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December/January 2014

by Thomas Goss

Building Blocks: Naming Your Band – Part One

by Thomas Goss

Building Blocks: Naming Your Band – Part One

A band name is like a calling card – it’’s the audience’’s first introduction to you and your music. It’’s also a way of telling yourselves who you are. Even just the simple act of being able to say, “We are in 60-Cycle Hum,”” does a lot for a band when starting out.
A truly great name has a certain zing to it that’’s spontaneous, as if it sprang to life on its own. And sometimes it did. Imagine a very noisy nightclub in London in 1965 where two musos are trying to have a conversation. “What band didjer say yer was in? Speak up!”” “I’’m in the mumble mumble…”” “The who?”” “No, I’’m in the… waitaminute…””
Well, who knows how The Who really came up with their name? But it feels right, like instinct. So do the names T. Rex, The Stooges, The Animals, Mötörhead, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Dead Stone Babies, Blondie and The Sex Pistols. That’’s what you should aim for – though remember that it’’s not worth breaking up the band if you can’’t get it right, okay? New bands, especially young ones, often go through a few name changes before they settle on a final choice. So relax and take your time about it – but not too long, because you’’ve got a gig coming up soon. I’’ve got just one commandment for anyone thinking they’’re going to make it in showbiz.
Goss’’s Rule of Audibility: Your band name must be easy to understand over the phone.
“I said the band is called Funkenblatter Dinklefrutz, you idiot! No, wait, don’’t hang up!”” The minute you have to tell people how to spell your name, or repeat it five times before they get it right, you know that you’’re dead meat. (Dead Meat – now why didn’’t we think of that name?)

To help narrow down your future discussions there are five basic types of names. Let’’s take them one by one:

SINGLE WORD – This is the most powerful. Just the one word. Megadeth, Poison, Berlin, Ultravox, Kraftwerk, Goldenhorse, Devo, Phish, Odessa, Tool. Sinate, Chicago, Yes, Genesis, Aerosmith. It’’s a butch way to name your band but it can also be a bit clunky going down – like swallowing a horse pill with food. Use caution.

‘THE SOMETHINGS’ – Once the most popular way of naming your act, coming from the old days of sideshow acts and vaudeville. “Come see The Amazing Zambinis and Their Trained Ferret Clyde!”” It’’s still a keystone of band naming. The Have. The Mint Chicks. The Guess Who. The Datsuns. The Kills. The Dickies. The Clash. The Motels. The Beatles. The Buggles. And let’’s not forget The Band. The ‘‘The’’ will get dropped sometimes (eg. from The Rolling Stones or The Offspring), so don’’t have a hissy fit when it gets left off the gig poster.

‘SOMETHING SOMETHING’ – This is becoming the most popular style of name. Usually an adjective added to a noun, like Totally Nuts or Sonic Meltdown, but you can also put two nouns together like Bat Wing or Death Puppy, Green Day, Jane’s Addiction, Iron Maiden, Motley Crüe, Moby Grape, Velvet Revolver, MissGuided Youth, Spinal Tap. And from the stone age, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. The favourite standard for metal bands, from Black Sabbath to 8-Foot Sativa.

An important variation on this theme is ‘Something of Something’ – like Lamb of God, Children of Bodom or even Disciples of Ed. Sometimes you’ll see the word ‘’Band’’ stuck on the end, like The Silver Bullet Band, but that’’s kind of old-fashioned.

WEIRD PHRASE – This type of name is really hard to pull off, but when it’’s right, it’’s often the easiest to remember, like Blam Blam Blam or Die Die Die! (Now those two would make a great double bill.) This style also includes rhyming phrases like Scritti Politti or Oingo Boingo, or clichés like Three Day’s Grace or New Found Glory. You can take a catch phrase and add ‘’The’’ to it, like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Sometimes a band will even use a complete sentence, like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, or Gene Loves Jezebel. But where are they now?

YOUR NAME (PLUS) – This option gets used usually when the leader of the band is the main attraction. But who wants to be a sideman? It’’s very hard to convince your friends to join a band called Glen Fibble or Susie Sackowitz. Why? Because it’’s not an honour to play with you yet. Maybe it will be someday when your very name promises that the band will contain the best musicians in the scene, like David Bowie, Peter Gabriel or Frank Zappa.

Some of the greats will respect their mates on stage by adding ‘’Band’’ to the end, like Dave Matthews Band. Another way to deal with this is to have your name followed by a band name, like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Buddy Holly & The Crickets, or even The Jimi Hendrix Experience. But you ain’’t Jimi yet, man.

There are plenty of other ways to name a band: after a classic song (like South of Sanity or Cross-Eyed Mary), or a made-up character (like Veruca Salt or Dr. Obvious), or even with the names of two famous people stuck together (like Elvis Costello or Marilyn Manson). Sometimes bands get named after the oddest things, like Level 42, or my old covers band Unit 31 (originally named Unit 3 but then we added a member and somebody’s sister added a 1 to the poster).

Even real stretches can work, like A Band Called Dave. But the five basic types still hold, and once you think about them, you’’ll start recognising them in all the band names you see.

Next issue’’s column will have some suggestions on how to brainstorm up a new name with your bandmates – you still might be looking for a new name by then. Why? Because this is rock and roll!

Thomas Goss is a producer, band coach, and composer/orchestrator with an international clientele that includes Che Fu, The Idea of North, and Canadian jazz superstar Nikki Yanofsky. He is Education Composer-In-Residence for Vector Wellington Orchestra.