Why You Shouldn’t Imitate Your Musical Influences

For songwriters who deeply resonate with the music of artists they love, it can be tempting to work out of the same playbook of your musical idols. But because music that embraces new ideas almost always proves to be the most impactful, imitating your musical influences is a bad idea. Here’s a few other reasons why you should develop your own musical ideas and not those of songwriters that have influenced you:

Listeners can usually tell when you’re copying someone else’s musical ideas

Music listeners are typically a lot more savvy than you might think. It’s a bad idea to imitate your influences because whether they know exactly why or not, they’ll probably be able to detect an inauthentic element in your music. Yes, paving your own musical path might takes years of risk, trial and error and hard work, but at least it will be your musical path and not someone else’s. What’s new, fresh and challenging in music usually rises to the top, so try developing your own ideas rather than borrowing them from your idols.

You won’t be able to pull it off

Whether it’s Kurt Cobain’s distorted screaming or Nels Cline’s dizzying virtuosic guitar work, another reason not to imitate your idols is because you just don’t have what it takes to pull it off. At some point, no amount of practicing will be able to get you anywhere close to how another musician sounds. This applies to playing instruments and singing as much as it does in writing songs. Rather than the insanely frustrating experience of trying to sound like someone else, instead try defining what exactly it is you love about another person’s music. You’ll never be able to replicate another musician’s sound, but you can absolutely learn to write and play from a space of inspiration informed by your influences.

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Your music already unknowingly imitates other artists

Whether you realize it or not, your unique musical sense of identity is already informed by hundreds of artists responsible for making the music you’ve heard in the world around you since you were born. From jingles meant to sell cereal to the recent playlist you’ve been obsessing over, it’s impossible to make music that’s not somewhat informed by the work of someone else. In light of this, the process of discovering and developing your own unique voice as a songwriter is more important than ever.

Imitating your influences is a bad way to honor the artists you love

Making music that’s meant to sound just like an artist you love is one of the worst ways to honor their legacy. Impactful music is almost always written when an artist is brave enough to try something new, take risks and embrace bold ideas, and when you produce music with the intent to imitate the bravery of someone else, it comes off as bland and uninspired. If you really want to honor your influences, get out there and experiment with your own music.

Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

MikeWhy You Shouldn’t Imitate Your Musical Influences


Join the conversation
  • John Muir - March 1, 2018 reply

    Great article ………so true…..Now I know which way to go …..Thank You!!

  • Beth - March 1, 2018 reply

    “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness”- Oscar Wilde.
    That being said, I get the point of your article which I interpret as; make sure to be original and be yourself in your writing and performing. Tribute & cover bands take note.

    Beth - March 6, 2018 reply

    BTW- Oscar Wilde also wrote: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”

    Rian - August 2, 2021 reply

    But I’m scared that people may not like me being myself in my music

  • Bernard - March 1, 2018 reply

    You wrote “because music that embraces new ideas almost always proves to be the most impactful”, “fresh and challenging music usually rises to the top”. I strongly disagree with this as I have always experienced that most people reject new ideas and instead want to hear something that they’ve already heard, just in a new “dress”. Really new and creative music never catches on with the general audience. My two cents.

  • Oscar - March 5, 2018 reply

    I agree with what Bernard said in his post. Jeez, if I follow what this article is saying I might as well not even try to be a musician. If a person “already unknowingly imitates other artists” then HOW does he know when something he does is original? This is totally bad advice!

    Nick - November 13, 2019 reply

    Bernard and Oscar what I read in this statement is that popularism, often (but not always) will not necessarily equal successful creativity.
    All thou in the case of any business endeavour having financial security great! Many of the geniuses that influence the greater body of popular musicians and composers are those unseen by the mass market. Human social and cultural evolution is progressed by original and creative ideas. Not by mimicking what has come before. This is what I take from Patrick Mcguire’s article.

  • Troy - March 9, 2018 reply

    Wgule I agree an artist shouldn’t be imitated, I think it’s entirely plausible to create a fresh sound in the same genre.

    For instance…I love Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots. They inspired me to create new grunge type music while still retaining the pure sound: Gnostalgic.

  • Kenn - January 21, 2023 reply

    How do they know you copied yet ideas look almost the same but written differently?

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