If you say you’ve never skipped over a band or artist because of their name, you’re lying. Even for the most ambitious ‘new music’ seekers, names can be a stumbling block so I know for the casual listener it can be a brick wall. That unique name that can set a band apart can also be the thing that scares people off. A scary band name is usually difficult to pronounce, even to yourself in your head, and conveys a wildly different image than the band’s musical style. The whole Bon Iver thing really messed a lot of people up. How are you supposed to know it’s French and pronounced like that? Hats off to the bands that have been able to transcend a scary name with good music.
The mistake that a band appears to be foreign can often be a deterrent from clicking play. Here’s an example. Long time band Yo La Tengo just put out a new album, ‘Fade’, that’s rooted in laid-back surf rock. Strictly because of their name you might have assumed they were a spanish speaking band that you wouldn’t understand. They actually align quite similarly to another long-time, equally as melodic, laid back band, Nada Surf. Poliça is another band you might avoid because of their foreign name, but the band is on the raise and all the people making and breaking bands have them on their short list. Maybe it’s just snobs from the US, but there’s a hesitation to checking out music from other cultures. We’re afraid it’ll make our music choices more refined and, for the most part, we’re not interested.
The opposites or mis-matchers are ones that are just completely different than their name would appear. Lord Huron is a simple enough name, but it’s deceiving. It sounds like a single person’s name. A pretentious solo artist that only those in the upper class of society would care for. When, in fact, the truth couldn’t be further. The group is a bunch of guys playing the crap out of folk music. The band’s newest album was a big deal to a lot of people at the end of 2012 and by getting more people to move past the name, they could be mega stars in 2013. This trend, that every so often a group will employ a name that sounds like a single person is an interesting idea in theory, but always throws people for a loop and undoubtedly leads to awkward party conversations, always.
Computers didn’t just bring a technical revolution, they brought opportunities for a slew of new terms ripe for band names. ALT-J is an alternative rock band, and keyboard shortcut. One of the hottest acts since pre-breakdown Kings of Leon, ALT-J have the momentum to appear on your father’s playlist. The trouble with using computer terms or words that directly descend from technology is the cool factor. It takes some really good music to make people forget that you’re a geek. Why don’t people use words like “internet” or “social networking” in songs or in band names? Actually that question answers itself.
Going the generic route with a name isn’t any fame guarantee either though. The key, like anything in the music business, is good music and a better publicist. But really, I don’t see what’s so difficult about picking a unique name that’s both simple and straight forward. The Rolling Stones did it.