By Cari Cole
Seems like such an easy thing. Just be you. We hear it every day — but how? Especially when you’re struggling to become you (you haven’t had a lot of life lived yet), or you’re reinventing yourself from tough times, or from a period of time where the fountain of creativity just kind of stopped. Or maybe you’re recovering from difficult circumstances that took you down or life stuff that blindsided you out of nowhere. And the last thing you want to do is write about that. You just want to get out of it. Hint: Not so fast… once you get perspective, those hard times bring strong songs.
But one thing is for sure. Having trouble nailing your lane and sound is way more common than you think. It’s actually harder to find it than it is to meander. It’s way easier to climb Mount Everest than stake your claim. Probably because staking your claim often means leaving a whole lot of you out of the picture. But choosing a path is imperative to strengthening your impact.
Should I do Americana or Jazz? What about my classical roots, or my love of blues? And I do love a little Stevie Wonder… oh me oh my… why do I have to choose? I know —– I won’t. But then you end up being so eclectic that you only end up confusing people and diluting your potential – and maybe even miss what’s great about you.
Lots of artists have been tossed to the curb precisely because they couldn’t figure out who they were – even with a label’s A & R department and assistance.
It’s even further complicated by the fact that you have to have lots of time and space to experiment. To grow, to try things. But mind you — take it. You’re going to need it. Don’t rush – do it right. You’ll be so much better off for it.
Here are my top tips for getting clarity on who you are.
1. Listen to a Lot of Music But Narrow Down What Sounds Good On You
You can like a lot of music, but would you sound good singing it? Playing it? What do you sound the best singing? Let that lead you in a direction.
2. Embrace Your Natural Strengths
Resist wanting what you don’t have. If you have a clear voice, don’t try to be raspy. If you hate high notes, why do you insist on singing them? You probably don’t sound good like that ;). Great voices are not all high belters ;). Embrace your natural strengths and let them lead you closer to your true direction…
3. Don’t Fight Your Instincts
Spend time listening to music, production elements to discover what you really like. And then go in the direction of what you instinctually want to hear. If you don’t know how to explain what you want, use reference tracks to show what you like. That always works best (but be sure what exactly you are pointing to in the track — it might not be everything in it and that could mislead your producer.) But spend a LOT of time on this. It will help you carve what you do really like. Go in the direction of your instincts. Be bold about it.
4. Don’t Chase the Trends, Set Them
By the time you finish chasing the current trend it’s already gone. The trick is to get ahead of them. One of the ways of doing that is to make the music you want to hear and wait until the music pendulum comes your way — it surely will, but you might miss it off chasing another trend….
5. Love What Makes You Different
At the end of the day there are many flavors of ice cream. Love the flavor that is you – it’s your strongest hope of being original. It’s your strongest chance of standing out instead of fitting in ;). Love what makes YOU different. Don’t let fear stop you.
6. Be Rooted in the Past But Relevant in Today’s Music World
Borrow from yesterday but add a modern musical elements. Take for instance Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. Legendary producer Mark Ronson pulled from the past but set the record in the current day. All pop music comes from Rhythm & Blues at it’s base. Be sure you’ve got roots, and you also have elements of today’s music world in your music. And stop complaining about current day music — listen to those Spotify playlists and find the lesser known artists coming up in the ranks – you’ll find some killer stuff.