Finding A Unique Voice In Music: A Study Of The Space Ladder
I have been teaching musicians for several years now, from private students who are complete beginners, right up to those who are studying at degree or even at masters level. Across such a broad range of students there is one question that has come up more than any other. “Ok, what are we working on?” I will ask. “Well”, the student begins. “I write my own music. I play in some original bands but I’m really interested in getting my own sound. What should I do?”
This is one of the several million dollar questions in music, and, in fairness, I can see why so many people are so interested in finding their own voice in music. What interests me more, though, is looking at the process the student is going through to find it. This post is by no means an article outlining the finished or complete process, but there are some things I have noticed many people do that never quite seem to get them where they want to be.
“So what have you done already?” I ask the student. “Well, I spent some time fiddling with the EQ on my amp but that didn’t really work. Then I thought I should come up with some signature licks but they didn’t fit into my band’s songs. So then I bought some new pedals and tried a load of them in different orders and I found something that sounded great on one tune, but as soon as my band wrote another song, the pedal set up sounded terrible, and I don’t understand why. I thought I had found something really unique”. This scenario is very common. Perhaps this is something you have experienced yourself either as a teacher, a performer or an artist. Taking the above scene as an example, it is important to understand that there are a several issues that need to be addressed. The first is this. Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean that it is a good idea. It might well be unique but that fact doesn’t immediately give it value.
If you take this point outside of music for a moment it becomes very clear. Let’s say that I’m not a musician. I’m in the business of space travel. I work for NASA in the late 1960's and my goal is to (safely) land a small crew of men on the moon. At this point in time there have already been several rockets (both manned and unmanned) that have successfully gone into space but none that have landed on the moon. The head of…