“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” --William Faulkner*
We all have our heroes who inspire us, but does this somehow hinder our own musical development? Sometimes it does, and that is what I want to talk about in this blog post.
When I talk with artists about the development of their music, referencing their inspiration is part of the process and helps to explain their vision. "I'm kind of thinking Metallica meets early 2000's Shania Twain, you feeling me?". This is normal (maybe not that specific example), but this should only be a jumping off point. It's a way to start the process but should not become an obsession that informs every decision throughout, especially when the artist has only one source of inspiration.
In the advertising and TV/Film world there might be a very good reason for using an unknown artist as a good “stand in” for a known. Financially speaking, paying for an unknown artist who sounds similar to a known is often a cheaper option. That's entirely different to being a unique artist in your own right.
And being unique is my ultimate point. Everyone with access to a computer (so... pretty much everyone), is able to self-release their music to a saturated and often disinterested audience on social media. Apart from the obvious lack of originality and creativity, why would anyone be interested in an attempt at a Lumineers song when they could listen to an ACTUAL Lumineers song? And let me assure you, if you think you are cashing in on an artist's fan base by attempting to sound like them, I would be very careful. Fans especially can be very protective and hostile to artists they deem are attempting to muscle in on their hero's territory.
When I start a new project with someone, we begin by discussing references and it gives us a jumping off point. This leads to new and fresh ideas and the end result can be unrecognizable from the artists we had discussed.
Love him or hate him, John Mayer said this gem: "it's my failure to sound like my heroes that's enabled me to sound like myself".
I'd love to hear your opinion on this: do you agree? Is there anything wrong with trying to produce music that sounds like your heroes? Are you doing yourself a disservice? Let me know...
Thanks for reading.
Jamie Muffett is a British Producer/Engineer/Mixer and musician working in New York City at Mercy Sound Studios in Manhattans East Village.
*Thanks to Mike Thornton for this quote.
Being likeable as an artist is a much overlooked skill, usually dominated by the desire to seem cool, aloof or too damn swaaag for all you bad bitches out there.
Being an artist is an exercise in being liked, not just being entertaining. People are far more likely to spend their time and money on you if you seem like a person worth investing in.
It struck me this morning as I was watching a Kickstarter campaign video that the desire to be cool and quirky, backfired on the artist when it came time to speak to camera and their fan base directly, eyeball to eyeball. And of course ask for money!
Even then the desire to seem cool seemed to intercept every moment of genuine personality and humility, to the point that it felt plain rude.
The delicate balance of cool Vs likeability is certainly hard to pull off, but if you want a large and loyal fan base it is a balancing act that could be the difference between a career in music, and a career waiting tables.
What do you think? I would love to know your opinions on the importance of likeability in music.
I am a British Producer, Mixer & Musician who is privileged to live in New York City.