Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant once invented a foolproof system for testing out whether a band’s name works. All you have to do is preface it with the following words, “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome to the stage at Madison Square Garden, __________!” If a band’s name doesn’t seem to work in that epic context, they’ll never hit it big.
In an overcrowded marketplace, musicians often struggle to distinguish themselves from the hordes of anonymous competition. One of the ways they often choose to do so is with attention-getting band names, like those seen in Pitchfork’s semiannual Upcoming Releases list, which came out yesterday. The names on this list are often an accurate harbinger of what’s popular with novice bands. Unfortunately, some groups end up flailing with preposterous miscalculations. A band name is nothing if not a brand name–if only these groups had visited a brand consultant first…
Addison Whitney is a full-service brand-consulting firm whose clients include Cadillac and Microsoft. In cultivating new brands, the company uses a linguistics evaluation process to weed out any potential negative connotations. Fast Company recently spoke with Brannon Cashion, president of Addison Whitney, to find out which band names from Pitchfork’s list have the best shot at success.
“Having the three ‘t’s in there makes it a little difficult to pronounce, especially if you have a lisp at all. It sounds like the name of an alternative kind of band, which is probably a good thing if that’s what they are.”
“I don’t perceive a band there. This seems like the same kind of name as LMFAO, even though it’s not an acronym. Doesn’t really feel like a band name. It actually feels more like a tagline.”
“Yeah, that’s definitely trying to be a bit controversial. They’re tying in religion and it definitely pushes the line. Coming up with band names right now is a bit like PR, at least in the old ‘any press is good press’ sense. Bands want to get noise out there in social media by being controversial in their name. If you’re trying to make an impact and trying to be memorable, you can’t name yourself something like The Smiths now.”
“Oof. Now that one hurts to even say it. I could never see a commercially successful band with that name. I could only imagine what they’re trying to say. Plus it’s too long, and complex, it would get mixed up a lot. One of the things that should almost be a cost to entry is the ‘catchphraseness’ of the name; how pithy is it? How are you gonna put Pulled Apart By Horses on a banner? It would have to be 3-point font to fit.”
“That to me feels like you could build something around it. When you use descriptive terms–dictionary-defined words–it’s certainly gonna put people in a frame of mind. I would guess religious or country music potentially.”
“I think it’s playful. One of the interesting things about it is when people hear it for the first time, they’re gonna go in a lot of different directions. That could be a good thing. If you open up Urban Dictionary, I could just imagine what Black Bananas would be defined as.”
“Sounds like a menu item at a Mexican restaurant. That could be very intentional. You hear these stories about how bands get their names and it’s–‘We were sitting around, writing our first song, and this is what we ordered for lunch.’ There is an almost a coolness factor when your name has some kind of legs or heritage. Or a hidden meaning.”
“It feels like a lot of the names that were popular in the early ’90s: A Tribe Called Quest, Temple of the Dog. In that structure. Maybe there’s a tongue-in-cheek exclusionary thing. Is that where they’re from? Up north? And if you’re in the South, you’re not gonna like them? That could be it.”
“The word ‘porcelain’ for me always goes right to toilet. If I saw the album cover and there was a guy riding a toilet, that would not be out of line. It’s short, and it’s an interesting combination of words that wouldn’t ordinarily go together. It’s certainly ownable. Not sure how sustainable it is in the long term, though.”
“This one has a Grateful Dead feel to it almost. It sounds more like a thing the band Asteroids would embark on, obviously, rather than their name. Why? Plus it’s really long. Nine syllables. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.”
“What I would look for in the name is something that you can market for both the short and long term, and when you look at Black Bananas or Pepe Deluxe to some degree, those are both short and they don’t initially offend anybody, although you can probably get offended if you look at either long enough. Based on the name alone, one of those two would work. It’s those two-word names that seem to work best. I’ve always thought that Pearl Jam was one of the best band names. You can go in so many different directions with it. I’m probably less a fan of those descriptive band names like The Cars, although in that case, I do love the music.”
And now, without further adieu, ladies and gentleman, please welcome to the stage at Madison Square Garden … Pulled Apart By Horses!!!