You can be making incredible music, but if no one knows about it you probably won’t be making it for very long. Having a good project name is the first step to getting publicity and having your music heard by a large amount of people.
Don’t be difficult. It has to be easy to pronounce and say over the phone. Try to avoid using numbers for letters (leet speak) since it will confuse people. Yes, there are exceptions like “!!!,” Î¼-siq, and whatnot, but the object is to make it easy for the press to write about you and for people to talk about you. While you’re welcome to choose a difficult name, it’s only going to make the rest of your publicity efforts that much harder.
Steer clear of profanity. While James Fucking Friedman has a somewhat high profile, whenever he gets listed in local papers that don’t allow profanity they star out either the entire middle word or just use stars after the F. People will get confused–”Did they star out ‘Faggot,’ ‘Fucking,’ or ‘Fellatio’? Should I Google for James Star Star Star?” Also profanity limits the types of publications that will feature you. While XLR8R and URB are magazines that are pretty laid back about their language, you might one day discover that your music has an interesting crossover audience (be it mountain climbers or acoustic engineers) and you want to make it easy for those types of journalists to approach you and write about you and your music.
It sounds good. Pick three of your favorite names. Say them out loud. Ask some friends what they think and notice how they respond. Do they laugh out loud when you’re aiming for a super serious image (“Abfahrt Hinwil” might cause some giggling)? It may sound obvious, but electronic musicians who tend to work alone and communicate through their computers could use some IRL human feedback once in a while.
No one else has it. While I wouldn’t say you should register for a trademark just yet, you should research as best you can if anyone else is using your name. You don’t want to shell out money for a domain name and spend years growing your project and fan base just to be hit with a cease and desist or worse, a lawsuit (look at Dan Snaith’s Caribou (formerly Manitoba) debacle.) Do some web searches to see if you can determine if anyone’s using your name. The US Patent office has an online search engine called TESS where you can search for trademarks in use. Search for all the words in your desired name, and then search for each one alone and see if they return anything similar. If you’re considering trademarking your name, it’s a very good idea but it will cost you a few hundred bucks. You can file online and read more here: http://www.uspto.gov.
It can be you, as long as you’re not already in use. You can use your own name as long as it’s not in use already and you won’t be confused for someone else. Can you imagine being the second Derrick May in Detroit? You might get a huge turnout for your first gig but the promoter and venue will hate you after the riot of pissed off people who thought they bought tickets to see one of the godfathers of Detroit techno. This second Derrick May in question used his middle name instead to avoid confusion, resulting in Derrick Michael.
Webify it. Get a domain name when you’ve settled on your choice. Although you might just want to use Myspace as your website, Myspace is not press-friendly, and if you adopt that early-90s bad-website look with repeating graphic as the background or garish colors it’s going to be unreadable (and incredibly annoying). Plus, with your own website you have total control over your image and don’t have to worry about deleting comments and photos posted by jerks. Then check to see if your choice is a domain in use already. I got lucky because mine is a completely made up word (Quantazelle) so the domain was available. If it’s not, see if you can add “music” “sounds,” or something else to the end of it and then grab it. If not, you might consider finding a different name, but it’s not a deal killer. While you might want to opt for something clever as your domain name, you want to make it easy for people to find information about you. A web search for your project name should return your site as one of the first results because your name is in the domain itself.
Some ideas for generating project names:
Take a passage from a favorite work of literature or a poem,. For example, “Joy Division” is from The House of Dolls by Karol Cetinsky.
Use an anagram. Aphex Twin relied heavily on this to name many of his songs. “Acrid Avid Jam Shred” on I Care Because You Do is an anagram of “Richard D. James”. Here’s an online anagram generator to experiment with: wordsmith.org/anagram.
Try playing with this emo-band name generator: www.bandnamemaker.com
Check out this tool for generating band names: www.greatnameforaband.com. On my first try I got “Galacticide” which is actually really cool.
Here’s another one: www.bandlookup.com. I put in “bandpass’ and got such gems as “Bandpass Disorder” and “Half-Ass Bandpass.”
Take a hint from the Dada-ist poetry methods of William S. Burrows and do a “cut-up.” Grab a newspaper or any other sliceable piece of literature and cut out a bunch of words from it. Then toss them on a flat surface and see what interesting combinations happen.
Make a portmanteau. “Devo” is a concatenation of “de-evolution.” “Quantazelle” is a combination of “Quantum and Gazelle.”
Create a phrase that congers up imagery of what your music sounds like, such as “Explosions in the Sky.” It’s a little difficult if you’re not a poetic or literary type, but you can ask other people for help. Just say “If you could think of an image that sounds like my music, what would it be?” Gathering a group of people in a room together along with some alcohol or other relaxing substance is a very conducive environment for name generating.
So now that you’re better equipped for the first part of your publicity efforts, why don’t you get started on that brainstorming? Good luck!