After a new recording project is mastered, photos have been taken, perhaps someone has been hired to write some liner notes, you’ve replaced the tracks of the guitar player who just quit, one of the last jobs still remains, and it’s sometimes not an easy one: coming up with a title for your album.
There are numerous schools of thought about album names, and you can feel free to ignore all of them, but I thought I’d present you with a few options.
This is a pertinent subject for me at the moment, because the Night Drivers and I have just finished up a new project, and we haven’t even begun to give the name any serious thought, but it’s something we’ll need to do soon. In fact, we may never give it any serious thought, but we’ll still have to come up with something before the artwork is done.
Several months ago, we discussed methods for naming bands, and some of the same issues apply, although you can feel a little less pressure about naming an album, because unlike a band name, an album name isn’t going to follow you around for the rest of your life. It won’t appear on every marquee and festival flyer from now until your band breaks up or you die in a tragic food poisoning incident.
Still, you don’t want to just come up with a throw-away title (it isn’t a banjo tune), and it wouldn’t hurt if the title said something about you as an artist or about the album.
Here are some of the ways you can approach this:
Use the title of a song: This is probably the most common way to name an album, but it’s less simple than it might seem. What song do you pick? Do you choose a song you want to promote as a single, i.e. your strongest song? How about a song that evokes a certain image that might lead to a good concept for the artwork? Or, do you pick a random song title from the album because you couldn’t reach a decision, and you had to meet a deadline, or you just couldn’t be bothered? These all have merit.
Some artists swear by the method of picking whatever song you want to encourage radio stations to play, making it the title track and also the first track on the CD. This makes an assumption that most disc jockeys are so lazy that they’re not going to preview the CD at all before playing it and will just stick the CD in and play track 1, especially if it’s the title track. Perhaps some DJs are guilty as charged (I once did an entire show lying down, breaking in about every 30 minutes to say “That was that, now here’s this”), but doesn’t this just discourage them even more from listening further to all those songs you put so much time, effort, and money into recording?
When using a song title, there are a few things to bear in mind: First, make sure the title doesn’t send the wrong message about you or the album (this is why we chose not to use Final Farewell as a title track; we thought people would think we were quitting the business and moving to Tahiti). These are the kinds of song titles that would make very poor album titles: Sick of Music, Tired Old Songs, I Hate You, Slow and Dreary, Drinking and Driving, and Working End of a Hoe (at least two of these are real song titles).
Another pitfall to avoid is selecting a song title but using a photograph or cover art that clashes with the message. For example, if you use Pig in a Pen as a title, then don’t have your band photographed wearing tuxedos. Also, if you use a song about murder or a natural disaster, a band photo showing everybody giving their brightest smile just makes you look twisted. On the other hand, using a song title like Happy On My Way with a photo of the band doing the Union Station scowl also sends a mixed message.
Bluegrass Generic: I’ve brought up our love of the generic in bluegrass before. This is why we’ve had a bluegrass band called “The Bluegrass Band.” This fondness for the statement of the obvious has brought us numerous generic-sounding album titles, especially from bluegrass guitar players, but by no means limited to them. I submit Tony Rice’s Guitar, Dan Crary’s Bluegrass Guitar (later recycled by Bryan Sutton), The Bluegrass Album, Aubrey Haynie’s The Bluegrass Fiddle Album, etc.
You can feel free to use any of these yourself, because it seems to me that reusing these titles is fully in the spirit of the generic title concept. You also might try these electrifying titles: A New Bluegrass Album, Songs and Tunes, or simply Music.
On the subject of reusing album titles, there’s no copyright on these, so feel free, as many before you have. Ashby Frank has been going through IBMA’s immense CD collection, as they prepare to move offices, and he informed me that at last count, there were 10 albums called It’s About Time. I told him that when he got up to “S” he was also likely to find a massive number of albums called Something Old, Something New.
Reusing these titles has one important advantage: there’s at least a chance that someone will buy your title accidentally, thinking it was someone else’s release. If they don’t bother to return it, that’s one sale you wouldn’t have had with a more distinctive album title.
Though it may be perfectly legal to do so, it is unwise to reuse album titles that are too well-known or are too closely associated with another artist: These are some album titles I would strongly discourage: Abbey Road, Rumours, Thriller, Purple Rain, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and Bill Monroe’s Greatest Hits.
The non-title title track: This is where you select a phrase or line from a song, rather than the title. For example, if Banks of the Ohio is your title track, but you use the phrase Where the Waters Flow (from the chorus) as your album title instead. This would work well if you have a band photo taken near a river or waterfall, or perhaps in a large bath tub.
Use this method with care and thought, however, because you can come up with some pretty inappropriate album titles this way, e.g. I Watched Her As She Floated Down.
One potential problem with this naming method is that it assumes—perhaps mistakenly—that people are paying enough attention to the words to realize that the title is drawn from one of the songs. If they aren’t listening to the words, your title will suddenly seem completely random, possibly generated by a computer program created for that purpose.
The abstract title: These really are completely random. This is the system that was favored by rock and roll bands in the late 1960s and early 70s. Cream’s Disreali Gears comes to mind, but there have been countless ones throughout history. Though it may be helpful, the use of hallucinogens is not necessary for coming up with names like this, and we would certainly never endorse that. All that’s required is to relax your mind a little and come up with some out-of-context, unrelated words and pair them together.
As with the abstract band name, this is best used by bluegrass bands with a more progressive orientation. I don’t think Bacon Finger or Wired Ostrich make very good album titles for a traditional bluegrass album, though the Johnson Mountain Boys’ 1986 release, Monkey Finger, is still one of my favorites.
The self-title: This is where you just use your name or the name of your band, with no additional title. This is perfectly fine, but it can only be used once. It’s most often used for an artist’s debut album, though some will use a self-titled album for a later release. It’s ideal if you can’t think of anything else to call it.
Which brings us to The Title of Last Resort: These are the titles that make it obvious that you couldn’t think of an album title. Sometimes this can be done in a clever way. More often it just sounds like you were just out of ideas, or you were attempting to come up with a title by committee and couldn’t come to an agreement. The Seldom Scene’s 1970s release, The New Seldom Scene Album, is in this category. Other titles along these lines are: Our 9th Album, The Next Record, Here’s Another One, The Followup to Our Previous Album. Use this kind of title only when necessary.
Be on the lookout for our new release, Album Title, due out this summer.