How to Find Your Creative IdentitySep 04, 2021
One’s creative identity is foundational to who you are as a musical artist. Understanding what you value, what you like, and who you are is unendingly important.
So how do we find our creative identity?
Find What You Love
What music do you love? Take a moment to write down your top-10 favorite artists.
Usually, who we are as an artist is a healthy mix of our favorite artists and the core of who we are.
You will often find your own identity reflected by your favorite artists. If all your top-10 artists are male country singers who tend to have themes of love and cowboy boots, your creative identity probably isn’t going to be rapping about how loaded you are.
Maybe it will. But it probably won’t.
Next, it can be helpful to also write down your top-10 favorite songs. If you have too much repetition of the same artist in this top-10, maybe restrict yourself to 1 song per artist.
Once you have these top-10 lists, we can move on to step 2 of finding your creative identity.
Find Your Value Judgements
Now we’re going to utilize those top-10 lists.
First, find what binds these favorites together. Here are some things to look for that might bind these different artists and songs together:
- Genre – Post Grunge, Adult Contemporary, Country, Pop, R&B, etc
- Lyrical Themes – Life, Loss of Love, Party Life, etc
- Melodic Style – Staccato, Legato, Utilize Large Vocal Range, Utilize Small Vocal Range
- Instrumental Style – Piano driven, Synth Driven, Distorted Electric Guitar Driven, etc
- Arrangement Style – Sparse arrangements (few instruments), Thick arrangements (more instruments)
- Mood – Happy, Sad, Angry, Angsty, etc
- Sound Character – Catchy, memorable, emotive, etc
You may be surprised by what binds together what you love. Maybe you only care about genre, but like all lyrical themes and moods. Or maybe you don’t care about genre, but only like music that is on the sad side of things. You may love catchy music in all its forms. Or you might prefer memorable, piano-driven songs with sparse arrangements.
It’s important to figure out what unites many of your top 10 artists and songs, but finding some outliers can be just as important.
For example, you may find that 8 of your top 10 artists are all rock bands. But then you also have a country artist in your top 10. That doesn’t seem to fit, so what characteristic does it share with those rock bands? This shared characteristic might be what you actually care about.
Maybe you really just like dense, thick, “epic” sounding arrangements with sad lyrical themes. Which usually goes along with rock music. This doesn’t necessarily mean you like rock music per se. It might be that dense and thick sad songs are your thing.
To take this a step further, it can be helpful to find artists that you would consider similar to artists on your top 10 that you don’t like. Because this gives you a way to separate what actually causes you to love your favorite artists and what just happens to be a characteristic of them.
Find Your Why
Why are you a songwriter? What is the greatest compliment someone can pay you as an artist?
You might want to provide something positive in a world of negativity.
You might want to be brutally honest about what you’re going through so others going through something similar feel less alone.
You might want to bring solace to those who were abused.
You might want to make people dance and feel ok despite the pain they’re going through.
You might want people to just smile when they hear your music.
Whatever your reason is, know it.
Find What You’re Good At and Not So Good At
For sports, I’m a finesse guy through and through. I’ll out-strategize you and out-place you. I’m not going to over-power you. I’m not going to physically dominate you with my 5’7 frame. I’ll just outsmart you, out-effort you, and place the ball exactly where I want to.
I am the opposite for singing. I am not a finesse singer. I have no idea how your typical R&B singer has that much control over every little influx of pitch and trills and other fancy stuff. I also don’t even like that stuff. Just HIT THE NOTE.
So I’m not gonna be able to finesse it with Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake. But I can belt some seriously high notes, even as a lower baritone. There’s hardly a rock song that I can’t keep up with.
This knowledge informs how I write. My melodies don’t mess around that much. I’m not a finesse singer and I know that. I also know I can belt with the best of them, so I like to utilize my vocal range in my songs. Emotive choruses with belted high notes contrasted with pensive verses that utilize my lower baritone voice is pretty common for me.
Because I understand my strengths and weaknesses.
I’d look like a fool and seem terrible if I tried to finesse it with Bruno Mars. On the other hand, can you imagine Adam Levine being the front man for a metal band?
HILARIOUS. Seriously. Imagine that.
If you think and breathe catchy tunes and your best writing happens when you’re happy, know that. Use that.
If you’re more like me and write best when you find yourself in a dark place, use that.
Know whether you’re good at writing catchy music or memorable music. Know whether you have more of a rock-style vocal or a pop one. If you have a large range, use it. If you have a small one, use that.
Maybe you’re like John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting and have a really solid falsetto. Integrate that into your music as he does.
Use your strengths. Reduce the impact of your weaknesses.
If you aren’t a great guitarist, write songs in a way that no one would know.
If you can’t sing lower notes consistently, don’t write a song in that range.
Set yourself up for success.
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