We all want to write unique songs. Songs that have a very specific sound, a sound that can be associated with us. Obviously, nobody wants to sound like a copycat. So how can we make our songs different and unique? In this article, I will give you a few tips on how you can create your own unique sound.
Learn what’s “in the box”
First of all, I think it’s important to clarify what you should not aim for. Some people want to write songs outside the box and they claim that they write “alternative”, avantgarde, experimental, whatever. I think it’s bullshit. These people just don’t know (and don’t want to learn) how to write proper songs. So claiming some bullshit genre is their excuse for writing bad songs.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being creative, unique, or thinking outside the box. But first, you really need to know what’s inside the box. I mean, what’s the point of writing songs that nobody cares about? Nobody ( = NOBODY) is listening to experimental music.
It’s fun to talk about John Cage’s 4’33, and some musicians even declare him as a genius. But in reality, non of those musicians listen to music from John Cage.
There are things in songwriting that you just really don’t have to experiment with. Yes, there is such a thing as “too original”. There is a reason why ALL musicians play minor and major chords instead of just sitting on the keyboard. There is a reason why we blow a trumpet from one direction and not from the other. You don’t become an innovative trumpet player by blowing it from the other end. (I mean, you can get the title, but nobody will listen to your songs on Spotify.)
This is true for songwriting too. There are certain songwriting tools and techniques that are used by ALL songwriters, regardless of the genre. First, you need to learn these things, and THEN you can experiment with diverting from these forms.
Don’t fixate on one artist
We all have favorite artists that we love to listen to. And most of the time, we get inspiration from these artists. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you only listen to one artist all the time, your songs will sound like copies of their songs.
I know I’m guilty of this. At one time, I was listening to one artist all the time to get inspiration for my songs, and I was so fixated on this band that one of our fans recognized this, and commented on this on Twitter.
It’s OK to learn from other songwriters. In fact, it’s the best way to learn music. Everything we need to know about music is already there, on the recordings. We just need to listen to them. But there are many great songwriters to learn from. So if your songs sound like a particular artist, you should listen to other songwriters too.
Adopt from other genres
One of the best ways to write songs that are unique is to adopt elements from other genres. This is what many successful artists are doing to make their unique sound. Listen to other artists in your genre. What is it that you can make different? Maybe it’s the bass lines, maybe it’s the chord progressions, maybe it’s the lyrics. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, it’s important to learn what’s “inside the box” first.
Red Hot Chili Peppers has a unique sound because they adopted very funky bass grooves, something that no other artists have done in this genre before. You can recognize a song from this band even if you don’t hear the vocalists. Their songs have such a unique groove that you can recognize their songs from only listening to the rhythm section – the bass, the guitar, and the drums.
Another good example is Sting. He adopted some elements from jazz music and other genres in his songs. He still wrote pop songs, but there were many elements that were coming from jazz. Think about his all-time biggest hit, “Englishman In New York”. He recorded this song with jazz musicians like Branford Marsalis, who even played a jazz saxophone solo in the bridge.
Try an unusual instrument
We know that some genres are instrument-specific. In salsa music, you need congas, cowbells, piano, and horns. For country, you need a banjo or an acoustic guitar. For rock or metal, you need electric guitars. But what are the instruments that are not specific to your genre, and it would make your sound unique?
Bela Fleck is a banjo player who plays jazz music. Twenty One Pilots used ukulele in their songs. Jamiroquai used didgeridoo in their songs. The Norwegian metal band used saxophone in their songs. The band Korn used bagpipes in their songs. These unusual instruments can make your songs very different from other artists in your genre.
The secret pattern behind successful songs
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About the Author
Producer, songwriter at Bánhidy András, and Barrio Latino Hungría. Author of The Rhythm Code.