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Does your band name rock?
Before you record that album, make sure you have a great band name
Ryan Monahan

Gainesville resident and musician Mike Sirola was inspired.

He had an idea for a song, but every time he would start getting into a groove while trying to put together the music, his wife kept interrupting him. “Don’t interrupt my cosmic vision,” he told her, eventually finishing the music and taking it to his friend, Hal Parker, to come up with the lyrics.

Tentatively titled “Cosmic Vision,” this collaboration between the two friends set them on a path to start their own band, and “Cosmic Vision” also gave them the idea for their band’s name: The Bass Lazers.

“When he brought it to me to add the lyrics, I thought it would be kind of cool to add some cosmic sound bites. I found them online and added them to the song,” said Parker, also of Gainesville. “The best of the sound bytes was a laser shot.”

The laser sound reminded Sirola of another friend who had laser effects on his bass guitar, and suddenly the name for the friends’ new band was born.

Parker added that they tweaked the spelling of laser to make sure people pronounced “bass” like “base,” not like the fish. “Being from the South, everyone would probably pronounce bass like bass fish, so we changed the spelling of lasers to lazers, so people might rhyme the ‘a.’”

Every time a group of friends gets together in a garage or a basement, banging out some tunes with plans to tour the world, a name is soon to follow. And it’s an important decision, because that name dictates what goes on T-shirts, album covers, MySpace pages and, hopefully, that first contract with a major record label.

But the name — even down to the feeling behind the words, the spelling and how it’s put together — is one of the most important parts of a band’s intellectual property.

“I remember hearing in marketing meetings and stuff, a band’s name is a band’s single most valuable asset because it’s their intellectual property,” said Athens musician Ryan Monahan, who is a member of the Beatles cover band Beatles for Sale, along with having his own self-titled project, Monahan.

As an intern years ago at a record company in New York City, Monahan said he remembers that conversation about the importance of band names, and it stuck with him.

“All your merchandising and retailing revolves around the name.”

One of his first bands was called Shadowgraphs, taken from a chapter in a book by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. And while the band didn’t go much past Connecticut, Monahan said they did think about their Web page and how to market the band, keeping in mind there was another band that had the same name.

Today, Monahan said there wasn’t a lot of thinking that went into Monahan as a band name. His main goal with his own project, he said, was to make sure it didn’t sound like he was simply a guy with an acoustic guitar.

Indie musician Beck, he said, reinvents himself with each new album. And the British band Travis is made up of several musicians, with no one in the band even named Travis. Yet the single name has a different weight to it, he said.

“You don’t just think one person with an acoustic guitar, because it’s not what I do,” Monahan said. “I’m doing a lot of playing around in the studio, a lot of sonic landscapes, so I don’t want people to think Monahan, a guy with an acoustic guitar.”

Gainesville musician April Cummings, who has worked in recent years as a solo artist, said she has also been a part of the band-naming process. And the “feel” of the name was important to the members for several different reasons.

“We tried to come up with something that was really suitable for all of us involved, and it was really cool because with all of our names, we wanted to come up with something that was really edgy and rebellious, but all of us were very spiritual people,” she said.
“So we wanted to come up with something that was that, too. So we came up with Outlaw Revival.”

But to record store owners and some booking agents at clubs, the name of the band isn’t as important as whether or not the fans want the product.

Kyle Pilgrim, booking and entertainment director at the Foundry Park Inn in Athens, said unless the name was specifically vulgar or offended a certain audience, he doesn’t care what the name is.

The Foundry Park Inn often books bands with a national following.

“As a booker, basically my whole thing is to make money. You could be named The Worst Band in the World, and if they draw a crowd, I’d book them,” he said.

Some names are more rebellious than others, he said, but it reflects more on the type of crowd who will go to the show.

“A name is a name. Some people think it’s a good name, some think it’s a bad name,” he said.

But in the end, “It’s all about the money.”

The same sentiment was shared by Dan Wall, owner of Wuxtry Records in downtown Athens.

The longtime record shop is known for the place where Michael Stipe, lead singer for R.E.M., originally met guitarist Peter Buck. But aside from that band name, Wall said he doesn’t mind a good or band name, as long as it sells records.

“In the past I’d say yes; sometimes I’d think the name is never going to pass,” he said. “But the answer is no, the name doesn’t make much difference.”

The biggest factor, he said, is the kind of promotion a band gets. That allows for greater name recognition and more record sales.

“I don’t really think about the name,” added coworker Mike Turner, who also heads up the Athens-based record label Happy Happy Birthday To Me. “It’s really about the label and the amount of promotion behind it.”

But Candice Jones, assistant booking agent at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, disagreed. She said a good band name helps out a lot not just for booking shows, but for also promoting the show.

“I can tell you, regardless of how great a band is, if they have a stupid/silly/offensive/just plain bad name, a lot of people will form an opinion off the bat,” she said. “I always make sure that when I do have a band with a less-than-desireable name, who happens to be good, that I include as much streaming music available for people to check out, hoping they can get past a crappy band name.

“And boy, there are a LOT of bad band names out there.”

Monahan said he was disappointed by the mind-set that as long as the name sells tickets or records, it doesn’t matter.

“It devalues the music as an art form. I think that’s why the music industry is starting to fail in some sense, at least the major labels, because it might as well be golf balls; it doesn’t matter what it is,” he said.

Whatever the name, it carries an emotion and a feeling, he said, because music carries feeling with it.

“It’s a cultural exchange as well,” he added. “I really do think with certain bands, especially over time, when you say a band name, whether it’s U2 or John Mayer or Coldplay, Rolling Stones, you get certain emotional connotations of cultural places in time.”