Wednesday, July 15, 2009

name dropping and self naming

Our beautiful Bella sashays into the room looking secretly pleased with herself. She sighs, smiling dreamily.

“That was Carlo,' she swoons and flops onto the stained couch in a draft of Gucci. We pause in wonder and burst out laughing at her. She’s talking about alt jazz pioneer Carlo Mombelli (and The Prisoners Of Strange), and it's the only time i've heard ever her boasting. Given, having Carlo call your personal phone to give you compliments is something to be pleased about, but it doesn’t change the fact that name dropping is kind of corny.

In a world of busybee networking, though, name dropping has its uses, and like its mobile cousin, the jittery Twitter, it’s a promotion platform that’s here to stay. Like bread and margarine for lunch (which, according to inner city aficionados all over the franchised world, is the ‘promotional platform’ that keeps your coffees coming atcha with a friendly, paid-for smile and an obrigado).

The culture vultures of the sonic underground have also noticed that in the last while, name dropping has increasingly been taking place in non-egocentric situations. Name dropping in the literal sense, mind you, though it ironically serves professional survival and expansion.

In some cases, it's seems to be happening because IP in SA stands for a political party with Freedom taken out, not an arm of the law governing Freedom Of Expression and creative ownership. In other words, somebody forgot to Google their band name to check if it is owned by some phat company from a cultural dictator like the U, S and A, or the UK. Ask the artist formerly known as Harris Tweed. They hit a nasty snag on the security fences near the sheeplands er, Shetlands, when an international brand cried wool – ag, wolf. Think also of the spurned and augmented Love Jones whose name was stolen from them when some yankee act that had legal dibs on it discovered the Jones’ doing a doppelganger.

Other bands have edited their catchy name to something more in line with what they've been advised are the tastes of a potential foreign market, though i struggle to see what Germans will see in a pseudo-Scottish band name with South African musicians besides, well, pastiche.

The fact remains that while names are changeable or set in the stone that could sometimes sink with the songs, a name is both a banner to band's entire brand, and a subconscious, intellectual interaction between the listener and the music, so it has creative and commercial weight. It helps to get it right, then. Problem: like with love and good combinations of grapes, there is best practise but really no formula (and of course, mixing the two is the best formula, and widely practised as well).

When effective band names can become a slogan or mantra for a sub-culture or even an entire generation, the best ones have proven that they either fall easily off the tongue and carry the essence of its music, or they mean absolutely nothing. You decide which category The Beatles falls into.

So when a kind call-out from a sweet starter-upper goes out to the masses for his new artist name, Jezebel started wondering about at the art of .. well.. self naming. Sounds simple, eh? Like, just close your eyes and Bob’s Your Uncle? Sorry, it’s taken. (The Americans again) Alright, then name it after your granny? What? Gertrude Gugulethu? Maybe not, hey? (no, wait, maybe yes, especially if it’s for a solo artist. See? This is fun!)

But having sat with some such starter-uppers a little while back, and knocked words back and forth like the floppy swords that they sometimes are, I realised it can be hard to agree when there's more than one creative contributor in the band.

For those of us whose writer’s block is often our starting block, or for those who have just gone round the block trying to find inspiration (and maybe round the bend as a result), here are a few cunning (admittedly corny) cop-outs for those uncreative days when you just have to find a new band name and you simply cannot find your brain. Or a baby name, for the expectant mums reading this. Even if it doesn’t work for you, it might make you laugh, and who knows, even get your creative juices rejoicing…


*open the dictionary (/bible/yellow pages/junkmail/current novel) at random and highlight words (with your eyes closed, if you like)

*try Your Porn Name. Take your first pet’s name, and add mother’s maiden name.

* Facebook's spam check (that pops up with every link you post) offers some arbitrary and sometimes rather intriguing combinations. Add a verb. (‘fuck’is inadvisable. So is ‘kif’. I won’t even mention ‘kewl’.)

*take a line from your favourite fairytale/nursery rhyme/poem/advert.

*grab every second word in yesterday's headline. Then put them backwards.

*make an acronym from your initials, and then choose words to represent it.

*put up fridge poetry, invite your friends over, and offer shots (or whatever your cultural currency is) for every catchy combination of two or more words. If you want to be artistic, ask them to select just one word.

*don’t randomly choose character names from esteemed novels unless you understand the implications. (the artists once parodied as Peter Keating did not)

*write foreign cuss words phonetically. [“Koos Emek? Cool name. Is that like a new acoustic act from Krugersdorp or something?” ]

*if you're really pressed, go ask your baby sister for some of her old poetry. You'd be surprised what people will sing along to if it rhymes.

If you’ve tried this and your heart sank at the results, take heart. Your band name might already be written in your lyrics somewhere. (but take note: these exercises won't help applied to penning lyrics themselves. A phrase is a phrase is a phrase (this is not a phrase). Sure, you can try it, but you'll probably end up a sounding like bad a stand-up comedian on stage, rather than a rock star, though it seems the perks are much the same.

Good luck!

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