Since starting up this blog, I've heard a lot of groups. I've heard acts that I know in my heart will one day achieve greatness. I've also heard music so dreadful that it makes me wonder if it's part of some over-the-top joke. One of the most common problems is an over-adherance to a genre. A band will become so hell-bent on becoming the next best (insert genre) group that they focus on the elements that they feel they have to include to be a part of that sound. What they're actually doing is putting the cart before the horse.
This may seem like basic stuff to some of you, but you'd be surprised how often I get sent lackluster albums. Far too often bands make music that is clearly geared toward a genre that they're all in love with, but the final product comes out dull. Why? Because for every genre, there's an archetypal artist. When one sticks too closely to the standard of a genre, it's very easy to sound way too much like its most prominent act. How many industrial bands have you heard that sound too much like Ministry? How many rappers have you heard that sound too much like Tupac?
If you think you or your group is in danger of going down that road, try this exercise:
1) Write down your top ten favorite songs. Comb through your library of music and put some thought into it. These should be songs that you can't live without. For the purpose of this example, we'll use one of my favorites, "Cramm" by Three Trapped Tigers.
2) Write down all the things you like about every song. For me and "Cramm", I like the instrumental nature of it, the heavy guitars, the syncopated rhythms, the dynamics and the wide tonal range.
3) Look at what you've written for all of your songs. Let's say that in most of my favorite songs I've written down "heavy guitars", "dynamics", "ambient passages" and "female vocals".
4) Examine your own music. What things from your list do you incorporate into your own tunes? I might take a look at my material and note that I don't have heavy guitars and I don't have female vocals (actually, no vocals at all). Is your material lacking any of the concepts that are important to you?
5) The next step is entirely up to you. If there are musical elements that truly make you happy but are being left out, you may want to consider going back to the drawing board. There's no shame in taking another stab at the material you've already written, especially if it means that you're happier with the final product.
Be original. Don't focus on being a part of any genre. If you're out there forming bands and writing songs, you obviously love music. Take all of the things that you enjoy and combine them into the music that makes you the happiest. If it doesn't get you fired up, how can you expect it to do the same for your audience?
Jeff Higgins is the founder of Groove Sandwich and he definitely sounds too much like Tupac. (Not really.)