If you’re having trouble finding your musical identity as an artist, it could be because your taste in music hasn’t been defined yet. Alongside musical intuition, writing music as often as you can, and letting life experiences shape your songs, your musical taste is incredibly important for your work as a songwriter. When you’re in touch with your musical taste, creating music that’s meaningful and authentic to you gets much easier. Here are five tips for defining your unique musical taste as a songwriter.
Look back at the music that has defined your life the most
The first place you’ll want to start defining your musical taste is in your past. Specifically, think about the music you listened to most in your youth. Ask what music you have listened to throughout your life and why. Are there any links between artists stylistically or lyrically? Did you rely on specific songs to get you through hard times, or do scenes of you and your friends dancing to music in your car during late nights pop into your head? This exercise will help you understand what roles your favorite music has played in your life, and how your taste informs your work now as an artist.
Listen to as much new and unfamiliar music as humanly possible
You’re never done exploring new music. It’s not something that ends when we become a certain age or after finding lots of music we love to listen to. Defining and nurturing your taste in music actually takes a lot of work. It requires continually seeking out new and unfamiliar music and thinking about what you love and don’t like about it. It’s also important to remember that your taste in music will ultimately shift and evolve over time if you do the work of experiencing as much new music as you can, and this is so important for your own music. To keep your work fresh and engaging, make music exploration and discovery a priority in your life.
Write down what moves you in music. Get specific
This exercise is mainly for songwriters who have trouble defining their musical taste. Listen to your favorite songs and records and write down what it is you like about the music you hear. It could be poetic lyrics or the guitar tone on a specific track. Get as specific as possible, and work to define each and every musical detail. When you’re finished, try to identify patterns in the things you like about your favorite music. What you discover will be representative of your taste in music.
Define the things you don’t like about music
This might not seem like an especially helpful exercise, but it is. When you can identify what you don’t like about a specific song or artist, you’ll have a better chance at avoiding the same pitfalls in the music you create. If you hear a song that has a lot of potential but just never got there, ask why. Maybe it’s the way the singer sings, lyrical cliches, or something sounding over-produced. Figuring out what you don’t like in music will make yours better.
Find ways to let your musical taste guide your songwriting
Once you have a solid grasp on your unique musical taste, think about ways to incorporate it into your own work in original and captivating ways. Doing this means striking a balance between not copying your influences completely, but letting them give your work inspiration and direction. It’s not easy, and you’ll need to put in the hard work of trying things out to see what works and what doesn’t when it comes to letting your musical taste shape your songs. There will be a point where this comes naturally to you, but not without a good amount of experimentation.
In the same way that your music is unique only to you, your music taste should be something that’s completely yours, so don’t edit your likes and dislikes. Be who you are and make the music you truly want to make. Don’t apologize if your taste isn’t hip or on-trend enough. What’s popular in music changes by the day, but the need for artists to be authentic in their work always stays the same.
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.