Under the Influence:  Who do you think you sound like anyway?

This is a question that musicians get asked a lot:  Who do you sound like?  I understand the reasons – a listener with a penchant for the music of Johnny Cash might well have a tendency to like country and western while not getting on too well with rap and vice versa.  It’s a good question – intended obviously to  guide listeners to your music directly rather than stumbling across it while looking for something else .  And sometimes we find ourselves listening to an artist and saying ‘hey that’s good – it’s got a bit of Kate Rusby in it, with a soupcon of thrash metal, peppered with Drum and Bass’.  Well, that might be going too far but you see what I mean… we like to feel there is something comfortably familiar in the music we listen to – and there is nothing wrong in that.  Sometimes of course the music is plain derivative where the melody and the arrangement are slightly different but there is a clear intention to create a clone of an existing piece. To be fair that can be because the performer worships the original to the extent that they try to emulate it.

Now that’s all well and good but I want to urge all you budding songwriters and musicians to create something different.  Something new.  Admittedly (at least in the popular music industry, and in our hemisphere) you will be constrained by the norms of musical convention and, if subconsciously, by the rules of musical composition.  But there is still a seemingly infinite variety of styles, instrumentation, melody variation, chord structures and musical imagination out there to make something truly original within those bounds.  Just think of the blues: 12 bars , limited chord sequence but within that an incredible variety of truly seminal music has been written – there can hardly be a songwriter who has not at some level been influenced by this art form.

When you sign up to some of the social media music outlets they will often ask you ‘Who do you sound like?’  I wish they wouldn’t!  I have no idea who I sound like (if anyone) – and that is partly because I am not very good at hero worship and partly because I am pretty rubbish at imitation.

More precisely and more truthfully I should say that of course I have had musical heroes – I had the honour to see B.B. Kind live many years ago and  to call him one of my heroes doesn’t  come close.  But I strive actively to not sound like those I admire greatly.  But It is only partly because I don’t want to – I would give my right arm to have a voice like Tom Jones, or Leonard Cohen, or Bob Dylan, but I haven’t – so that’s that then.  It’s also because I believe very strongly that each of us has a voice to use describe the world as we see it – not as anyone else does – our own unique perspective.  We have to find our own style – and that is a lifetime’s work.

Over that lifetime our style may change.  It would be strange if it didn’t – each new experience good and bad will change who we are – when we find someone to love, lose someone we love, feel passionate about some cause, see injustice, maltreatment,  acts of unexpected kindness – all these things change our souls at the deepest level and that should change our approach to what we write.  I say should – at the very least if you are in earnest about the trade of song writing  it ought to.  Churning out the same old same old because it’s what we have always done isn’t the way forward – it’s a way of staying put.

If you listen to my music or anyone else’s , and if it seems a little left-field, different, unlike the normal run of the mill stuff it doesn’t make it good.  Of course it doesn’t but it is surely worthy of a second listen .  Once upon a time a diminished chord (formed by taking every third half tone) wast regarded as the devil’s work – centuries later it was common place in rock, pop, jazz, blues and film music when a particular mood needed to be conveyed.  Somebody decided ‘hey that deserves exploring’.

So, go forth and explore.  Not everything that’s new is good; not everything  different is bad; not everything original is truly original but none of that matters.  Just don’t try to be someone else.  As  the old saying goes: be yourself:  everyone else is taken.

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