanna be in National Geographic, then I'll feel cool.

Do even you even know what you really like? Maybe you need to take some time and just absorb everything: museums, record stores, books, girls, travel. What makes you feel? With today's climate, it's so easy to hop on a wave and ride it, but then the next wave comes in so fast that you are either forced to jump on that one, or feel empty like you do.

For me, my ideals are to make music that I hope I can always stick by forever. I can't say I go back and listen to past stuff I've done very often, but I still feel like I've stuck to that. I can also say it's made me grow WAY slower than most artists, but as I've gotten older, I have seen a lot of people completely fall out of music, where I'm finally feeling like this is actually going to be my career forever.

When I get to the studio and go into a rut, here are the things I do: clean my studio and listen to music, practice my instruments along to songs, and fuck with my synthesizers to try and expand my sound palette. Sometimes one sound will trigger a whole idea, and if I'm not even trying to write, there's a different level of patience that comes with experimenting.

What is actually missing from your songs? Is it lack of x, y, or z in the actual music? Sonics? Your work ethic? Your patience? Something else? If you can zero in on that, maybe you can fix it.

Anyways, at the end of the day, have fun with this. That's why we started in the first place, right?

Hi, Doctor Nick! appears every Thursday on XLR8R. Do you have a question for Doctor Nick? Please submit your inquires to doctornick@xlr8r.com. Nick Hook can help you.