I get about 3-8 emails every week where people send me music and ask for advice. These artists come from many different genres. I’m generalizing to be sure when I say they mostly suffer from the same issue, they’re derivative.
They’re mostly derivative, right?
Don’t be derivative.
Look, don’t get me wrong, if a derivative artist has a budget we’ll record them, that’s just business.
I’m talking about real art here, though.
I’m talking about future icons.
I’m talking about a way to break through the noise on the market RADAR screen.
Strictly on a business level, if you don’t have a MAJOR financial backer who can capitalize on a market trend, what exactly are you exploiting?
What’s the point?
Sometimes I wonder if it’s laziness. I wonder that because I certainly suffered through my share of lethargy in my artist years if I’m being honest. Initially my main goal was to be on MTV. Once I got access to our producer’s “other band”, The Allman Brothers, I realized it didn’t have anything to do with MTV. I was being lazy. I needed to dig deeper. We all have to go through that door at some point.
But I digress.
I hear male country artists singing “Bro-Country” about tailgates, tan legs, barbed wire fences and beers in the console.
I hear female country artists singing hostile ex-girlfriend lyrics trying to outdo Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert.
I hear endless rap artists who cannot seem to avoid the most obvious lyrical clichés like “bitches”, “ho’s”, and “n****s”, etc.
In the 80’s we all had long hair, ear rings, and leather pants. In 2014 every hipster has a close cropped haircut and beard the size of Texas with 60’s styled horn rimmed glasses. (Will that hairdo be remembered as some sort of 2010 version of the 80’s/90’s mullet?)
Every genre has it, man.
Every generation has it.
Every Iconic Artist found themselves at some point
I’m simplifying once again by this statement, but every iconic artist found themselves at some point. They found their own unique take on a derivative tangent.
C’mon you mean you really can’t tell how badly Petty wants to be Dylan?
Dylan wants to be Woody Guthrie.
Clapton wants to be Muddy Waters, etc.
Realistically the only way to avoid being derivative is to be yourself. The most interesting artists are telling their own story.
Being Derivative is a timeless artistic problem
Being derivative is a timeless artistic problem deeply rooted in every artist’s beginnings and nurtured by label suits afraid to take a chance in artist careers for fear of a poor quarterly report. (Don’t hate them, that’s just business. If you’re smart enough to play the game professionally, you get that.)
Think about it, we all begin as artists imitating our heroes; this is necessary. It’s the first inspiration. We artists connect strongly with the superstars whose message and image speaks to us. We relate to them and pay homage, right?
So where then does the imitation stop and the originality begin?
The “me-too” acts with talent, money, savvy, gumption, and connections will probably get their 15 minutes of fame but they will be forgotten.
It’s the originals that we aspire to be
It’s the originals that become icons
So what is the road map to true artistic innovation?
Work is the one thing most people aren’t willing to do that much of in any industry, unfortunately.
Artists especially avoid this act because unlike a regular job where you are compensated regularly for your effort, the artist must continue to invest time, money, and their spirit into a massively delayed settlement arrangement.
So naturally, most artists seek the path of least resistance and fall into an uninspired creative rut; this is human nature.
If you don’t want to spend too much time writing (working), you copy what you hear.
We covet what we see every day.
The original artists are constantly creating, always working. The work provides the necessary steps to uncover the real artist deep down inside.
Every song is a stepping stone towards something greater.
The roots come up to meet the inspirational artistic input and they weave a new, unique fabric.
The work IS the compensation. It has to be. If an artists doesn’t feel like that then the business model is doomed to fail.
This is who will create real impact.
That’s terrifying to an artist. It requires removing your mask and being truly exposed. Most artists who claim to be vulnerable really aren’t; at least they choose not to be in their art.
When you’re not vulnerable in your art, you’re derivative.
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