Grace Jones
Grace Jones

Jamie Hill: What's So Different About Sounding 'Sort Of'...Like Someone Else?

"I was at a party a couple weeks ago, and I found myself sitting in a group of five female singer-songwriters. This can happen in LA. Anyway, I went around and asked everyone what their sound was. Every answer was some variation on 'acoustic something or other.'

"And you know what? Most likely none of their recordings will be listened to by anyone outside of their small core group of supporters, because a) they’re all making similar-sounding recordings, which b) are going to sound like a bunch of other recordings that are already in the marketplace.

"This observation is by no means limited to acoustic music. There will always be a market for acoustic music. The point is that when you go to a show and all four artists sound basically the same, they’re cannibalizing each other’s markets. Why would I buy each artist’s EP if they all sound basically the same? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always looking for the thing that sets itself apart from the pack. I don’t need a record that sounds like another record I already own.

Or, to put it another way: if an artist says to me 'My sound is like Matt Nathanson,' my first thought is, 'Oh, I should listen to that new Matt Nathanson record!' Because why would I want to listen to a cheap knockoff of an already-popular artist, when I could just go straight to the source?

"... Audiences don’t want more of the same – they want what’s next. As an artist, you want to be like a wide receiver. You don’t want to be where the ball is now; you want to be where the ball is going to be. If you’re making a record right now, it will be three months minimum before those recordings hit the streets, right? Potentially much longer. And by then all those of-the-moment sounds that you put in your recording will sound badly behind the times. And you don’t want to sound dated, do you?

Also, the industry doesn’t want more of what it’s already got. No one at a record label is going to sign someone who sounds exactly like an artist they already have – because they already have the original, and they don’t want to cannibalize their profits.

If you’re thinking of your career like a small business – and you should be – you should be constantly thinking about how to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace. What makes your music stand out? A good song isn’t enough. Everyone has a good song or two. What’s going to make people prick up their ears? What’s going to call attention to what you’re doing?"

- Independent record producer, music engineer, and author Jamie Hill, The [DIY] Musician

- Photo: Grace Jones

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