If the band cannot afford a federal registration, there are some things which can be done to protect the name. First, do a name search to find out if the name is unique. Google is the easiest, or some large libraries have a publication called (Index To) The Trademark Register. Or, one could check the Billboard International Talent & Touring Directory. Additionally, a person could order a name search report from a professional searching bureau for a few hundred dollars. Such bureaus are listed in the yellow pages on online under "Trademark Consultants." If the name is free and clear, the letters "TM", although unofficial, can be utilized to indicate rights to an unregistered service mark. Finally, the most important thing an act can do is to use the name publicly and consistently.
Assuming the act will seek a federal registration and has done a thorough search, the application procedure basically involves submitting (1) the appropriate application form (online or hard copy), (2) proof of public performance (e.g., advertisement or promo material for the public performance), and (3) the filing fee of approximately $325-375 (subject to change).
In a group situation, it is also important to come to some agreement in writing as to who owns the group name, and what will happen if a member leaves the group. The lack of such an understanding has led to a plethora of lawsuits.
The purpose of this article was to familiarize an artist with the way to protect one of the most important attributes that the public will associate with an act: the name. Since trademark matters can be somewhat complex, it might be wise to consult an attorney who can assist with the search and registration process.
Ben McLane Esq