Should New Bands Optimize Their Names for Search?
The Scottish electro-pop band CHVRCHES will make many top 10 album lists this year, but they weren’t always this well known. The band’s sudden popularity exemplifies the come-from-nowhere, meteoric rise typical of today’s niche pop bands. Would they ever have made it this far if they had spelled their name “CHURCHES” instead of “CHVRCHES”?
With all the methods of music discovery available, word of mouth is still the most popular in spreading music. And in 2013, when your friend recommends a band by name, the next step is usually a Google search. And if “CHVRCHES” were named “CHURCHES”, their official website would not immediately appear in the search results for a potential fan.
Oh, sure, you can type “Churches band” or “Churches music” and find the band. And it’s true that search is getting smarter. Increasingly, Google will know you’re searching for music and not places of worship. It won’t be long before Google personalizes search to the point where it knows you’re searching for the band Tennis or Elbow (God forbid you have to search for both bands at the same time, though).
All of this begs the question: Do we really need to optimize our band names for search?
CHVRCHES is not the only band that took SEO into account when naming their band, though they may be the only one making a big deal out of it. We found this story of a band named Project that changed their name to Project Trio for better SEO. There are other examples we can only guess at. Why does Fun. have a period at the end of their name? What about TNGHT, MGMT and XXYYXX? The trend toward vowel removal may not have been caused by SEO concerns, but it certainly has emerged with search results in mind. We even wonder if Miley Cyrus’s record label put a “Z” at the end of “Bangerz” not just to be edgy/ironic — although the top search result for “bangers” is bangers and mash, which sounds a lot like twerking to us.
We’ll never know how many bands were going to name themselves something like “Computer” and then were horrified enough by a Google search to change it to “KOMPUTR”. We won’t know how many chose to use their real names for superior SEO rather than choose a title with rival search terms. In reality, most band names are just fine without needing to be optimized for search. A look at releases in 2013 turns up very few SEO nightmares: Upset, Cave, Papa, Hunters, Seams, for example. Most band names are unique by default.
There’s no doubt choosing a generic name is a unique challenge. Even in the pre-search days, The Band must have thought twice about their name. Their legendary status is made all the more so now that any search for “the band” turns up their music. Today’s music scene is a much different place for generic band names. Still, one has to imagine that if psychedelic drone band Cave beat cave (the natural underground space) in a search they’d be pretty triumphant.
It may be a while before Google knows you’re a huge fan of psychedelic drone and gives you Cave the band in your search results, but that day is coming.
There are countless blog posts like this one from CDBaby that advocate for search-optimizing names. We don’t think it’s so cut and dry. There is still enough artistic license in music to allow for any type of name, generic or not. Those that choose a generic name should do so knowing the SEO consequences, but they can certainly rise to the challenge. They might even appear kind of cool because they have chosen a name they and their fans know will make them harder to find — this appears mysterious and cutting-edge. And as we’ve seen, generic names can often easily be found anyway, by appending “band” or “music” to the name. It’s a trick we think most music fans know by now.
Any band with career aspirations should understand how their band name fits into the SEO universe. SEO will probably not dictate your band name they way it did for CHVRCHES, but you should allow it to inform your name choice. You can’t be heard if you can’t be discovered. While music fans will usually know how to find you, and Google is getting better at knowing they’re looking for your band, we don’t see any reason not to make the job easier for both of them.
From a purely business/career standpoint, it’s critical that your band name be easy to search for. From a purely artistic perspective, you are free to choose any new band name you like. You should feel free to let your art guide your business, so long as you understand and rise to the SEO challenges that arise from that decision. The importance of band name SEO has been exaggerated by musician advice blogs desperate for content and clicks, but it is certainly worth seriously considering.