If you?re one of the many college students who has been playing in a rock band, has just formed a band, or is even considering putting a group together, this column could very well change the course of your life as a musician. I sincerely urge you to take all the time you?re planning to spend practicing, writing, arranging, playing gigs, securing studio time, scoring drugs, and meeting groupies and apply it instead to a singularly important endeavor for your group: picking a cool name for your band. Because, as I will show you, the selection of your band?s moniker not only strongly influences what style of music you will play and what kind of fans it will appeal to, but ultimately the limits of the success you can achieve. Listen up.
The first reason why choosing a solid band name is important is that it?s usually not at all difficult to tell what style of music a band plays just by a quick look at their name. Examples? I?ve got plenty. The garage rock revival seemingly requires its participants to have ?The? before their plural name: The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives, and so on. Sadly, ?The The? doesn?t exactly fall into this category, but you get the idea. If you?re listening to a group whose name contains a day of the week (Thursday, Taking Back Sunday) or sounds like something your kid sister might title her diary (The Promise Ring, Dashboard Confessional), then congratulations ? you?re listening to emo! Days of the week are so sensitive ? can months be far behind? There have to be at least 600 budding emo bands named ?December? at this very moment. Hippie bands (sorry, ?jam? bands) need only to put some food in their name (Phish, String Cheese Incident, about a million others) to fly their flag. The symbolism there is painfully obvious. Heavy metal bands, especially the overtly morbid black or death metal subgenres, are by far the most easily identifiable ? check out my colleague Albert Cohen?s work if you don?t believe me.
Falling a little outside of this paradigm is the rap game, where the goal seems to be to select the most ridiculous name possible: Puff Daddy, Ol? Dirty Bastard, Big Boi, Fat Joe, Jadakiss, and I?m not even going to get into Crunk. Strangely, this has little effect on the band?s talent or their record sales, two things that are quite uncorrelated in hip-hop circles. So, if your musical aspirations tend more towards microphone fiend than guitar wizard, no worries.
Getting back to rock, the point of this little exercise is that you?re going to have to give away a bit of your set list just by identifying yourself on your concert flyers. You can?t just name yourself ?Satan?s Temple? and come out strumming thoughtful, acoustic numbers about life, love, and your feelings. There?s definitely an unwritten pact between you and the fans, and you?re going nowhere if you don?t at least try to stick within some established band-naming guidelines. This rule, of course, doesn?t govern bands whose music is so stunningly groundbreaking that it breaks all boundaries of genre and is its own entity, but of course that?s pretty much impossible. The real key for you, the aspiring band-namer, is to strike a balance between staying conventional, being original, and ? most importantly ? sounding cool.
Look at the bands who have truly defined rock ?n? roll music over the past few decades, omitting those who have done so as solo artists (pseudonyms are boring), and you?ll see that they all have stellar names. The groups of the British Invasion: The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who. The bands who defined heavy metal: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Metallica. The grunge all-stars: Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. These are all excellent names, and I?m sure I could list a ton more. The point is, if you really want to make your mark, you simply have to have a cool name. On the flip side are bands who probably make some pretty impressive records but can?t make it anywhere. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have a seemingly endless supply of good reviews and street cred, but a name that imposing pretty much puts a 50,000-person cap on their fan base. I?m sure they?re splendid, however, I think subconsciously a crazy moniker makes me look the other way.
So, future rock stars, your choice is clear: If you want to just have some fun, make some music, and meet easy women, then you probably didn?t need to read this. But if you have visions of grandeur, heed my advice and put some serious thought into your name. It would be sad if you didn?t make it big just because you gave yourself a name you and your friends thought was funny when you were drunk (it happens). Now, if you?ll excuse me, I?m off to practice with my band, Soft Rock. We play hardcore.