“Using Innovation To Set Yourself Apart From Other Independent Artists” by Vinny Ribas

© 2010 Vinny Ribas

The biggest thing that you, as an independent artist or musician, can do to for your own career is to find a way to set yourself apart from the pack. In a world of copycats and knock-offs, this may seem an impossible task. However, hundreds of thousands of artists have found ways to become innovators and leaders rather than imitators and followers. A very effective way that you can do that is to be the first at doing something that no one else has done yet. Here are some examples. [private_pro]

You can be the first to:

  • You can meld several musical genres. Garth Brooks brought a heavy rock influence to his music, resulting in his becoming a crossover phenomenon. Lyle Lovett ‘s music is a unique mixture of country, jazz, swing, blues and more! Josh Grobin’s operatic voice broke the pop barrier, and Freddie Mercury’s operatic voice (Queen) broke the pop/rock barrier.
  • You might use an instrument that no one else has used (at least not prominently) in your genre of music, just as The Beatles introduced the sitar to pop music in Norwegian Wood. On the other end of the spectrum, Zamphir became a household name when he introduced the pan flute to millions via his infomercials. The prominent saxophone solo in ‘Gerry Rafferty’s hit,’Baker Street’, led to a resurgence of the instrument’s popularity, known as the ‘Baker Street Phenomenon!’
  • Try introducing a new or distinct sound in your music. This is easier now than ever with the advent of synthesizers, guitar effects etc. Brad Paisleys guitar sound and playing style are instantly recognizable. The same holds true for Jimi Hendrix.
  • Introduce a new production technique, as Phil Spector did with his infamous ‘Wall of Sound’, and Les Paul did by recording ‘sound on sound’. The Beatles were the first to use multi-tracking.
  • Introduce a new playing style or technique. Most people know what you mean when you say a ‘Chet Atkins’ or ‘Boots Randolph’ sound. No other explanation is necessary.
  • You might try to invent a new instrument, as Dr. Robert Moog did with the Moog Synthesizer. Although he wasn’t a famous artist or musician himself, his invention enabled keyboard players to create totally unheard of sounds.
  • You can use a unique combination of instruments. The solo in Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’ was played in unison on pedal steel guitar and piccolo trumpet!
  • Try using a special effect, such as Peter Frampton’s infamous ‘Talk Box.’
  • Why not introduce an ethnic influence that no one else has? Paul Simon did this on his ‘Graceland’ Album, which featured many South African musicians and groups.
  • Can you write or sing songs mostly about a particular subject, as Taylor Swift does about life as a teenager? What do you love that no one has become famous for singing about?
  • You can be the first to use unique lyrical content, such as Bob Dylan did with his vibrant imagery.
  • Become the best at writing or singing a certain style of song. Diane Warren is known for being the best at writing power ballads, such as ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (the theme from ‘Titanic’.) Marty Robbins became a master at story songs like ‘El Paso’. Ray Stevens had a long string of comedic novelty songs like ‘The Streak’ and ‘Ahab The Arab’.
  • Be the first to take a specific song style to the masses, as Weird Al Yankovic has done with parodies.
  • Be the first to use your unique vocal sound or range within a genre. Joe Cocker’s gravelly voice and bluesy style are unmistakable. Celine Dion’s vocal power and range enable her to sing songs many artists can only dream about.
  • Revive a sound that hasn’t been heard in a long time, as Asleep At The Wheel does with western swing.

Done effectively, doing something first can actually start a trend. You can accomplish this in many different ways:

  • You can be the first to present your unique overall image. The Rolling Stones became known as the ‘bad boys of rock ‘n roll’.
  • You can capitalize on your physical attributes. Dolly Parton, Joe Cocker and Little Jimmy Dickens are all artists who have done this.
  • You can wear something unique, such as Michael Jackson’s white glove, Elvis Presley’s jump suits, Elton John’s sunglasses or Liberace’s entire diamond-studded wardrobe.
  • You can pioneer a completely new sound as the Beach Boys did with surf music.
  • You can put a geographic location on the map. Owen Bradley established Nashville as a music capital by building a first class recording studio in the middle of an emerging city and recording such icons as Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty and many others. John Denver often sang about life in Colorado, and Jimmy Buffet brought attention to the Florida Keys and ‘Margaritaville’.
  • You can become known for who or what you champion. Bruce Springsteen has become known as a champion of the common working man, and his sound has been branded as ‘Heartland Rock.’
  • You can be the first to relate to a specific demographic. Taylor Swift is the first person in country music to write for, sing about and appeal to pre-teens and teenagers.
  • You can become known for your outrageous and even trend-setting dress (Madonna, Lady Gaga, David Bowie).

There are an unlimited number of ways that you can stand out from the crowd. It just takes imagination and creativity. Open your mind to multiple musical influences. Experiment with every aspect of your songwriting, sound and image. Introduce the world to something they’ve never seen or heard before.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also caution you that some things that you do be different could come back to bite you or give you an unwanted reputation. For example, Gretchen Wilson’s first big hit, ‘Redneck Woman’, instantly gave her the image of being just that  After that, it was difficult for her to be taken seriously when she released songs about life and love, even though she is an amazing singer. Billy Ray Cyrus had the same challenge overcoming the stigma of being a novelty act and poster boy after his first hit, ‘Achy Breaky Heart’. [/private_pro]