One of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, recently wrote a post titled What Does It Remind You Of? and it reminded me of something I do when accessing whether a song is good or not. For instance, when someone asks me “is this song good?”. Instead of just saying “yes” or “no” I like to tell them what it reminds me of. I think this is a much more helpful because, as anyone who creates knows, what does it mean to be good or bad? It’s very subjective, especially now that audiences accept varying levels of quality (See basically every breakout rapper in the last few years). So how does this technique work?
What I like to do with my own music as well as other people’s music is to figure out what it reminds me of. This way I’ll know if I’m on the right track if people are saying it reminds them of what I want to remind them of. For example, if I hear your song and say, “it reminds of Kanye meets Jay-Z”. If that’s the sound you’re going for than you’re well on your way to achieving your vision. However, if the sound you’re going for is Coldplay meets Cardi B (which would be a hilariously amazing mash up), than you’ve got some work to do.
I think the main thing to keep in mind is to have a vision of the sound you’re going for and a good way to do that is to before you start creating is to say, “I want this to sound like x meets y”. For new artists, it’s best to keep this equation simple and not complicated it by adding a third and fourth variables but if you do feel like you have the talent level and experience go for it. But for most new artists, this is probably the best approach to creating music because it’ll give you a template to follow.
Since a lot of artists just want to make music that sells and since it’s difficult to answer “Will this song sell?”, the cool thing about this technique is that it forces you to look at your art not from a commercial perspective but in terms of its artistic merit. Now you maybe thinking what’s so artistic about mixing two artists together? I would say pretty much all music and all art is a remix of something that came before it. But that’s an argument for another time.
The only thing I would say is to be aware of whose influencing your influences. Because if you’re x and y variables are too similar you’re just creating another copycat. A more fun and unique approach is to pick two artists from wildly different genres and mix them together. Many new rappers like XXXtentacion and Tekashi69 have achieved recent success by taking this approach. For example, XXXtentacion took the raw anger and melodies from 90’s grunge ala Nirvana and mixed them with trap and Tekashi69 is basically Onyx over trap beats. Basically taking any non-trap genre and combining it with trap has proven to be winning formula for the last few years (This will probably end soon).