This week, while iced in in Nashville, TN, I was going to discuss the concept of the band name subtitle, and I still am, but I realized that I had teased you a little bit last week with the reprinting of my first column on band names. It was part one of a series, and if you didn’t realize it was an “encore presentation” (I prefer the more blunt and honest “rerun”), you may be waiting for the follow-up, and, discovering today that there is none, you might have a vaguely empty, gnawing feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on. This feeling could last as long as 20 minutes. Or, you might not care at all. In either case, a link to the old part two is here.
Once you’ve come up with a band name that you and your band can live with, you may be thinking that you need something more (like a gig that pays money). Many bands today make use of a subtitle, or one-line description that says something about your band. After all, what does “Drifting Train,” or “Lonesome Couch” really say about your band sound or entertainment experience?
I feel the same way about the new abstract men’s deodorant scents, like “avalanche” or “phoenix.” Does this deodorant smell like a buried snowmobile, or perhaps a bird rising from the ashes? Maybe “phoenix” actually smells like a chain of trade-oriented colleges, and wouldn’t that be an alluring scent? These products need a real description so people aren’t opening them up in aisle 3 to get a whiff before making a purchase (I’ve only done this once, I promise).
What can you do to take the cap off the deodorant stick that is your band? Granted, established bands don’t need this at all, or they can choose something as abstract as the deodorant names mentioned above.
Alison Krauss and Union Station’s web site just shows the name of the band and a backlit photo. We know what they sound like, we know their impressive career credits, so nothing more is needed. “We’re a real good bluegrass band,” or “please book us for your next party or private function” underneath that would just look silly.
If a newer artist has recently won a notable award, that makes for a handy subtitle. Flatt Lonesome’s site simply states “IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year.” This is strong, and if you want to know more about what they sound like, that award credit gives you plenty of incentive to listen to web site samples.
Incidentally, I would caution against using lesser award credits like “4th place, 2011 Oak Grove Bluegrass Band Contest.” Save those for the fine print or for a Wendy’s job application.
If you’re too new to have built up those kinds of credentials, you can still briefly describe your band with some kind of flattering sentence. You can do this even if you do have awards to your credit. The Colorado based Blue Canyon Boys were winners of the Telluride Band Contest, but they use the subtitle “High Octane Colorado Bluegrass.”
I scanned through various band web sites, there are different approaches to this, and you can find the one that fits the character of your band the best.
The use of the phrase “high octane” above is a good example of coming up with a way to highlight the band’s “drive.” Many bands do this through the use of aggressive or energetic-sounding language. Examples I came across are “bluegrass with attitude,” “bluegrass without mercy,” and the classic “hard driving bluegrass.”
You can overdo this of course: “in-your-face bluegrass,” “bluegrass that hurts,” and “ripping, pounding, throbbing bluegrass,” may just be a little over the top. It’s usually a good rule of thumb to avoid adjectives that can also be used to describe a migraine.
Other bands want to cast as wide a net as possible to show that their sound has broad appeal, so some will just list a few categories and genres. Hypothetical examples would be: “Carolyna Wynd Bluegrass/Americana/Roots; or, as you can tell from the band name, a (much) more progressive band: “Co-dependent Cupcake: acoustic/Americana/bluegrass/jam (the band name, incidentally, is straight from last week’s “kit”).
Here again, when listing genres, you can have too much of a good thing. A band can begin to sound unfocused when you see “bluegrass/old-time/acoustic country/jamgrass/Americana/Cajun/Delta blues/Gregorian chant.” Also, the more styles you credit yourself with, the higher the likelihood that the more traditional festivals and venues are going to reject you (Co-dependent Cupcake isn’t too concerned about that).
Then you have the question of whether you can overstate things in your subtitle. It’s really the same question you have to ask yourself in the writing of promotional material in general. Are we coming off as presumptuous and/or delusional? Are we too subtle and understated? Usually you strive to achieve a balance.
“The greatest band in the history of the world” might be a little much, though perhaps for that slightly weird fan who sits in the front row for every show (possibly drooling ever so slightly), yours really is the greatest band in the history of the world. Who’s to dispute it?
Does anyone recall the Cristy Lane TV ad blitz of the mid-1980s? At one point they starting referring to her as “Cristy Lane: The Most Beautiful Voice in Music.” I thought it was a little heavy-handed, but maybe it was what was needed to grab people’s attention and get those $19.99 (plus S&H) orders flowing in.
You can also err in the other direction by being too humble or understated: “Carolyna Wynd: A pretty decent band” just isn’t going to excite most potential fans or buyers. Similarly, the matter-of-fact “a band that plays bluegrass” is pretty lacking in punch too, as is the honest but overly personal, “our friends think we’re pretty good.”. On the other hand, “human beings playing some music” might have that touch of irony that will lead to certain kinds of bookings (low-paying).
I’d avoid the simple, yet desperate-sounding, “available for whatever.”
I think that Fletcher Bright’s Dismembered Tennesseans struck just the right balance with “good, cheap entertainment.” And you have to love the band name.