Friday, April 15, 2011

Dirk's Three Laws (and One Strong Suggestion) of Band Naming

Working in the music business you see tons of bands for whom the task of coming up with the first thing people will hear about them - the name - has apparently been given less thought than their hairstyles or the music. To assist those who aren't gifted in the dark arts of band naming, I've assembled the following list of guidelines that you ignore at your peril. (And yes, there are more than three if you want to be picky.)

Rule #1 - The name should be memorable. This should be self-explanatory, but too many bands don't seem to understand that if no one remembers your band's name, no one will remember the band. Pink Floyd, Van Halen, even The Arcade Fire have names that can be remembered; Above All, Malajube, Menomena, and Shad (all actual bands at SXSW 2011) don't. Punny names like Jehovah Waitresses or The Victorious Secrets help. (I've used Atomic Guam and Iron Oreo as Rock Band and Guitar Hero names.)

Rule #2 - The name should indicate what sort of music you play.
Iron Maiden implies one thing; Air Supply implies another. What does Sweet Jane sound like; a Velvet Underground tribute act? Atari Teenage Riot sounds like their name. Does your name sound like your band?

Rule #3 - It should be easy enough to spell so juvenile delinquents can grafitti it everywhere. I was considering naming my band The Bourgeoisie until I realized I had to think hard about how to spell it. Did I want "Teh Borzwahzee Rulez!" spray-painted on overpasses and alley walls? That's why I went with Red September.

The One Strong Suggestion - Try out the name in the sentence, "Hi, we're [band name]." Does it sound stupid or offensive or like something your mother would blush at or would it make J.D. Considine's work of writing a snarky one-sentence review twisting it for maximum damage easy? Then go back to the start and come up with something not terrible. There was once a band called Lame. Try that out in the sentence. Can J.D. reply, "Yes, you are."? Then it's a terrible name. Start over. Seriously.

For a time, these Laws did the job, but over time I recognized other factors to be dealt with, thus leading to the first extension to the Laws:

Rule #3.5 - The name should not have to be seen for the joke to be understood. I once saw a band called Raindance several times before learning it was spelled R-E-I-G-N-dance. Get it? Neither did I. Homophones are trouble and not because they sound like listening devices for gay people. If your name sounds like Laughing Carrots, do not spell it Laffing Carats.

Because too many bands ignore the One Strong Suggestion, I've had to add:

Rule #3.6 - If the name includes one of the "7 Dirty Words" than you don't want to be famous. No one is going to sign and promote or cover bands called Sh*t and Shine, Sh*t Horse, or Sh*t Robot. (More real SXSW bands.) There's a band around town called Sh*tf*cker and while they're commended for being able to gig without detectable brain activity, their name alone precludes interest from anyone who doesn't giggle at the word "poop" every time.

Rule #4 - Logos must be clear enough that the band name can be discerned in 1.7 seconds or less. This stems from seeing an ad for a death metal festival where about 30 bands were playing, but I could only tell the names of 80% of the acts. The rest had logos that tried so hard to look like lightning bolts, spiderwebs, Klingon bat'leths and whatnot, they were illegible. Hippie jam bands are also frequent offenders as they have psychedelic melted balloon typography. Hey, Trustafarians, the reason the Fillmore posters could get away with it was because the people back then were on acid and to them the words looked like they were in Helvetica.

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