When you look at the music electronica producers and artists create, you often find it’s the same genre of music. Of course, most times it’s because that’s the music they want to target, but that’s not the only reason. Creating music in different genres is not a straight-forward process like it would seem. Many times, in order to create music in a certain genre, there are keys, or secrets, that have to be discovered.
People attribute musicians and producers that can create music in multiple genres to being broadly skilled as opposed to those who only stick to one or two very similar genres. But what I’ve found is that it’s really about unlocking certain secrets to a genre rather than skill itself.
Jumping to new styles requires understanding the genre
When creating all parts of a song (known as “producing”), in order for a song to sound at least decent, certain aspects of that style (genre) have to be learned (or taught). The person creating music for that style may not realize certain techniques they’ve picked up may be keys to creating music for that genre.
That person will feel they’re skilled enough in one genre to move into another, but once they try they just can’t get it to sound quite right. They assume this other genre requires much more skill or they’ll assume they’re just not cut out for creating that kind of music. But most times, it’s actually key techniques that are required to create in that genre. The techniques for that genre typically aren’t intuitive or obvious. The original pioneers of a genre discovered these techniques through a slow, steady evolutionary process (or had incredible insight / talent).
Someone can master most techniques for creating a song, but when applying the techniques that sound like they should be the basis for creating a certain style, it can miss its mark and never achieve the signature sound of a style.
Identifying when a genre has a certain technique can be the difference between over-engineering a song with unnecessary skill and complexity to getting a song’s signature sound style quickly and focusing on things like the melody. For the genre of drum & bass, most times the drums are funk and hip-hop samples that are pitched up and set to a very high tempo (such as 160). The other times, when creating the drums from scratch, the base rhythm is setup in a certain way. Without knowing certain key techniques (secrets) to a genre, very talented people can be shut out from expanding into different styles.
Many get their start because someone showed them the way
Often, music producers and groups start in one style not because they just suddenly developed skills to create a specific style of music but because they had someone mentor them.
When I search for artists with similar styles of music, I’ll often find artists with near identical styles that (surprise, surprise) are close friends or live in the same area. There’s a reason producers of certain styles typically are located in the same areas; they were mentored on how to create the same exact style music.
My theory is that an artist typically starts creating a style of music, gets signed to a small label and becomes the envy in their circle of friends. The friends want to be involved so they are mentored on how to create music of the very same style and techniques. This also explains why you’ll find similar sounding artists all under the same label.
Most can’t stray from a genre because they were only mentored in one style
When a person gets mentored from someone, many times they create the same style of music as their mentor because it’s all they know how to do. When people listen to their music, their reaction is that they must be so talented to know how to create music exactly like someone else (their mentor). But they’ve likely tried to create other music and it sounded off or wrong (because they don’t know genre-specific “secrets”, not necessarily because they lack the skill).
Some may be baffled at how someone can create such a unique, well-defined and complicated style of music but then can’t create another style of music. This is why; those lush or complex underpinnings of all their songs were taught to them by their mentor. When people have a mentor who’s skilled with a certain sound, it makes the student (friend, room mate, ex-lover) seem equally as skilled as they’re able to churn out the same exact style at an assembly-line rate.
Or they have created music in other genres but they grew their fan following on their mentor’s fan base. Once they try something different, they have no audience to consume it; their fan base isn’t interested in hearing something different. They come to the sad realization that they are “musically typecasted” to their mentor’s genre / style and basically would have to build a following on their own. They take this as a sign to stick with the same style they’ve been doing.
This is why it’s both easy for people like this to create a certain style music yet hard for them if they ever try to create anything else.
Not even listening to the style of music you create
I’ve found that many of these seemingly talented people who are able to craft certain, specific sounding music don’t even listen to the kind of music they create. I’ll repeat that again; it’s not that they don’t listen (or sometimes even like) their own music, they don’t even listen to this kind of music personally. Yet, a group of artists (that somehow are all connected) seems to develop new techniques at the same time. Their albums from 2009 will all lack a certain technique, then albums released in 2010 will contain that technique and, by 2011, they all drop the same technique from their albums.
You have to stop and ask yourself; if most aren’t listening to the music in this genre, how is this happening? It’s because, when one person in the group discovers a new technique, they show it to the rest of their “artist friends” in their circle. Then, once someone expressed boredom with a certain technique, the rest follow suit.
This is why, people who create well done, very specific styles of music will not listen to the very style of music they’re creating; they were simply lucky enough to be friends to a person who taught them how to create this very kind of music. They would create the kinds of music they like but it’s either beyond their capabilities or it’s simply too much work. I highly suspect they feel creating a style of music they don’t like to is a lot better than creating no music at all.
Creating music without a mentor has pros and cons
So of course, the disadvantage of not having a mentor in creating music is that you don’t have connections to an existing fan base (you can’t ride the coat tails of your mentor) and you don’t have someone to show you, step-by-step, how to create a specific style of music.
In fact, there are a ton of disadvantages of not having a mentor at first. Teaching yourself how to create music without anyone around you is so hard; most give up before ever releasing anything. It’s kinda’ like the Witcher novel / game series and the “Trial of the Grasses“; most of the young apprentices who go through the trial don’t make it, but the ones who do become improved because of the trial’s tribulations.
I’ve found that figuring out how to create music by yourself, without a mentor, enables you to understand the nuances of different genres and to recognize when certain (almost secret) genre techniques need to be discovered.
I also feel that this method gives you tenacity that those taught by a mentor lack. Dozens were swept up in the whole dubstep fad. Countless dubstep “producers” were all mentoring anyone they could find on how to create dubstep. Yet then, once the fad wore off, countless people were left without a mentor to teach them how to create music in a new style and they just gave up.
Creating music in different genres is about recognizing what you don’t know
Creating different styles of music may or may not be hard for certain people depending on how they learned to create music. The next time you’re listening to music, it’s interesting to think about what’s involved in creating different styles of music.
Later. – MJ