A simple 4-part framework for creating your very own sound based on your favorite artist influences and styles
SEPTEMBER 8TH, 2023
1. Absorb existing material
The very first prerequisite for creating your own sound is to cultivate a wide range of reference material. If you want to make house music, listen to the widest possible range of producers within the genre (even those on the fringe or who only engage in weird sub-genres). Build a list of them, categorize their music however makes the most sense to you: by mood, complexity, instrumentation, anything you like or a combination of multiple different systems. This will help you to notice the similarities and differences between songs, which will be a massive help in focusing your style and production techniques. If you want to get technical, check out the 8 qualities Spotify assigns to each track.
From there, expand out into other genres. As many as possible. Jazz, soundtracks, baroque, hip-hop, soul, funk, progressive metal, choral, all of it — the deeper and broader your understanding of music, the more creativity will naturally pour out of you (and the more infrequent writer’s block will become). You’ll have more happy accidents, and it’s only a matter of time until you make some neat connection between different ideas that no one has ever thought of before!
2. Focus on what “works”
Of all the music you gather into private playlists, most of it will be forgettable. Plenty will be fun to listen to casually, but won’t inspire you to make something great. Some will shape your style and give you a target to work toward. A small percentage will feel like the producer or artist reached into your heart, mind, and past experiences and pulled out gold you wish you’d created yourself. All of these categories serve a purpose, but pay closest attention to the last category, because that’s where your purest creative instincts reside.
If it helps, keep a running list of songs that inspire you, including: 1) what about them you love, 2) why you think you connect with it, and 3) how you can incorporate what you like about it into your own music. Add to this list as often as you can, and soon your brain will start doing it automatically, noticing the fine details of other songs and helping you incorporate them into your own music. The best producers have the most developed critical listening skills, and you’ll gain a ton by following suit.
3. Mimic your favorites
The next step is going to sound counterintuitive and you can comfortably skip it if you’re already well into your career, but it has wide-reaching benefits at any stage of your musical career: You’re going to mimic your favorite artists to the point where it’s obvious. Why? Because you’ll learn the nuances of their work more deeply than you ever could by listening alone. Once you can recreate the style of another producer or artist, you can do a better job of incorporating it into your own! Do this with multiple different styles at once — blend them together as best you can, and if something doesn’t feel right, you can scrap it and try something new. Don’t force it if it’s not fun; this should feel like play!
The more styles you mix together, the less obvious this process of mimicking will become ... and the more your own unique tastes will emerge. No one else will have the exact same influences as you, in the same ratio, interpreted in the same way. Maybe you like one producer’s pads, another’s sound design, instrumentation, leads, drum beats, harmonies, etc., and you blend them into one. If you’ve followed each step so far, you should have a wide library of music at your fingertips — this reference material will allow you to pull from entirely different genres, making your style instantly more distinctive than other producers in your genre and setting you apart from the crowd!
4. Diverge and create your own original sound
This process of getting inside various producers' heads should be fun for a while, but eventually it may feel constraining to continue simply mimicking the work of other artists. When you feel you’ve gotten enough out of this exercise, listen to your natural instincts if you find yourself being pulled in a certain direction. The more you listen to your inspiration, the more a style will begin to emerge. Keep listening to tons of different styles to keep your source material fresh, but embrace your inclinations and see where you can take things!
An important note: You might find that you don’t actually enjoy the sound of what comes most naturally to you. If that’s the case, don’t panic — spend more time pulling more direct influences from other producers and artists, even if it requires a more concerted effort. Spend enough time molding your style this way and in time, you’ll find your unconscious musical decisions begin to shift in the direction you want.
A note on mixing and mastering
If you’re going to pick one area to be generic, make it the mixing and mastering process. Applying real creativity here takes a significant amount of practice and mastery over the basics first, and even casual listeners are often unforgiving of a questionable mix. So when in doubt, repeat what works until you feel you’ve sufficiently mastered these arts. You can get points for a creative arrangement even if it’s imperfect, and great producers do this all the time ... but as a general rule (not absolute, of course) when it comes to polishing it, go strictly for professionalism when releasing and only deviate in practice if you want to try it out.
There’s no exact step-by-step system for developing your own style — if there were, everyone would use it to sound exactly the same! In this case, a simple framework will have to do, leaving room for your own creativity to naturally emerge. The ability to gather, utilize, and break from influences deliberately (not automatically like many producers do) is the most straightforward way to take an active role in developing your musical instincts and, ultimately, your very own signature style.
This process never ends for true creatives, so embrace the act of change, growth, and taking your style in directions you’ve never imagined before!
About the Author
Harry Lodes is a copywriter, marketing consultant and content writer for audio and ecommerce brands. He lives in the Philadelphia area, releasing Eastern/Western hybrid EDM under the artist name KAIRI hearkening back to his roots in Berklee College of Music.