This week the 10 billionth song was downloaded from iTunes since its launch in 2003.
In less than seven years Apple has become America’s No. 1 music vendor. The digital revolution has transformed the way we listen to music. It has also made life a lot more difficult for rock bands in search of a good name.
It used to be just a case of dreaming up a name and using it. These days, it takes only moments for a local band to create an online profile, upload songs and reach an international audience, thereby raising the stakes in trademark disputes which almost always hinge on which band first used the name commercially, and where.
Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones recently found just how difficult finding a name has become when he was forming a new rock band.
“Every other name is taken,” he complained to the Wall Street Journal. “Think of a great band name and Google it, and you’ll find a French-Canadian jam band with a MySpace page.” Naming consultants everywhere will sympathize.
A lack of imagination may be part of the problem. According to Rovi Corp., which has a database of about 1.4 million artist names, the most common name in its files is Bliss. Next up: Mirage and One, followed by Gemini, Legacy, Paradox and Rain. They sound more like Las Vegas hotels than rock bands.
John Paul Jones’ first choice, Caligula, was ditched after they found seven other acts using the name. His band eventually decided on Them Crooked Vultures for reasons best known to themselves.
It’s just as well they did their homework though. Having to change a name can be disastrous for a band. The Journal recounted the case of Captain America, a Scottish band that was endorsed and invited on tour by Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain in 1992.
Captain America was signed by Atlantic Records just as Marvel, publisher of the Captain America comic book, sent the band a cease-and-desist order. With its first U.S. record already in the pipeline, the group rechristened itself Eugenius, a reference to leader Eugene Kelly.
“Overnight, their career deflated,” says Steve Greenberg, the former Atlantic Records talent scout who landed Captain America.
“When people are given the chance to decide twice about a band, they don’t always make the same decision,” he says. “Fans of Captain America weren’t quite so sure they were fans of Eugenius.”
Mr. Kelly agrees that the “worst name ever” derailed Eugenius. “A band name should pass the taxi-driver test: You shouldn’t have to tell him twice,” says the Glasgow singer, who is recording a new album with his pre-Captain America band, the Vaselines. That name, he says, “sounds good and looks good.”
Personally, I can’t help feeling he’s not going to have much luck with that one either.
Footnote: how Led Zeppelin got its name. When Jimmy Page was assembling the group, Keith Moon (drummer from The Who) got word of his plans and predicted the group would go down “like a lead balloon”, a common English expression for something that will bomb very quickly. John Entwistle added it would be “more like a lead zeppelin,” the large gas-filled cylindrical rigid airships invented by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Page took the phrase and manager Peter Grant changed the spelling to “led” in order to avoid mispronunciation.