The Null Device

All the good ones are taken

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the ever-worsening shortage of band names; all the good names are invariably taken, and in this globalised age of MySpace, SoundCloud and MP3 blogs, it is no longer considered acceptable for every other city to have its own The Bumpin' Uglies. That and the increasing power of intellectual-property-owning corporations, keen on smacking down anybody so much as hinting at their trademarks without a licence, goes some way towards explaining the current fashion for impressionistically meaningless word-salad in band names:
Between takes in a recording studio, Mr. Jones brainstormed about names with his new band mates, including former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, then checked them online. Their first choice, Caligula, turned up at least seven acts named after the decadent Roman emperor, including a defunct techno outfit from Australia. Eventually the rockers decided on Them Crooked Vultures. The words held no special meaning. "Every other name is taken," Mr. Jones explains. "Think of a great band name and Google it, and you'll find a French-Canadian jam band with a MySpace page."
("Techno"? I thought Caligula were a Curve/Stone Roses knockoff.)
By 2006, they had come up with what they thought was the perfect country-music moniker: Jane Deere. It was simple, blue-collar and a little jokey. But after their lawyer registered the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the company behind John Deere tractors took exception. Moline, Ill.-based Deere & Co. asserted in filings that the Jane Deere trademark would cause "a likelihood of confusion" among consumers. The musicians backed down and the government officially canceled the Jane Deere trademark in January 2009.
Of course, in the US legal system, might often makes right, and you can nab someone else's band name if you're confident that you can afford better lawyers, as Kathleen Cholewka of another Brooklyn band named Discovery found out when the Vampire Weekend side project refused to relinquish her band name:
With the help of a lawyer friend, Ms. Cholewka sent a cease-and-desist letter to her rivals. After some initial communication from the band's lawyer, Ms. Chowleka says, she's gotten no further response. She doesn't have the money to hire a trademark lawyer, but she says she's willing to compromise: "If you want to buy the name from me, great."
The other Discovery have refused, saying magnanimously that there is enough room in the world for two bands of the same name. Of course, the fact that, should Ms. Cholewka attempt to exercise her right to ths name, she would find it impossible to promote her own project (even if she keeps the name, the amount of explaining she has to do would be tantamount to a de facto renaming to "Discovery—no, not that Discovery"), is not their problem, and winners are grinners.

There are 9 comments on "All the good ones are taken":

Posted by: datakid Fri Feb 26 00:02:00 2010

I used to live with the guitarist from Caligula. They split quite unhappy, and very, very fried. The front guy ended up with the name and 50k debt to the record company, which he paid off by doing techno-rock covers of 1960s and 70s hits for the Japanese aerobics VHS cassette market. Weird but true.

Posted by: kstop Fri Feb 26 19:42:34 2010

Blink 182 used to be called Blink, until they found out there was a Dublin-based Blink preceding them. I read an interview where they also describe their Dublin as being a techno group, when in fact they were pop punk too, and better at it.

Posted by: kstop Fri Feb 26 19:43:50 2010

s/their Dublin/their Dublin counterparts/

Posted by: Greg Sat Feb 27 07:23:26 2010

Stories like Datakid's above should be collated and published more widely, to avoid the 'survivorship bias' in rock biography that makes young people think it's a winning career.

Posted by: acb Sat Feb 27 15:30:00 2010

Isn't the average life expectancy of a rock musician about 50?

Posted by: Bowie Mon Mar 1 03:26:48 2010

Caligula used a lot of electronics (keyboards, guitar/drum loops) but wouldn't be called "techno". They sound Primary with a different singer, which is good because they are Primary with a different singer.

When searching for a name for my old (pop rock) band (Walken) back in 2000 I did an extensive Google search and band name registration search and found nothing (other than Christopher). Only a few months later another (punk) band popped up in the US with our name. They were first but just didn't have a web presence. They had released a few tracks on vinyl, we had released nothing.

Rather than change anything we agreed that there wasn't a problem with an indie band in the US having the same name as an indie band in Australia. We said if they ever toured Australia we'd support them (Walken (US), supported by Walken (Australia))

In hindsight I wish we'd changed it.

A did a check a while back and there are now a few bands with that name including one on iTunes. iTunes is where this problem really sticks.

Posted by: acb Mon Mar 1 10:20:09 2010

I wonder how long until we have some form of hierarchical band names. The word-salad approach doesn't sound sustainable in the long run (soon you'd get collisions on the more evocative combinations, and the less evocative ones would be immemorable ones, like "Refresh Drugstore Acolyte" or "Precipitation Snore Variables"), so we may well end up seeing a convention for putting disambiguating information into band names with it being optional.

Posted by: gusset Mon Mar 8 15:43:05 2010

Glad someone else remembers Blink. They were a great live band and their "A Map of the Universe" album was under apprciated. I still listen to it from time to time.

Adding numbers after the name became a standard response. Anyone else remember Vent 414? Now in the era the number will be added for you if you don't put it there. See Exile as a great example: <a href=""></a>

Posted by: gusset Mon Mar 8 15:43:49 2010

Oops. Link: