So you want to start a band, huh? You want to get together with some dudes, write some songs and maybe record a 7-inch you trick your friend into releasing? Start with a name.
Seems foolish, right? Seems like a name would be the least important part of the whole enterprise. After all, it’s the music that matters. But here’s why the name should be your first priority: That one crummy 7-inch turns into two more [7-inches], which turns into an offer from an established label and a contract. That turns into a falling-out, a few more 7-inches and a deal with another established label.
A decade goes by. Then you look up and realize you’ve released a dozen pieces of vinyl with your name attached—your crappy, crappy name. The name you decided on after you wrote your third song. That name you agreed to when you anticipated maybe playing two shows over the summer, before one of your bandmates got a girl pregnant and dissolved the band. That’s the name people know. The “Sure, whatever, man, let’s get back to learning this SSD cover” name you never should have agreed to.
And how important is a name? Go to South By Southwest. Without fail, the bands people talk about or make an effort to see are the ones with no content but “clever” names. Does anyone remember a single song by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? What about You Say Party, We Say Die? No. But those bands got crowds on the strength of their intriguing(?) names.
Take it from me. Until recently, I’ve been in a band called End Of A Year. Now, take a second and think about that name. What does it do for you? If you love punk music and are interested in its history, it may bring to mind the Embrace song “End Of A Year.” If you’re 19 and couldn’t care less about D.C. hardcore’s transition phase into thought-filled, proto-indie rock, then the name likely just sounds like a local metalcore band.
Over the span of our releases we’ve played with other names. We’ve had at least five names listed as a.k.a.’s on records—among them, Barf Spectrum, Comforter, Pewter Wizards and Weird Field. Do you know what they have in common? Well, first: They are all bad names. But more important, they are all better than End Of A Year. Weird Field may conjure the image of 45-year-old men playing Stones covers at a roadhouse but isn’t that better than being local metalcore? Isn’t anything better than a name that makes you think of Emperor amps, China cymbals, wireless mics and no ambition? If we had named ourselves “Offensive Racial Epithet And The Rapists” it would be better than “End of a Year.” End Of A Year is something you expect to see on a flyer next to “Driven To Downfall” or opening a twelve-band package tour alongside “Autumn Never Came.” Put plainly, it sucks.
We reached our breaking point a few years ago and decided to change the name. The problem was, we’ve released a dozen records, many of which are still in print. A name change makes the already-difficult job of selling our records that much harder. We didn’t want to stick the labels that have helped us out like that. So we’re currently in a stage of name change that is even more awkward than having a bad name. Our new name is Self Defense, but to make this an easy transition we’re currently going by End Of A Year Self Defense Family. Think about that for a second: In an effort to rid ourselves of an awful name, we made that awful name longer. But people are starting to catch on—dudes who spend entirely too much time on the internet are getting hip to calling us Self Defense Family, and once those people are onto something, the normal humans are quick to follow. And considering we’ve only got a few thousand fans, it shouldn’t take all that long for the information to filter out.
And here’s the great thing: Once it’s in people’s heads that you’ve changed your name, you can do it all the time. Once people fully recognize us as Self Defense, we’ll probably change it again. Really, who cares? Forget conventional wisdom that it hurts your draw. I think it helps. Will Oldham went from Palace Brothers to Palace Songs to Palace Music to Bonnie Prince Billy to Will Oldham. Dude doesn’t seem to be hurting.
Pick a good name right out of the gate. Devote a couple hours to thinking of a name that doesn’t fall directly into your genre. If you play metal don’t name yourself anything with blood, embers, flames, big words that really just mean “unhappy” or after places your hick ass will never visit. If you’re in a hardcore band, avoid names with states of being or feelings in them. Don’t attempt to be “sincere” in your name. Save that for your music. Indie bands, you gotta go the other way than all the bands in your field. If you chose a “cute” name or something that reminds people of wearing a sundress on the beach, you’ll be lost in the sea of other, better, bands doing the same thing. Try something severe. Take your name from a Merauder song or a torture device.
Most important for all bands, regardless of genre: Let the smartest guy/girl in the band make the call on name if the rest of you are morons. Compromise will get you nowhere—except a name change ten years later.