It may not seem like a high priority at the outset of your career, but if you’re recording music, putting it online, and taking it on the road for people to hear and, hopefully, buy, then it’s wise to make the early investment in (at least) a band name search. And then trademark it before any headaches and legal bills start to pile up. It’s a nuisance best met head-on. Don’t confuse this with copyrighting – you can’t copyright a name in Canada, but there are several ways to gain the protection of a trademark, including doing nothing at all.

A name is your brand, the foundation upon which you build the image of your band. It’s your flag, and you want to fly it high and make it undeniably, legally, and perpetually yours. The last thing in the world you want to see when your group gets its first smattering of recognition is a Cease and Desist order from a bunch of guys in another town (or worse, another country in which you’ve just booked a tour) who cooked up the same name three weeks before you did. Just ask the boys in the bands Bush X, Charlatans UK, Blink 182, and Dinosaur Jr. how much fun they had having to retro-fit their names after a legal challenge.

Or the 2015 Polaris Music Prize long-listed band Viet Cong, who had to change their name to Preoccupations after protesters strenuously objected to the band naming themselves after a brutal insurgent group that terrorized citizens during the Vietnam War. It even impinged on their ability to tour, as the band lost bookings in Australia.

There are several musician-advice websites that offer wise guidance on how to proceed with protecting your band/performance name, including a page at SaskMusic and one at DIY Musician. They all start by suggesting a name search. Just Googling the name is insufficient. There are websites, like Band Vault and Band Name that will look for similar names for about $15. If you’re planning to register a trademark you can’t just search for a duplicate of the name, you must search for similarly spelled or similar-sounding names, too – as those bands could make a serious claim against you, should they choose.  You’ll want to finalize your search by checking in on the Canadian Trademarks Database at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office and – if you’re smart and have cross-border ambitions – the US Patent Office website as well. You’ll need to check in with other countries’ trademark rules if you’re planning to go worldwide.

Common law has determined that prior (first) usage is viable proof of a trademark, and if you can establish that you used the name and were recognized for it (e.g., in a review) before anyone else did, it’s yours. Even if someone else registered the name after you made your debut. On his aptly named website, Lawyer/Drummer, Saskatchewan-based lawyer (and drummer in One Bad Son) Kurt Dahl points out that, “absent a federal trademark registration, your rights in a mark are limited geographically to the scope of your reputation.” Which means, in more drummer-friendly language, if you’re just playing gigs within driving distance of home, and have been recognized for it, you can claim your dominance in that territory, but only that territory. If someone else can establish that they are more well-known or successful than you (through ticket or record sales, press clippings, etc.), then you can lose your identity, snap – just like that. How lucky do you feel? If not too lucky, then it’s time to look for a lawyer.

Of course, deciding on a band name is a most painful procedure. This late in the game it seems as though all the good names have been taken. You’ll most likely have to settle on some unsatisfactory variation on your 45th choice, but once it’s done and you’ve invested in the trademark, it’s done. Wry writer Mike Blick, in an article titled “Naming Your Band – in 10 Easy Steps,” says that “trying to find the greatest band name ever is a fool’s errand. The best you can hope for (and what most bands settle for) is the least bad band name.” To save you some time, here’s a list of the most common band names, according to Bliss, Mirage, One, Gemini, Legacy, Paradox, and Rain.

The benefits of trademarking your band name are far-reaching, and imperative if you have long-term plans for success. Your brand needs protection from inferior competitors who can tarnish or diminish your reputation. It can help you protect your own products from merchandise bootleggers, and ensure the assistance of legal authorities to enforce your rights. You also might want to consider establishing the ownership of the name itself – your bandmates will appreciate that.

The last word goes to drumming lawyer Dahl, who notes that it costs about $1,000 to file a Canadian trademark registration. “I’ve dealt with several band name disputes, and can confirm that they end up costing far more than the cost of a trademark,” he says. “I appreciate that paying rent, buying a new guitar, and maintaining your tour van might take precedence, but the cost of a trademark will be money well spent. When you look at the ongoing decline in music sales, it’s hard to deny the increasing importance of ancillary revenue streams like merchandise and the increasing value of your band’s brand.”

Once A Tree is the singer-songwriter/production duo of Hayden and Jayli Wolf. Their new single, “Born for This,” is the soundtrack for a national TV ad campaign for Nissan’s new KICKS, and Jayli is featured in the commercial. The B.C.-born, Toronto-based duo won a 2018 Indigenous Music Award in the category of Best Electronic Album for their previously released full-length, Phoenix. They participated in the 2018 SOCAN Kenekt Song Camp in Nicaragua. Here’s what they had to say about their experiences there…

Hayden: I’m having the most nostalgic dream. I’m in mid-conversation with an old friend, as his face begins to melt and a deafening howl fills my head. I launch out of bed. It’s 3:00 a.m. We’re in the middle of the jungle in Nicaragua and a family of howler monkeys are partying on our roof.

The next morning we walk the hill to our meet-up point. The scene around us is filled with wild cats, surfboards, and the sound of majestic bird calls. We catch our first glance of the howler monkeys; they’re damn cute. Already feeling inspired, and we haven’t even had coffee yet! We’re at the SOCAN Kenekt 2018 Song Camp, in Maderas Village. Our breakfast is spent getting to know the other musicians, and taking in the scenery around us. It’s dry season, so the hills remind me of desert land, but we’re also just a short walk from the ocean.

Jayli: Before we landed in Nicaragua, we were a bit nervous about splitting up to work with others, as we usually only work together. But after the first-morning feast, and the welcome chat from SOCAN’s Rodney Murphy, the nerves turned straight into excitement. We were ready to build relationships and get into writing mode. Each day we were split up into different groups, to ensure that we had a chance to work with as many people as possible. The energy in each session was completely unique, with each artist coming from their own musical background and style of writing. Some days we would write for someone in the group, other days we would decide to write with a different artist in mind. Writing for other artists was such a wonderful change of pace for us; it was so freeing. I was able to create in styles of music with which I’d never even experimented before, from early-2000s, pop-inspired sounds to rock-infused tracks. I started experiencing growth by the end of the first day!

With songwriting, I normally focus into my own headspace and go from there, but working with others took me totally out of that comfort zone. We all have our own ways of getting inspired, working through writer’s block, and our own feelings that we’d like to express on any given day. So to begin a new track as a group opened up new pathways of creativity. We all threw out ideas at the beginning of the day, until one resonated with all of us – and then we would go for it! Sometimes a song idea was sparked from thinking on a specific genre, other times the inspiration came from a narrative, or even a word. Each group dynamic was so unique, there was never a dull moment. There were times when a song seemed to flow out of the group effortlessly, and other days seemed to take a lot more energy. We even had days where, half-way through, we would scrap everything we were working on and start completely fresh.

We were on a pretty tight deadline! Each day we had to have one full song done to play for everyone at the end of the night. It was the golden hour, when we’d listen to all the tracks that everyone had created that day! It also completely renewed our energy, and inspired us to work even harder the following day. The inspiration would bounce off the walls at listening time. The genres, pace, and storylines of the other groups’ songs would ignite something in us for the rest of the week. Hayden and I would go back to our cabana and discuss the tracks in total awe! We truly felt like every single song we heard could be charting. We were honoured to be in the company of such talented artists. It also helped that we loved each and every artist as people, too! It felt like we had a big family there with whom we could create.

Hayden: This camp truly built our confidence in songwriting, gave us new tools, and gifted us an experience we’ll never forget. We built so many new friendships with people right from our own city, with whom we might have never crossed paths, in such a powerful collaborative way. The camp wasn’t only about making hits; it was about creating those long-lasting relationships that blossom into further creations in the future.

The SOCAN Kenekt 2018 Song Camp was forever life-changing for us, allowing us both to grow as artists, and as people. Huge thanks to SOCAN!

“SONGS into DOLLARS! New songwriters, poets, composers may gain SUCCESS, FAME, WEALTH. Songs composed, PUBLISHED. Appraisals, details FREE.”

Classified-size ads like this were rampant in the backs of magazines for most of the 20th Century. Amateur lyricists were invited to send their work to “song poem” companies who claimed to vet all submissions and only select the material most likely to be a hit, i.e., anyone willing to pay the subsequent fee. These companies would then write the music, chart it out, and hire studio musicians to play it: often only once, sometimes recording 12 different new songs an hour. It was assembly-line music at its most efficient.

Songs Into Dollars It was also a scam. The songs were rarely ever heard outside the writer’s home, despite promises to market it to tastemakers. Years later, some surfaced on a series of compilations by Bar/None Records, very serious songs with unintentionally hilarious titles like “Human Breakdown of Absurdity.”

Song poems were/are easy to mock. But even though they were a scam, they were also a democratizing force during a time when home recording was far out of reach for most amateurs, or even most professionals, who often needed a major label to bankroll studio time.

Cut to the 21st Century, when everyone who buys a new computer gets pre-installed software, including a digital audio workstation (DAW), while other tools are available for free online. A boom in home recording democratizes music-making to infinite levels, which is inherently a good thing.

And yet, something’s missing. Working alone in your basement has obvious limitations. Unless you’re Stevie Wonder (which you’re not), you actually can’t play or sing all the parts yourself. You’re not that good a mixer, and you most likely know next to nothing about mastering. And it’s hard to find great players and producers if you don’t live in a major music centre – and what starving artist can afford to live in one of those anymore? (Okay, fine, Montréal is still possible… for now.)

Shachar Gilad of SoundBetter

Shachar Gilad of SoundBetter

Into that void come new online services like SoundBetter, which enables pro and semi-pro musicians looking for a mixing engineer with Top 40 credits, as well as people who need everything done for them. (“I have this rough song idea I think you can write and sing to and make it a hit,” reads one post on SoundBetter.)

SoundBetter is the progenitor, founded in 2012 by Shachar Gilad, a former employee of Logic, Apple, and the plug-in developer Waves. Gilad was hearing from both musicians who needed professional help, and professional producers and engineers who were having difficulty connecting with new clients. SoundBetter was inspired in part by Yelp, AirBnB, and Etsy: part directory, part marketplace, and connecting supply with demand across all global borders.

Anyone can post an ad: Are you looking for an EDM producer that can give your track the kind of bottom end you’re looking for? Or an incredible R&B singer to handle your hook? Maybe something super-specialized, like an oboe player? In the age of infinite synth patches, AutoTune and plug-ins, there is still high demand for the human touch – even if, as Gilad points out, his clients could be in Russia or rural Manitoba. Two of his most successful vocalists live in Vietnam and Lisbon. And having live instrumentation sets your demo far apart from the same synth patches used by everyone else with whom your demo is competing. For those who are providing the service, they can work out of their home and at their leisure, connecting with clients around the world they’d never have access to otherwise.

Initially, SoundBetter accepted all providers. In 2014, they added a premium level for more experienced players and engineers who are vetted and charged a monthly fee for greater visibility on the site; less than three per cent of applicants are accepted. “If we let everyone into premium, we’d be making a lot more money, but we don’t do that,” says Gilad. “That wouldn’t be sustainable, or a good experience for the client.”

Premium clients often have Grammys, or Top 40 credits to their name, but that’s not necessarily the best benchmark for who’ll do the best on SoundBetter. Old-fashioned customer service is. “What does a credit actually mean?” asks Gilad rhetorically. “It means someone in your city gave you a break to get you in that room on that day [a hit was made] and you didn’t blow it. A lot of people never had that lucky break, but they’re super-talented, and SoundBetter allows them to develop. If they get 100 reviews that are positive, they get hired again and again. And it’s really important when you’re working remotely to communicate well. You could be an amazing singer or mixing engineer, but we’ll kick you out if you don’t provide a good service.” Gilad boasts that some songs produced by SoundBetter now have hundreds of millions of plays on Spotify.|

Chris Erhardt, Mylène Besançon, Tiunedly

Chris Erhardt and Mylène Besançon of Tunedly.

A relatively recent competitor to SoundBetter is Tunedly, which was started as SongCat, in Prince Edward Island in 2015, by a German and French couple, Chris Erhardt and Mylène Besançon. The pair met in Ireland; the couple are still in Charlottetown, though the company’s office is in St. Louis, Missouri. They know a thing or two about working remotely in an interconnected world.

Tunedly is decidedly smaller than SoundBetter, offering only several dozen heavily vetted providers, to whom they can guarantee steady work. But they’ve also attracted some top names to their advisory board, including Matthew Knowles, father of Beyoncé and Solange, and Harvey Mason Jr., a Grammy-winner who’s worked with Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake and other heavy hitters.

SoundBetter allows providers, who are charged a monthly fee, to set their own pricing with clients. Tunedly doesn’t charge its providers to be on the platform but takes a small percentage of revenue. It sets standard rates, to avoid undercutting. “We want songwriters to put together their team for each project based on who’s the best choice, instead of who’s the cheapest choice,” says Tunedly’s Erhardt.

SoundBetter’s clients and providers are global; Tunedly’s providers are largely L.A. and Nashville pros. Perhaps not coincidentally, Tunedly is focused more on singer-songwriters in folk, acoustic pop and country, primarily in North America, while SoundBetter attracts a lot of chart pop, hip-hop and EDM clients from around the world. Tunedly started out as a demo-development site, where songwriters would submit a rough version of their song that would then be produced by a project manager at Tunedly, who would arrange the song and hire the players (which is not terribly dissimilar to the song-poem model). As of May 2017, Tunedly moved away from just pre-made packages, and allowed songwriters to pick session players for specific needs, closer to the SoundBetter model.

For the lonely songwriter trying to flesh out rough demos, it’s a far cry from placing your trust in sketchy classified ads for song-poems. You control the final product. And this time, you might actually have a hit on your hands.