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  • Carlos Marin

SoundRush

If you're a young artist, producer, composer, songwriter, or creative in general, there's a big sense of pressure over a little concept called "artistic identity". In more colloquial words, you're trying to find your "sound". This can be from overwhelming to abhorrently confusing, as finding a "sound" is as elusive as "writing a hit" and it can lead to a counterproductive spiral of trying a little bit of everything to see "what sticks".



I say it's counterproductive, because if done for the sole objective of "finding a sound" you're missing the point of what someone's "sound" is. I am currently reading "The Sonic Boom" by Joel Beckerman, who for those unfamiliar with his work, is the founder of "Man Made Music", a sonic branding company who has developed catchy and recognizable themes for HBO (Yes, the crescendo thing we see before Game Of Thrones or West World), IMAX (That crazy glissando + bass drop), AT&T, the Superbowl, and many others. He tells the story of how a small American restaurant took an idea already made thousand times over, and gave it a distinctive "sound" of sizzling deliciousness that comes to your table with guac, sour cream, and warm tortillas. If you haven't guessed it yet, it Chilli's with their signature Fajitas, which turned a small Dallas restaurant into one of the biggest chains in the world.



Many people claim that it was the recipe which made the dish so popular, and they do taste good, but Beckerman states that it's the sound of the fajitas, the very recognizable, memorable, tasty sound of the dish the strong appealing factor that makes customers come back over and over. It might sound obvious to say, but one main characteristic of this form of branding (or identity, etc.) is consistency. If you try too hard to find a sound for the sole purpose of getting a sound you do not only risk a confusing sonic image; you will develop a thousand unauthentic, hollow sounds that will hurt your identity as an artist by making you feel unauthentic, hollow, dull. The truth of the matter is that your sound is to you as the sizzling is to the Fajita: your unique, expressive, characteristic reflection of who you are as an artist. If you work long enough, doing what you love and a lot, you will inevitably use a favorite preset, compression, instrument, tool that will give consistency to all or most of the projects you're involved with. They will "sound" like you worked on them. Like you left a little piece of yourself in the making. They will have a recognizable, memorable, tasty sound that will make your fans come back to you over and over again.



Now this brings me to the second part of this post, as a very particular phenomenon has invaded the creative process of most (especially young) artists in the music business: Sound homogeneity. This is my way of stating the fact that everyone has the same free LABS sample libraries, the same DAW, the same plugin presets, and the same one-shots from Splice. Because everyone uses the same things in the same way, there are many well-produced songs out there that sound like the last 10,000 or so that also were released by indie artists through the first half of the year (COVID willing.) You might say: "Well, what do you expect me to do if those are the tools that I have? Do you want me to invent my own instrument or something?


Yes. That's exactly it.


The solution is simple and is tied in with finding your own "sound". You have to make your own never-heard-before instruments, samples, one-shots, and... for the lack of a better word, sounds if you want your song or composition to be noticed over everything else. The best example I can give on the importance of sound design involves the rise of a young artist and her brother who made the entire production and vocal tracking for two albums by themselves, from their bedrooms. The second album was so revolutionary it was given 10 Grammy Awards in January 2020 (I was there, I saw it) in one of the most overwhelming sweeps of Grammy history. I am talking of course of Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell, better knows as just Billie Eilish. Finneas O'Connell's production was filled with sounds that wouldn't be usually present on a pop song, and they worked wonderfully. The use of alarm clocks, dentist drills, stoplight signals, and much more makes him stand out as a producer; and he stated so in an interview The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as he travels with a recorder and if he finds a sound he likes, he captures it for future use. This type of fresh, creative cleverness is a much-needed aspect of O'connell's music and might be part of the key to the duo's success. You hear the bass line at the beginning of Bad Guy, or the processed vocal for When The Party Is Over, or the "Billie" from Bury a Friend and you immediately know what song it is, you know who the artist is, and if you're a big enough fan you know the album as well. (As you can tell, I'm a huge fan and own both vinyl records cause how couldn't I?) It's such a strong impact I remember almost everything about the first time I heard Bury A Friend and how it blew my mind. I was driving my girlfriend back from lunch and we were studying music production of the top pop tracks through Spotify playlists. She's a talented songwriter and she wanted to develop her pop production skills (which are now way above my level). When Bury A Friend came on I remember being so confused; it sounded like nothing popular at the time, like nothing I've heard in a long time. A dark, thick texture very reminiscent of the 2000s alternative rock mixed with electronic instruments that are usually bright and used in "happy, energetic" music. "What is this?" - "Oh, that's Billie Eilish... she's very different", my girlfriend said in an also confused state. It took only a couple more seconds for my dissonant loving, classically trained, Prokofiev fan, Shostakovich wanna-be brain to scream "I love this! It just sounds so different and refreshing from all the 'sweet, pink, bright, happy' that we hear over and over..." That's just how powerful the whole experience was, it took only one play, of one song, to turn a classical guy from oblivious into a die-hard fan.



The power of a characteristic sound, that identifies and defines who you are and what you offer, is the best tool for music creation you can ever wish for. It's fundamental, formative, and honestly kinda fun. There are many tools for you to create your own sounds, from recording them yourself to synthesizing them to processing them, with today's technological advancements and resources you can learn anything and everything about sound design for your production while making breakfast or walking your dog. It's important that you're at least aware of it for two more reasons besides everything already explained in this post: 1. It has has been done for a long time (The Beatles or Pink Floyd to mention a few). 2. Your competition is for sure doing it. Now I know that it sounds like a lot of work: Recording, editing, preparing levels, mixing in some cases, processing, etc., but if you get over the laziness and make your own sounds, and use them in a way you like, and capture more sounds, and use them in other ways you like, do you know what you're giving to your listeners?


You.


Not a "you" through the lens of a sample pack, or a preset.


You through your own lens.


It makes sense, right? Your listeners, as any fan of any writer, public speaker, director, painter, etc., want to know who you are and how do you see the world. Your sound is a reflection of who you are, of your preferences, and indirectly, your dislikes. As I stated before, the more you work, and the more projects you put your soul into, the more you get to know yourself and your own sound. If you add to the mix you're coming up with the medium to deliver that identity, you have an unlimited pallet of possibilities at your disposal that is consistent with you and your image.


In a few words, you don't need to "find" your sound, your sound is already in you. You need to learn what it is. As the Romans used to say: "Temet Nosce", or maybe for a more appropriate quote: "Temet Audite".

 

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