Working with bands is a big part of my job as a Studio Owner and Record Producer. Over the years I have seen literally hundreds of bands rehearse, record, and perform. I have also witnessed their formations – both from the ground up and from fragments of other bands which have parted ways.
I have also had to choose my own musician name, James Nighthawk. More on which later…
The subject of band naming has come up countless times in my career. I am often asked about band names, whether that be advice to help coming up with a name, or my opinion on a band’s name once decided.
The fact is, for the most part, band names are terrible. But, quite delightfully, it really doesn’t matter.
The wonderful thing is that we are psychologically tuned to accept a band name, to question it very little (if at all) and then simply tie together an connection to the music and file this away in our cranium. The band name doesn’t matter too much. It is simply a component of how we file the artist and their music in our memory.
Now. Naturally, there are outliers and extremes. Certain “punk” names would not suit a jazz quartet, and trends exist across genres – DJ, MC and other choice acronyms are good examples.
But, let me suggest this: Oasis. Blur. Pulp. With these examples, their simplicity is their genius, not the word itself. They are memorable and short. Many of you are already either thinking of their tunes and/or their band logos. This branding is the important part. Not the words themselves.
My favourite example is Radiohead. Admit it – this name is pretty terrible. It is corny, cheesy even. That is, if taken at face value. One can easily argue post-modernism and irony in light of their music. But therein lies the point. Our knowledge of the band as a creative powerhouse of fantastic musicality feeds back to our view of the name. Not the other way around.
This is wonderful. It means that the music matters, not the name by which it is known.
So, what does matter?
My main advice would be, keep it simple. Then, throw in a touch of the unique. And, please, please avoid both unfunny whimsy or “clever” pub-rock names – “Three blokes and a drummer”, “Keep it quiet”, “Load of noise”, “No Name Yet”… these names are never funny, and scream unprofessionalism. Unless of course you simply ARE three blokes and a drummer and have no intention of taking things far beyond rehearsing for a bit of fun!
So, my name…
Alas, I was not born James Nighthawk. I cannot claim a lineage from centuries of Nighthawks before me. My real name was taken, as Google, iTunes and others proved in a matter of seconds.
I am a James. The “Nighthawk” arrived in much the same way that my debut album title came to me (“The Twilight Sessions”). I recorded a large swathe of my music in the middle of the night, while my studio was either empty or hosting the occasional “Nighthawk” rehearsal session, which finish up at 2 or 3am.
I put the two names together. Et voila!
I did the obvious. I asked my friends for their thoughts. Most thought it was fine. Some said a little cheesy. One or two comments said it was a “little 1980’s”. But I wasn’t looking for mass-love, I simply wanted to avoid grimaces or concerned looks.
At my first gig as James Nighthawk, my name choice was confirmed as a solid one.
I played the second slot of four acts. The host was, shall we say, a little merry-by-sherry by the close of the night. When it came time for him to wrap up the evening and thank all the acts who had performed, he gazed into the ether for a second and said. “um…James Nighthawk…. and, um, who were the other three?!…”
This was all the confirmation I needed that my stage name had the all important “memorable” factor.
Artist or band names don’t need to be a ‘genius, succinct expression of the inner working of your collective, creative minds’. They need to be memorable, genre relevant, and if at all possible, have a little story behind it. People like to connect with artists. It can only add to your mythos.
And last but not least – Google is your friend.
A few years ago I had a regular band “rebrand” after it transpired their band name was taken by a relatively successful artist in America. The name they changed to…. well, I shall avoid embarrassing them. Suffice to say, it was an even more successful band from the UK whom, by some odd chance, not a single one of them had heard of!
Those band t-shirts must be gathering some dust in the attic by now…