A few years ago I was travelling in the car with my family. We were listening to the radio station and a new song came on.
My brother asked me, “Sam, who’s this song by?”
I hadn’t heard it before, but I already knew.
“It’s by Metallica.”
Sure enough, as the song ended the radio DJ stated the title of the song as well as the artist, Metallica.
As producers, we all desire a unique sound. Something that sets us apart from the rest, that leaves a mark.
In this post I’ll be giving you an idea of what it takes to develop that unique sound, and a few things you should be wary about along the way.
Why is it Important?
You don’t need a unique sound to “make it”, nor do you need a unique sound to be a great music producer.
Is it even important? Why?
Marketing and Memorability
Last week I interviewed Northie, a producer who, despite producing across many different genres does a fantastic job of marketing himself. Here’s what he had to say:
“finding your signature sound that translates across many genres is the best thing you can do for your brand. Something people can identify you with as a unique artist. When you think of names like Skrillex, Madeon, Deadmau5, Dillon Francis, Diplo.. you can identify their production no matter what genre they dabble in because you’ve become familiar with THEIR sound.”
He makes a good point that I’m sure you’ll agree with; all those artists mentioned have a signature sound that can be heard in any genre they make.
Developing your unique sound is, like Northie said, one of the best things you can do for your brand. It’s why people like you on Facebook, or follow you on Soundcloud. When you have a unique sound (and people like it), you’ll have fans craving a new release, wanting more and more.
There’s a reason why Madeon is one of the most in-demand remix artists. Not only is he incredibly skilled as a producer, he has a truly distinctive sound.
Developing a unique sound leads to more remix opportunities. When labels and artists are aware of you, and aware of your sound, you’ll be more likely to get a remix contract for a song that would benefit from your sound.
It’s Not Essential
Despite the numerous benefits, having a unique sound is not essential.
Why? Because for every big name who has a unique sound, there’s at least 2 that don’t.
As a listener, I don’t really care if you have a unique sound or not, I just want to listen to good music.
Listen to Music you Like and Dislike
Aside from producing itself, listening to music is a great way to build up your repertoire of what you like and dislike.
A unique sound comes from a unique taste, and a unique taste comes from listening to a lot of music.
First and foremost, you should listen to music you like. Ask yourself why you like particular songs. What stands out? Why do I keep listening?
And likewise, you should listen to music you dislike. If you come across a track that everyone seems to love but you don’t, ask yourself why you don’t like it. What’s keeping me from liking this? Is it the composition? The sound design?
Naturally, you’ll apply this to your own music. You’ll discard certain sounds and ideas, and include others. Developing your taste is imperative to having a signature sound.
Patience is necessary.
Because a signature sound is comprised of micro-differences – little choices and tweaks that come from taste – it takes time to develop. Your taste takes time to develop, and as you become well-versed in different areas of production you’ll realize you can make more and more of these tweaks, and you’ll realize that you prefer A to B, C to D, and so on.
A signature sound should not come before technical skill. It shouldn’t come before learning how to use EQ, compression, or basic music theory. Even if you did manage to create a unique sound before being a competent producer, there wouldn’t be much point because the music wouldn’t sound good anyway!
So, don’t take that as discouragement, but realize that it takes a good deal of time. Often years.
Don’t Pigeon-hole Yourself
Often when we focus on developing our unique sound, we trap ourselves in one genre.
“I must produce electro house! Otherwise people will unfollow me.”
Flick back to the Quote from Northie. A signature sound is not something that’s confined to one genre, but rather something that can traverse across all genres of music.
Avoid Stress and Let Loose
Something that goes hand-in-hand with “pigeon-holing” yourself is stress. When you focus too much on trying to push a unique sound, you stem creativity and progress.
Don’t discard a good idea just because it doesn’t fit with your overall vision, especially if you’re a new producer. Good music is good music, and at the end of the day, if it doesn’t fit your sound then you simply don’t need to release it.
I say this because many of you will open up your DAW after reading this and be controlled by the idea of developing a unique sound, and many of you will become disappointed when what you make sounds too similar to someone else.
Other People will Notice Before you do.
I didn’t know I had a unique sound until someone told me. In fact I’m still skeptical that I really do.
The fact is, other people will notice your unique sound before you do. They may not always point it out, but they’ll notice.
It’s the same with working out or trying to get fit. Other people notice first because they’re not seeing you every day, whereas you’re looking at yourself in the mirror daily and comparing yourself accordingly.
When you’re producing music frequently, it’s hard to hear progress and change. It’s hard to know that you’ve got a unique sound. Fortunately there are two tests you can do:
- Ask your friends, “is there a common theme in my music?”
- Do a blind test on someone with a track you created and another track. See if they can tell what’s yours.
This only works with honest people of course, so don’t ask your mother or someone who will tell you what you want to hear.
A unique sound is a desirable trait. Something that sets you apart from the rest, gives you an edge when it comes to marketing, and leads to many opportunities.
However, it also takes a long time to develop and can be incredibly stressful if it’s on the back of your mind all the time.
Be wary of it, but don’t become obsessed.