Trying to succeed in music business is hard enough as it is, it can be even harder without this weeks subject matter: Originality.
The number one quote I’ve heard over and over again with regards to originality in music is a familiar verse in Ecclesiastes, written by the wise King Solomon, where he states, “there is nothing new under the sun…” Now, I agree with that on certain fronts. It is true that people have been writing songs about love, heartbreak, romance, troubles, and triumphs in many of the same ways for years and years. Even the famed Chris Martin of Coldplay described his band as “incredibly good plagiarists.” The revered painter Pablo Picasso was known to have said, “good artists copy but great artists steal.” Every great artist that has ever been has pulled influences from all those that came before him/her. While all this is true, and while all new music contains bits and pieces of the music that came before it, there is one thing that will forever remain unique, special and original: and that my friends, is YOU.
There has never been, and there will never be another YOU! You have a unique fingerprint that is unlike anyone else’s. You have an identity that is and will forever be the ‘x’ factor that makes you who you are. How do you apply this to music you ask? Well the beautiful thing is you don’t have to TRY to do ANYTHING. All you have to do is refrain from trying to be SOMEONE ELSE.
Two of my biggest influences growing up were John Mayer and Stevie Wonder. John Mayer came out a few years after I learned how to play guitar and between him and James Taylor, I pretty much taught myself a great deal of jazz, blues, and pop chord progression and musical theory from learning these guys songs. Stevie Wonder has always been my greatest vocal influence. If there’s anyone I could sing like, it would be him. Unfortunately, in my quest to become a better musician, I began to strive to play and sing JUST LIKE THEM. I’d often get comparisons (mostly contrasting opinions) of how I sounded like them, or fell short to sound like them. I remember playing a Stevie Wonder tune once at a Starbucks in Murfreesboro, TN and right in the middle of song I overheard someone standing right near me say, “yeah but he sings it WAY better than this guy!” I remember thinking, “that has to be the understatement of the century!” No one could ever do Stevie like Stevie does Stevie! Some years later I received some of the best advice in my career from a long time family friend. He told me, “the world doesn’t need another John Mayer. They already have one! What they need is YOU.” That was a profound thought to me and is something that has never left me.
The beautiful thing about being you is THERE IS NO COMPETITION. There is no other you. As long as you stay true to what you do and who you are, you’ll never go wrong and you’ll ALWAYS be original. Does that mean you don’t listen to other peoples music or have influences? Of course not. Look at Hendrix. You can hear traces of all those who came before him, but still in the midst of all that, he will always be Jimi Hendrix. Why? Because he didn’t try to be Robert Johnson or Buddy Holly or Muddy Waters. He soaked up all those influences and then just did Jimi.
I think the best way to sum this up with some practical advice is with this final thought: the WORST thing you can do is compare yourself to others. By comparing yourself to others you are then basing your path and your unique voice as an artist on someone else’s journey. There is nothing wrong with having a healthy ability to gauge your professionalism against the progress of your influences, but the moment you start envying or comparing, then you’ve lost YOU. The world doesn’t need another (insert well-known artist name). What it needs is YOU. And no one else can fill that space.
So perhaps that will help you rest a little easier and be a bit kinder to yourself wherever you are on your musical path. Feel free to fill your musical tool kit with all your favorite music and let that propel you into the artist you were meant to be, but at the end of the day don’t forget to just open up and allow those influences pour out of your God given ‘paint brush’ in whatever way you want. And by doing that, by just being YOU, you are doing something NO ONE has ever done.