Whether incidental or deliberate, every artiste has a style, even those who cannot yet define what it is. Some styles are more recognizable than others, and the best styles are often impossible to replicate, leaving a lasting impression the very first time you encounter them. Just like every craft or profession, it is a decided advantage for every professional to be authentic as well as unique with their approach and it’s no different with the music business.
The process of discovering your style as an artiste is usually a journey of self-discovery. Sometimes you stumble upon it – an epiphany of sorts, a Eureka moment were you know you have begun to find your way as a budding artiste. Other times, it’s a painstaking deliberate attempt, involving fine-tuning your style over and over again until you achieve the exact end-goal you had in mind.
It should be said though that, any artiste who intends to become a superstar understands that their style is always a work in progress – never finished, ever evolving. This means the process of discovering your style is essentially a career long pursuit and only ends when you stop making music. The moment you stop, you risk becoming stale and boring to listen to. Keeping your audience entertained is therefore implicitly the journey of discovering and rediscovering your style.
When all is said and done, when the dust settles and the tears dry, all any musician has is their legacy – their body of musical work shared the world over. Whenever you recollect memories about your favorite musicians – whose words and sounds shaped your impressionable mind – there is an ever present sound. That’s the essence of their style and it invariably determines the value of their legacy.
So how can an artiste discover a sound of their own? Here’s the first thing you’ll need to know:
No one is truly original.
They may sound like it but the truth is we’re all a product of our influences. Everyone at some point has had their sound inspired by another musician, or in most cases – a good number of them. So rather than trying to create a never before heard sound out of thin air, the goal should be how to combine all your influences into something new and awe-inspiring.
The late Steve Jobs, a creative genius who revolutionized Apple had this to say about creativity:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
It’s really that simple – which brings us to our first tip that will help you on the journey of discovering your sound.
Expand your influences
It’s so much easier to connect the right dots when you have a multitude of influences that inspire you. Always listen to music with an open mind, they may be something you pick up from listening to country music, or you may love the riffs on a rock solo.
Whatever it is will only come to you if you have that wide range of music consumption to begin with. Don’t just stick to the things you already know you like. Seek out those things you’d even thought for certain that’d you hate. You can then start putting all the pieces together to create something incredible.
Emulate your favourites
We all need to start from somewhere and what better place to start than co-opting patterns and musical ideas from your favorite artistes. Whenever you listen to a track/sound you like, take time out to figure out how it’s done.
No, you’re not trying to plagiarize their work, it’s a way of learning. In trying to figure out the steps that led to the final product you were listening to, you start to think of making music in new ways that are great for your creativity and sound. You get new skills – or improve existing ones – and explore fresh ideas.
Experiment with sound
It can feel awfully comfortable to know your stuff in a certain way that works for you but getting stuck in your comfort zone can kill your career before it has even begun. Sure, it’s not a bad idea to leverage the success of a particular sound, but there’s a thin line between having a signature sound and becoming a one-trick pony.
This is why you need to experiment with your sound – publicly and privately. Don’t be afraid to switch it up a bit, especially in your private recording sessions. Do something you’ve done with your sound before and don’t be afraid to fail. As many fans have found out, they may initially hate their favorite artiste for veering off the expected course but soon enough, they come to appreciate the creative genius that went in charting a new path.
Your failures and experiments will help you reveal a range of ways to create music with a signature sound without becoming a one-trick pony.
Improve on your success by continually refining your process. As you progress in your musical career, you can keep growing by continually tweaking how you make music with all the useful stuff you’ve learnt from various sources.
This is the behind-the-scenes works that separates the greats from the fakes. Superstars are always working on their craft and if you’re looking to become one, this is a crucial habit you need to develop.
Let it flow
At the end of the day, there is an intangible, unquantifiable aspect of creativity. You can optimize your creative process to ensure you can repeat your work with the same quality of results but there will always be a “feel” to being creative.
So sometimes, don’t overthink it. Just be you. Let the music that comes naturally to you, flow through you into an amazing song. Being a musician and discovering your style is about being the best ‘you’, you can be and sometimes that means letting the music come from within.
Whatever style you’ll most notably be remembered for is something that will develop over time. So, you’re gonna have to patient because it can take a while before you finally arrive at the sound that most defines you.
Keep at it, and don’t be in a hurry to arrive at any particular destination with your sound. Rather, enjoy the journey and savour every step in your growth as an artiste – both the good and the not-so-good. Before you realise it, you’ve become the artiste you dreamed of becoming.
There are no magic tricks, no quick fixes, or shortcuts to discovering your style. It’s largely about constantly putting in the work. There’s really no room to relax or slack off.
You especially need to be consistent with you music. Don’t get carried away by any previous successes that you fail to put in the required work to produce the quality of music that your fans appreciate.
Finally, and this is the most important tip because it is the foundation for everything else – be confident. Once doubts start to creep in that your sound may not be good enough – even when you’ve put in your best effort – you need to get rid of them.
Always believe in yourself and your music despite what the current situation may look like, or whatever anyone may be saying.
In the end, you’re your first fan, so keep going until you’re completely comfortable with your style. Your style has to be liked by you first before expecting others to do the same. All you need to become a superstar with an unforgettable sound is in you, you simply have to let it show.