Finding your voice (and sticking with it)

Discussion on new albums, developing listening skills, critical listening to others' work, as well as TOMB members' MP3 links, online recording critiques

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Post by bcgood » Thu May 07, 2009 10:57 pm

Man, I haven't read all of the posts because I don't have much time right now but I love this site. Everyone seems so much more helpful and interested in honestly exploring both problems and solutions to the modern artist.
Last edited by bcgood on Fri May 08, 2009 12:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by ubertar » Fri May 08, 2009 8:09 am

This is a great thread. A long time ago, I decided I would do something every day to further my musical goals... it didn't matter what it was, so long as it brought me forward in some way. It could be practicing an instrument, composing something, ear training, building an instrument or other musical equipment, etc. I find I go through phases-- maybe I'll be building stuff for a while and not playing as much, or working on really experimental stuff, or writing acoustic guitar songs, or thinking about lyrics more than music for a while, and so on. It's like how farmers leave part of the land fallow for a while, to allow the soil to recoup the nutrients lost from growing things. You can't keep growing the same crops in the same soil over and over without a break. As far as finding your own voice... I guess I'm still working on that, too. My tastes and influences might even be broader than yours... everything from Persian music to Moroccan, Turkish, Indian, Indonesian, Cambodian, Thai, Burmese, Tibetan, Gagaku, Senagalese, Ghanaian, Congolese, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Sun Ra, Dylan, Bowie, and all kinds of stuff in-between. So sometimes I'll feel like writing something basic, or complicated, or experimental, or familiar. But I don't set out thinking of it that way... what comes out, comes out. There's no sense in putting yourself in a box, unless you want to wrap yourself in cellophane and be stuck on a shelf somewhere. Do what you're inspired to do, in that moment, and if it's good, (some) people will appreciate it. Sometimes it takes getting away from music and reading a novel, or going to an art museum, or picking up a paintbrush, or scribbling some lines on a page. If you find yourself blocked, go in a different direction until you've got around the obstacle and are back in the way you wanted to go, like what a river does.
Speaking of Daniel Johnston, if it's not too immodest to bring up here, I was lucky enough a while back to get to collaborate with him on a version of Bowie's "Scary Monsters". I did the music; he did the lead vocals, and my students at the time did the backing vocals. ... hnston.MP3
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Post by mjau » Fri May 08, 2009 8:17 am

ubertar wrote:Speaking of Daniel Johnston, if it's not too immodest to bring up here, I was lucky enough a while back to get to collaborate with him on a version of Bowie's "Scary Monsters". I did the music; he did the lead vocals, and my students at the time did the backing vocals. ... hnston.MP3

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Re: Finding your voice (and sticking with it)

Post by teleharmonium » Thu Jun 04, 2009 11:36 am

alex matson wrote: And the crux of my problem is my inability to keep thoughts like that out of my mind when all I'm trying to do is transcribe a tune or work on a scale or hand independence. The next thing you know, I'm thinking I already have all the skills I need to play in a band like, say, Wilco. Of course, for every Wilco, there are ten thousand bands that are working in that Americana/roots rock/folk genre...only they're not as good, or if they are, their songs don't grab me somehow.
Then I get impatient with that and want something more like the Pixies. You get my point? The goal keeps changing...three blocks east and three blocks west means you're right back where you started.
You have to distinguish between goals, methods, and statements.

Expressing yourself well through the medium of music is a goal. You have defined the goal further for yourself so that you want it to include multiple methods and statements. Good. A lot of us see it the same way.

Working in different styles for different statements involves methods. It is OK to employ multiple methods, and they should not be viewed as coming at the expense of each other. If anything they reinforce each other.

It is also OK to want to make multiple statements through a single medium. Most people have more than one thing to say. Again, not a zero sum game, the more diverse statements you work on in music the better they all get, usually.

Patience is the main problem I'm getting from your post. It's a lack of patience that is misleading you into thinking that your interests are in an internal conflict when they are not. It's normal for Gen Xers and younger, more so than our predecessors, to know few boundaries in musical styles, because our predecessors did a good job of knocking them down for us by the 70s.

You also seem to have somewhat high standards. That's good, but it's got a mean downside and it makes for a challenging and often painful life. It can also lead to great rewards, but then, so can blind luck. Try reading Zen Guitar by Philip Sudo, which is really not guitar specific but more about ways of thinking and ways of life.

IMO it is critical to find ways to remind yourself of how fortunate you are so as to not take your achievements and position for granted. Otherwise, no amount of success will ever be enough, and you know that it can always get way worse. I am working on all of this and I have a long way to go so I identify strongly with most of what you said.

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Post by EX2352 » Sat Dec 18, 2010 5:11 am

I've found going on YouTube and practicing some new guitar licks helpful. Whether it's my style or not, it gets me interested in practicing again, or at least gets the guitar in my hands.

Every once in while I'll go on MySpace or YouTube and listen to what other people are doing. I've found that even some of the crappy stuff inspires me sometimes. Not only because it makes me think I can do better, but I found that the artists enthusiasm regardless of what their finished product is to be rather inspiring.

I guess the bottom line to songwriting and finding your voice is to just do it.
The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Brian Wilson etc. had no time for lengthy self analysis. They had deadlines to meet. Some of their ideas had to come under some less than ideal circumstances - buses, planes, hotel rooms...I've even heard that sometimes musician/songwriters originally weren't to thrilled about some of the songs they did that became classic.

Anyway just some thoughts, trying to keep this thread going because we all struggle with this in some form or another.

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Post by 47ronin » Tue Dec 21, 2010 8:25 pm

I don't mean to get all academic here, but I would like to point out that the way the OP framed his question, and many of the responses, are really steeped in either expressivist or cognitivist views about writing (in this case, music). By expressivist I am talking about the focus on the concept of "voice" as essential to composition (I'm thinking of Peter Elbow's work here, which emphasized freewriting, kind of like those write a song a day websites); by cognitivist I am referring to ideas which situate the writing process as something that takes place within an individual's head.

What this discussion is leaving out is how learning and writing are better understood as socially situated; if you are not even thinking of some kind of audience (ideally a real one, though imagined/invoked might be OK) in how you approach music you are involved in a narcissistic process of inevitable frustration. Also, musicians are part of communities of practice that include fans, collaborators, agents, engineers, etc. You can temporarily step away from these people, but your art is inevitably part of something beyond your own personal "vision".

A good song does not necessarily have some kind of antecedent that can be identified as stemming from "the artist's voice" in any conscious sense. It might just have likely come about from mindless fucking around at 3 in the morning.

I remember reading an interview with Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine where he said he had been messing around with synthesizers for years trying to get a more experimental sound; eventually he said fuck it, I want to sound like the Stooges...and then he developed the guitar style for the later MBV stuff. This is a process of technical innovation (simplification), as part of an ongoing creative activity (mediated by other people) rather than some kind of abstract "finding of voice".

Start thinking of these kinds of questions: Why should anyone like my music? Who are they? Am I one of them? How much will I challenge them? What are the genre features, instrumentation, tones, etc. I am highlighting or reacting against?

Forget about thoughts like: How can I become a genius? Why don't people understand how brilliant I am? or Why aren't I as talented as x person?

I think most real creativity happens in very short bursts; the hard part is doing the work to finish it, finding an audience for it, and then performing with conviction. Just my 2 cents..hope I didn't sound like an asshole.

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Post by enroper » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:36 am

here's something that helped me:

Who is your biggest musical influence, that's still touring? Do everything in your power to go see them. It just might rekindle your flame.
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