Do Band Names Matter Anymore?
According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s getting harder and harder for bands to find good band names these days. Blame the digital revolution for making it easier to a) form bands, thereby diminishing the global reserve of truly unique names and b) see what other names have already been taken, thereby increasing the threat of litigation and other unpleasantness. “In the past, identically named acts often carved out livings in separate regions, oblivious or indifferent to one another,” writes John Jurgensen. “Now, it takes only moments for a musician to create an online profile and upload songs, which can potentially reach listeners around the world.”
True enough. Though anyone over 25 who’s been in a couple bands will tell you it’s never been easy to come up with a great name, Internet or not. As a musician myself, I know the aggravation and frustration of choosing a new name (note: drinking does not help you brainstorm)—and the regret of getting stuck with one you don’t much care for. But Jurgensen’s basic point is well taken: Most of the good names have already been taken and Google isn’t helping matters.
A more interesting question, though, is what bands are doing in response. As Jurgensen points out, some are resorting to half-sentence-long names to give themselves a leg up on search engines. See for example, Ireland’s And So I Watch You From Afar, Scotland’s We Were Promised Jetpacks, LA’s Everybody Was In the French Resistance…Now!, and New York’s We Are Country Mice. Of course, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead—the classic of the genre—largely predates the online explosion. But anyone’s who’s been to SXSW recently will tell you that such tongue-twisting shenanigans have only increased.
One reaction Jurgenson doesn’t touch on is the reverse response: Bands who chose utterly bland, utterly un-Googleable monikers. There’s Woods, Girls, Women, Real Estate just to name a few—all of them formed in the last couple years. If the stockpile of truly innovative, memorable band names has been greatly diminished, why not choice a name that acknowledges that fact, that aims for anonymity—that wants simply to blend in. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I suppose.
I’m not suggesting necessarily that Girls front man Christopher Owens had such lofty, abstract thoughts in his brain when he came up with that stupidly brilliant name. The dude was probably high. But I think it’s a factor nonetheless. Next to sound, image and choice of drug addiction, a band’s name was the most important way it could distinguish itself from its peers 30 years ago. Now fans are bombarded by a whole slew of information when they’re introduced to a new group. There are, to be wonky, many more ways to interface with artists in 2010: MySpace, Twitter, Pitchfork, YouTube, at shows, at your favorite Brooklyn bar, through your iPod, record player, or car stereo. When bands can present themselves to the world in three, four, sometimes five dimensions, fretting over a band name can seem so, well, 20th century.
Which is not to say that band names aren’t important. They just may not be the make-or-break decisions they used to be—meaning that Dananananaykroyd, Girl Fart, and Computer Jesus Refrigerator, can breathe a long sigh of relief.
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