The Musician's Signature Sound Checklist

What is more important than having the best voice or musicianship on the planet? A distinctive sound that is instantly recognizable – a signature.

Use this checklist to sharpen your signature and get some tips for how to find yours along the way.

The Signature Sound Checklist:

1. A clearly defined genre.

You’re not “iffy” about what kind of music you play. And you’re not reinventing the wheel or calling your music “unique.” Matter of fact, no one has to ask you, it’s obvious.

2. A distinctive quality/style about your voice or playing.

You don’t sound like everyone else (thank goodness). Matter of fact you stick out like a sore thumb. Think of the drawling quality of Leonard Cohen’s voice, the fast vibrato of Stevie Nicks or Antony + the Johnsons, or the raspy breathy vocal sound a la Macy Gray or Mazzy Star. Musicians think of the distinctive sound of Carlos Santana’s guitar or Yo-Yo Ma’s cello playing. The trick is not to copy others, but to find your unique natural distinctive sound or playing style and build on that.

3. An instantly recognizable sound.

Great singers or musicians have an instantly recognizable sound. They get there by not being afraid to hone their own sound.

4. Perfect imperfections.

There is something to say for not being “too perfect.” You don’t want to come across as too “vanilla.” Let some of your imperfections show (vocalists: I’m not talking about leaving an off-pitch note on your record because it had a great emotion – fix the pitch ;)). I’m talking about letting your phrasing sit back slightly behind, working to find the imperfections that actually sound good.

5. Production that stands out.

Think of layers of production that echo a past style but bring something new like Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black or Diane Birch’s Speak a Little Louder. Or a record that accentuates a sparse sound, like The White Stripes or Black Keys. Remember it’s not about copying but finding your own productive elements that stand out in your genre. What’s been done before, and how can you modernize that?

6. Brings a new sound – something new for our ears to catch on to.

This is tricky because similar to the production elements in #5, you have to build on what came before in trends and not come out of left field. It can’t be too far from whence we’ve come or it is unrelatable. Start with the drums – drums that are not modern are a sure-fire way to date your sound. It starts with what is underfoot.

7. Authenticity.

There is a pendulum that swings in the music industry – it’s like fashion. The darling of the day will soon be replaced with a new sound. Don’t chase today’s sound – build your own – be authentic and stand your ground (but it better earn its merit to have enough of the aforementioned elements to pave the way!).

8. Features one thing.

A signature sound usually features one thing. Either a voice that stands out, a new sound, a unique instrument, lyrics that punch us in the gut or empower us, a strong message or concept.  As long as whatever it is doesn’t overshadow the music because then it will come across as “gimmicky” and cheapen what you’ve got.

Want more great tips, solutions, and some free guidance? Join my FREE 6 Week Online Artist Development Program: Step Up to the Spotlight. This program has helped over 13,400 artists amplify their impact and skyrocket their careers. I want you to be next.


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