How do you define your sound?


#1

I struggle with this immensely. Do you feel like you’ve arrived at what “your sound” is? How did you end up there?


#2

I find I have less or an idea of what my sound is as I gain experience and knowledge that ultimately increases my musical flexibility.

So I end up defining my sound track by track. I invent a set of constraints based on some concept and use that to guide me.

I’m not yet productive enough musically to have marketing concerns that relate to being recognizable. And even when I do eventually find time to be more prolific, I have doubts about whether my sound will ever be appealing to a mass market. This is because I tend to prefer dense rhythms and complex harmony, and I don’t often get lyrical. It just isn’t radio friendly stuff. Too much dynamic range. Too much complexity.

And if I’m not interested in aggressively marketing my music, do I really need to define my sound, beyond the compositional needs presented by the piece before me?


#3

Sound is only half of it. Look at Boards of Canada: getting the sound is easy, getting the same feeling as their tracks is a whole other story.


#4

Oneven, its just that. Being able to translate, as well as convey the emotions felt at the time into the “sound”. I was talking about it with my bandmate about the idea of “Reality Electronics”. Conveying your experiences and keeping those in mind mainly when creating a track or trying to achieve a sound.

That and I like to have it always be evolving and shape shifting. I appreciate challenges.


#5

I find having a definution of the sound I’m aiming for helpful to keep me on track, but it’s a constant journey so not necessarily something I think I could arrive at.
Right now I’m working in the direction of combining solo singer/songwriter with strong synth and electronic elements… it’s long winded but ‘synth folk’ or ‘electronic folk’ conjour a very different image from what I’m doing!!
I arrived at this though a blues band, then a folk band then a grunge band, before becoming frustrated with group projects and feeling the need for something more mellow, while becoming increasingly interested in synthesisers.
A lot of my sound is dictated by what I can do solo while avoiding sounding like just one girl and a guitar.


#6

I suppose the other thing - the idea of ‘arriving at your sound’ can be seen as a more fluid thing too, I have definutley had times before when the music I was making really felt like it exactly exactly fit me and was my sound, but then I change and the old songs don’t feel like me anymore, and I write new songs or move into new genres.
Mostly what I do to achieve the sound I want is listen to a lot of bands I want to sound like, try to write songs that sound like them, fail as doing that, but create something that sounds different and original, but similar, in the process. I usually hate what I come up with at first but warm to it in time.


#7

I also just wonder what it means. You can instantly recognize a Beatles song, but they made a real effort not to repeat themselves in the studio. If they felt that they had “done that before” they’d drop a musical idea. Then again, they generally used most of the same instrumentation, same vocalists… Is that all their “sound” was?


#8

I think any good artist will struggle with this. It’s a very “who am I?” question and as creatives do we ever really know? I think anyone who says “This is my sound. End of story.” isn’t a true creative because as artists we should naturally continue to evolve, discover, and experiment with who we are.

One of my favorite quotes from The Social Network is when Zuckerberg talks about fashion never being finished. I think the same goes for music producers, authors, photographers, film directors, painters, sculptors, etc. As artists we are never finished, we will never arrive, and the only thing that matters is the journey, and more specifically the journey right now right here. To quote Rage Against The Machine:

What better place than here, what better time than now.

@andrewhuang you have 40+ albums, which is astonishingly prolific. Your journey is far from over and I believe when you’re 99 years old you’ll still wonder what your sound is. Maybe you’ll have an idea of what it is at that point, but I am sure you’ll still be thinking about a new sound that’s in your head you want to get out that might not sound like anything you’ve done before.


#9

I think maybe it comes down to bands or artists being good at some stuff and not others. You do the things you are able to do, push yourself to do new stuff but it’s always following what you are already good at. I think someone’s ‘sound’ is just the music they are able to make that’s good enough to be shared, and it’s unique to them because of their unique background/skills in music.


#10

I’m kinda new at this eurorack stuff (bought my first module early 2015), but I could say that I’m a newbie in this synthesis world in general. My musical background is in the hardcore/punk scene but I’d always felt like an outsider; leaning towards krautrock and more free form jazzy stuff. It was when I discovered This Heat and Silver apples back in senior high that I found what I was looking for and started to do stuff on my own.
Nowadays I’m making music just with my smaller eurorack setup (I’ve sold almost everything else to afford this) and a dear musician friend has told me that I’ve managed to keep my “trademark sound” even though the setup is entirely different. Don’t know what that trademarked sound is, but I like that I have one :blush:


#11

I don’t think I do define it; the sounds I make are a combination of what I’m trying to do and what I’m actually able to do.

Both are subject to external constraints. In the conceptualising, this is inevitably shaped by things I’ve heard before. In the making or playing, it’s limited by my mastery or otherwise of the instrument.

Out of these one hopes to create something unique, interesting and personal. And it’s kind of the non-mastery, the individual learning journey, that creates this.


#12

This makes it an especially difficult question for someone like @andrewhuang to answer then, because he can play pretty much anything…


#13

“Living in regional Australia led Jason Richardson to sample landscapes instead of records.”

That’s a line I’ve used but it doesn’t encompass all of the techniques I explore.

I guess it identifies an area that’s generated the most interest among my recordings.


#14

Love all these thoughts.

I have occasionally been struck by very complete visions of what I’d like a piece to be, and worked to get there. I think there is a notion that that’s how art is supposed to happen, and I’ve probably internalized that on some level even though I know it not to be true - in practice, way more often I just stumble on something interesting while playing around.

Maybe we aren’t working on our signature sounds so much as we are building the sandboxes within which our expressions can take shape. The limitations we face tell part of our story. (The Black Keys come to mind - how good their early work is because of the lo-fi production, and how it would never have worked for them to have access to a state of the art studio from the beginning.)

Still, there is a part of me that thinks transcending the tools is really cool or pure or badass or something. Like what would it mean to be able to express an idea you have, exactly, perfectly, not limited by anything??


#15

I think this is spot on and it’s what I meant by “choosing constraints” for a track.

You’d have a lot more decisions to make…


#16

One thing I’m always self-conscious about is whether thing I’m doing is “my” idea or am I just following some formula?

It’s a weird thing to be self-conscious about because popular music is necessarily familiar. People like it when you use patterns and processes they’ve heard before. My concern with originality ultimately pushes me further out into musical obscurity. And sometimes I wonder if it’s self-defeating.

But then I usually dismiss the train of thought and get back to the task at hand, letting the concerns of the song override the metaconcerns of the ego.


#17

I am a non-musician/recycleART(ist)


#18

Permutations/Combinations of the music/genres youve heard + the small decisions made in the composing or performance process will eventually leave a sonic signature, and that signature itself will permutate over time as you repeat and refine your process.


#19

My project Irving Park has a conceptual definition rather than a sonic one. I make music about places. I think having a “defining” thing as an artist is useful both in terms of production and self-marketing, but sometimes a “defining sound” or genre constraints can be limiting as we all know. So I let myself make any kind of music I want, but the songs/albums have to be about a place I’ve been to. Sort of early to say whether it’s working out as a selling-myself thing, but it has definitely helped me in terms of an inner-self-art-purpose sort of thing.


#20

I think I came to “my” sound by not consciously thinking about how to define it, if that makes sense.

In my earlier solo days, I attempted to emulate what I thought “my” sound should sound like according to the rough genre I thought I was playing, and I was being too conscious of what I thought my audience would expect. So I would try to fit my music according to these constraints. Looking back, the music I played then was still good and I learnt a lot in terms of broadening my playing style, but it doesn’t sound authentic.

I think sometimes you just have to throw expectations and rule-books out, and just do you!