The best songs ever written came from a place of real authenticity on the behalf of artists from every genre and background you can think of. This unique creative voice is the product of an artist’s complex experiences, musical intuition, and the countless hours they’ve spent developing their ideas to become better music-makers. If you’re at the very beginning of your music career or are years along but aren’t sure how to rediscover a creative voice that’s unique only to you, consider these tips:
Write as often as you can
This advice seems obvious, but its importance can’t be understated. If you want to develop a musical signature that’s unique only to you, you’ll need to spend as much time as you can exploring, experimenting, shaping, and improving as a songwriter. You have to put in enough time into the craft of making music to get to a point where what you create genuinely excites and challenges you. You’ll need to fail over and over again to get to this point, and the pain and frustration of this fact is what keeps artists from reaching their true potential. Have the bravery and tenacity to continue on after you experience failure, and you’ll be able to work long enough to develop your authentic musical voice.
Define your musical likes and dislikes
Defining what you love and loathe about the music you hear can help you hone in on your own unique musical voice. Maybe you love reverb-drenched vocal harmonies and can’t stand drum machines. Or maybe you have a penchant for colossal bass sounds but find lyrics about love cheesy. The specifics don’t matter. What matters is your ability to uncover exactly what you love about music and see how what you find can shape your own music. It’s not copying and pasting someone else’s ideas into your songs, but figuring out how to find inspiration from what you hear.
Write down the things that make you and your music unique
If you’re having trouble pinpointing your natural, authentic musical voice, try listening through your music. Write down what’s exciting, engaging, and unique about it and what could improve. This isn’t easy to do, and a great deal of objectivity needs to happen if you want the exercise to be successful. The main question you should ask yourself is whether you’d listen to your music or not. If yes, figure out exactly why. If not, figure that out too. You having an authentic voice doesn’t mean that you’re on a path towards conventional success in music, necessarily. It’s about finding out what makes you and the music you create unique and learning to use your knowledge to your advantage. If you do this right, you’ll probably uncover some harsh truths about your music. Maybe you’ve been writing out of another artist’s playbook for years, or can’t find anything interesting about your songs. It might hurt at the time, but if you can accept what you discover and learn about it, you’ll be closer to developing your authentic voice. This isn’t something you should do once, by the way, but again and again for as long as you make music. For your musical voice to stay true to your identity, you’ll need to keep coming back to this exercise.
Live a deep and meaningful life outside of music
Since great art reflects life, your authentic musical voice will be underdeveloped and boring if you don’t live a fulfilling life. You need things to write music about, after all. Embrace and appreciate your relationships with your friends, family, and romantic partners. Feel your feelings in the healthiest way possible, and consider what you care about most in life, and ask how it can shape your music. Interesting people tend to make interesting music. And as much as we’d like to think spending every hour holed up in our studios writing music is interesting, it really isn’t. A life bravely and deeply lived combined with lots of time and dedication directed toward music creation is a recipe for being able to develop authenticity in your music. So while creating is crucial, living your life the fullest way you can is just as important.
Authenticity in music isn’t easy. Between the pressure to be conventionally successful and the expectation of sounding a certain way, it can be hard to find your true creative voice. But if and when you do, your music will be so much better off for it.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.