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February/March 2014

by Thomas Goss

Building Blocks: Naming Your Band – Part Two

by Thomas Goss

Building Blocks: Naming Your Band – Part Two

Last issue, you and your bandmates read my column about deciding on band names. You pondered using a single word to name your band, like Nirvana, or putting ‘‘The’’ in front of a noun, like The Datsuns. You wondered whether two words in a row, like Iron Maiden might be the way to go, or even a weird catchphrase like A Band Called Dave. But in spite of all that advice, half of you still haven’’t come up with a good name.

So let’’s do some brainstorming, courtesy of Marty Jourard, keyboardist of The Motels. In his book, Start Your Own Band (Hyperion Books, 1997), he mentions a simple method for choosing a good band name. You take a piece of paper. Write down a column of all the descriptive words you can think of on the left side. Let’s try that out: black, itchy, stupid, kissable, free, slick, smelly, and sweet.

Then write down a column of all the nouns you can think of on the right side. How about: dogs, fire, food, box, toys, jungle, snow, and crash? Now take one from each to see how they match up. Stupid Food? Not so good. Black Snow? A little better. Kissable Dogs? Not bad. Just don’t call yourselves Free Food, or you’ll always get the wrong audience.

It’s essential for a new band not to fight over this issue too much. When you finally come up with a few good names, try them out on friends and think about them for a while before committing to them. And don’t let yourselves get too picky – if you’’re constantly changing the name you’’re forcing people to always think of the band as being about the band members, not the music. (“Oh, that’’s Fred’’s band, what are they called now…?”)

One of my teen bands down here in Welly took forever to name themselves. Their two original choices were Simian Invasion (too weird) or Aviator (too much like Aerosmith). Then their lead singer jokingly came up with the name Cyanide in response to another teen band called the Dead Ferrets. Even so, it took a long time before the whole band could be convinced that the name wasn’’t too twee. All the fans showing up to their gigs, asking, “When is Cyanide going to play?”” probably convinced them it was the right name.

Make sure your name fits the music. Death Fist is the wrong name for a reggae outfit, and Stone Groove is not going to attract any head-bangers. But switch the two and it’s obvious what’s on the bill. A great example is Creed – music with a message, also with a metal/thrash edge. Sometimes a change of just one letter makes all the difference – Corn makes you think of hillbilly banjo pickin’, but Korn makes you think of demonic children sacrificing tourists to unearthly powers. Sometimes, though, you just have to make the music fit the name – I mean, really, the name Guns N’ Roses could just as easily have been the name of a bluegrass band, right?

Be practical and also realistic about how the name reflects the kind of audience you want, not just the style of music you’’re performing. Last issue, I mentioned my Rule of Audibility, that a band name should be easy to understand over the telephone. On top of that, though, it should be easy to read and pronounce. This is why you shouldn’t get too cute with the spelling. When passers-by can’’t understand how to say something they read on a poster, it tends not to stick in their heads.

Yes, you should be thinking about how your name looks on a poster – go ahead and be vain about this. You might even choose a name that has certain letters in it that look good with a specific style of font. Metal bands do this all the time, with lots of wicked-looking capital M’s and Germanic ö’s. But give a thought to how much space a poster can actually hold. The longer the name, the smaller the lettering will be. And of course, the reverse is also true. So a short, five-letter name can take up the same space as a band with a 20-letter name, and be four times easier to read.

The last issue is name ownership. A lot of teen bands worry about this way too much. “Is someone going to steal my precious name? How do I protect it forever?”” Yeah, like you’’re really going to want to be named The Chuggles for the rest of your lives. “What if we think of a real good one and then someone else gets the same idea for a name?”” That’’s showbiz, buddy.

Yes, you should try to have an original name. But this is a world of 7 billion people. One hell of a lot of them listen to rock music. It is very hard to come up with something that someone else hasn’’t thought of. A lot of the time, five unsigned bands from completely different parts of the world will have the same name. It really doesn’’t matter too much to a beginning band, because in most cases no one has ever heard of the other bands. And who knows if those other bands will ever play more than a few gigs before they break up or rename themselves?

My philosophy is this: use the name if it fits and feels right. If you do a thorough web search and it doesn’’t seem to be taken, then go for it.

Build a local following around the name, and then a national one if you really start to take off. If you find out that some other small band in another country or faraway town has started using the name, don’’t fret about it too much. When the man with the recording contract knocks on your door, then it’’s time to worry about who owns the name. Because believe me, registering your name internationally is the most expensive thing you will ever do with it. May the best band win.

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 star Nikki Yanofsky. He is Education Composer-In-Residence for Vector Wellington Orchestra.