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You and I both have music that just enthralls us.
We want to listen to it over and over again, and we want this music to become a part of that “this influenced me” category in our lives.
For me, that’s many of the bands I write about on this site. But then comes the problem…
…am I really learning that much from this artist? Is it really being incorporated into my writing style THAT much?
Here’s how to make sure you learn from the artists you love.
Listen Alot…I Mean…A Lot
This is the most basic point I could ever make about consuming an artist’s work, because it’s…consuming their work.
The point of listening to an artist a bunch is to get them deep into your mind. You want to get to a point where you instinctively know their chord progressions, melodies, and song structures.
Once you know their music intimately, you will find that you can start to see “past” the music, and comprehend the heart of the music. This type of clarity only comes from repetition.
And once you have all of their songs down by memory, you will easily be able to access that resource of idea’s and inspiration when writing your own music. It won’t happen consciously though, so don’t think to hard about it when you’re actually in the midst of writing.
You will start to mix your style with theirs, and if you have dozens of artists who take this deep-seated influence on you, there’s no way you won’t come up with something completely original.
Your mind becomes a giant mixing pot, and the ingredients are creativity and innovation.
Have you taken the time to read most of the lyrics your favorite artists write? Take the time to do some of that now.
Find your favorite band, select just a single song, and then go find the lyrics for that song.
Read through it. Do it now, I’ll wait!
Got those lyrics ready? Do you understand what it means? If you do, then you can skip to the next section.
If you don’t understand the meaning of the lyrics, take some time to study them. Do a google search for “SONG NAME + meaning” or “SONG NAME + interpretation” to see what other people have interpreted from the music.
If you don’t understand certain words specifically, then make sure you look them up in a dictionary.
I won’t get too detailed here, as I’ve written a more in-depth guide about how to interpret lyrics here. Just remember that the biggest message of the artist is likely contained within the lyrics, so these can NOT be overlooked.
Got your YouTube and Google ready? Go on and do a search for “BAND NAME interview” on both of those, and go watch a few.
Go do it. There’s nothing else to it.
Drink More Water…And Wikipedia Some Stuff
Learning more about a band’s history, or how they came up with songs or albums, or who they used to produce their album, etc. can really make an impact on you when writing your own music.
You never know what types of secrets you’ll unlock when researching your favorite artists thoroughly.
Here’s an example of how this has impacted me. One of my favorite composers, Nobuo Uematsu, has done some pretty incredible orchestral work. He scored many of the Final Fantasy games (Final Fantasy VII and X having absolutely stunning scores), and I’ve even seen him in concert with an orchestra of 100+ musicians.
Upon reading his Wikipedia page, I learn that he is a self-taught musician. This is surprising to me as he’s not just some rock artist. This guy knows his music theory!
As I read on, I start to see certain themes in his style. I see that he listens to tons of different styles of music, from “Heavy metal to New Age and Hyper-Percussive Techno-Electronica”.
As I see more about how his style varies throughout the different score’s that he’s composed, I realize that he wouldn’t have been able to do this without expanding the genre’s of music he listens to extensively.
These are just a few things that I learn about Nobuo Uematsu. As I read more and more, I can feel myself getting to know him.
Wikipedia is your friend, so use it if you want to gain knowledge from “one of the greats”.
There’s really not much to say here. If you get the opportunity to see your artists in concert, take it.
You have no idea the type of impact an artist can have on you when you let them take you into their realm unless you’ve already experienced it.
They have complete control over the environment now (not just the sound, which is how it is when you listen to the recorded music home), so it can be a very immersive experience. If you aren’t already a big concert goer, then start now.
I’m often encouraged to become much more technically minded when I go to see bands like “Between The Buried And Me”. They inspire me to practice my guitar like crazy.
But when I go see a band like Grizzly Bear, I’m immediately drawn to become a better vocalist. This is because they have such great & complex vocal harmonies all throughout their music.
It all depends on who you see.
Learn, Cover, or Re-Record Their Songs
Interactivity is a great way to learn, and emulating someone else’s style is a great way to learn that style.
Want to write a Jazz song? Well first, try to PLAY a Jazz song. That makes sense, don’t you think?
Well the same rule applies to artists that you love.
Learning their music is easily the best way to get to know what types of tricks they use to get their sound, and it can help you become familiar with their arrangements as well.
The same goes for recording songs. If you’re a production guy, doing your best to emulate the sounds from an artist you love can really help you get to know which types of tricks they did to get their tones. So try recording one of their songs from scratch!
You’ll become much better at recording (generally speaking), and you’ll also become much better at whatever specific style you are emulating.
And when you get to where you are going and release that big LP, everyone will be able to tell who it was that influenced you into that. You can’t help it, it’s just a subconscious thing.
When I used to be a bigger part of my first band, “A Human Nothing”, I often had people tell me that our music sounded like Tool, The Mars Volta, or ISIS. Funny thing about that is, we never actively tried to sound like any of those bands.
Heck, half the time I was trying to sound like Radiohead (yet no one ever mentioned that). But because of the subconscious impact those 3 bands had on me and my band-mates (we loved each of those bands individually), you could just tell that we were influenced by them.