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Doing Music Your Way

Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

So what do you think makes you stand out as a musician? What separates you from the millions of other musicians out there in the world? I myself have always been a firm believer that one of the things that make a musician stand out or makes a musician more unique is the fact that he just does things his own way. Doing things your way may involve a number of factors. Some of which, I intend to cover in this article.

Your Level of Musicianship

I have always made efforts to improve myself as a musician. My philosophy has always been that if my level of musicianship is no better than the average guy, then what makes me so special?

In reality, no one musician can do it all. You only have just so many hours in the day. So obviously, learning how to play 40 different instruments and knowing every possible technique on each of them would be impossible to achieve. Prioritizing what instruments or techniques you want to concentrate on is one of the things that will separate you from others. Not everyone excels at the same things. There may be some techniques or instruments that you are a natural at, while, at the same time, someone else may be a natural at other things.

Here's an example from my experience. I don’t really have much of a natural gift as a percussionist. However, I have a knack for picking up stringed instruments fairly quickly. That’s my thing. I play guitar, bass, mandolin, dulcimer, and the balalaika. I was able to pick up those stringed instruments with relative ease. Give me a set of bongos or congas and I’m not so impressive.

I know that there are some things that I excel at as a musician and other areas where I do not, so I don’t waste too much time trying to develop myself in areas where I don’t have a natural talent for. Instead, I concentrate more on the areas where I have a natural talent. Those are the areas where I constantly strive to improve myself as a musician. As a result, it has allowed me to achieve what I consider to be a good level of musicianship.

Your Song Selection

Now everyone has different taste in music. No two people really like all of the same types of music or the same artists. Even two Beatles fans may not like the same Beatles songs. The same is true regarding every other artist you may like to listen to.

I like to listen to a variety of artists as well as a variety of music genres. I actually enjoy many different types of music. I don’t just listen to them for the purpose of having a large pool from which I may draw musical inspiration from. Sure, that’s a good thing to have a diverse taste in music for that purpose but what helps is the fact that I truly enjoy many different types of music. So that little bit of extra enthusiasm pushes me to be diverse as a musician, regarding the types of music that I will play.

Another thing I like to do is to try to do songs that may not have normally been done the way I want to do them. For instance, there have been a lot of songs that were electric guitar songs that I decided to try an acoustic version of. Also, I might play a mandolin version of a song that was originally performed on guitar. When I do a cover of someone else’s song, I don’t believe in doing things exactly the same way the original artist did. My philosophy is that if people want to hear something be played exactly the way the original artist did, then they should just stay home and listen to the CD. Or maybe they could go see a tribute band that tries to perform a specific band’s music exactly how they do. Some people do that very well but it’s not my thing. Again, I prefer to do things my way.

If you listen to Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” if is obvious that he took what was a Bob Dylan song and really made it his own because he just arranged it in his own unique way. To this day, it is still my favorite version of that song, even though Jimi didn’t write it. But he did the song his way. Just as he had done other songs written by others his own unique way. Having a unique and diverse song list that you play in your own unique way may be one of the biggest factors in creating your own unique sound.

Your Equipment Choices

Your taste in music often determines the type of instruments you play, the various techniques you may use and even the type of equipment you may purchase. Listening to a guitarist who plays a Fender Stratocaster may entice you into purchasing one yourself. I know that was the case with me. After hearing a lot of players play one, I came to like the sound they were getting from the single-coil pickups. I thought it would be great to play one using fingerstyle guitar techniques. The clarity is just amazing.

What I plug my guitar into may also separate me from the average musical Joe as well. I don’t think along the lines of getting all of the effects pedals a specific famous guitar player uses. I’m not really trying to emulate anyone’s sound in particular. My purchases are more influenced by what I personally want to achieve as far as having my own sound goes. I kind of have a lot of ideas regarding that. I also like to experiment with my sound as well.

I play out as a solo act. I mostly sing and play guitar. So one of my priorities is to sound as full as I can as a solo performer. That determines most of my musical equipment purchasing decisions. I developed a pedal board layout consisting of effects pedals that I consider to be most helpful for the purpose of creating a full sound for a solo performer. I have to try to cover a wider range of frequencies in order to do that. I will also use various effects to add more depth to the sound.

Now, you may have different sound priorities than I do. You may already be in a full band and may not need to create such a large sound for yourself. If you have too big of a sound, you may just be buried in the overall mix of the band because everyone will be cutting into each other’s frequencies. That could make it all an indistinguishable audio blur. So you may also have to tailor your individual sound to the situation at hand.

Your Sound and Mix

As I have already stated, I play out as a solo act. So my main goal as my own sound man is to make myself sound as full as I can as a solo performer. I play my electric guitar through an Electro-Harmonix Synth 9 guitar effects pedal. That allows me to get various synth sounds with my guitar. I have control over the volumes of the original guitar signal as well as the synth effect signal. I can mix to my own personal preferences.

I also have certain things I like to use for my vocals. I prefer to use a little reverb on my voice, cut some of the bass frequencies out and use very light compression. I even have a specific mic that I prefer to use. Those are all choices I have made based on my personal sound preferences.

Do What Works Best for You

You can’t always worry about how this guy does this or how that guy does that. You have to do what works best for you. That may involve going against conventional thought or popular opinion. The thing is that you often don’t know how things are going to turn out until you try. So definitely do not be afraid to experiment.

Experimentation may involve trying new equipment, new genres of music or artists you have never tried to cover before. Maybe you want to try a country version of a classic rock song. Maybe you want to take an old country song and make it sound more like rock. You never know what works until you try. Don’t confine yourself to doing things like everyone else around you. Take new approaches, try new things, and you will eventually discover what works best for you.

After All That Is Said and Done

After all is said and done, you could easily create your own sound and a sense of individuality that sets you apart from everyone else. You have to think for yourself. Sure, it’s good to take advice. But don’t allow your opinions to simply mirror the opinions of everyone else around you. Listen to the advice of many people, weigh it all and give it some thought and consideration. Then make your decisions and develop your plans. Don’t go all out with the first bit of advice you receive.

Some people don’t know what they are talking about and not everyone’s opinion is equally valid on every subject. I don’t ask an electrician how to do masonry and I wouldn’t ask a mason about electrical work. So I don’t make a general practice of giving the same credence to opinions given by non musicians as I would to experienced musicians. And even among experienced musicians, you may get a variety of opinions regarding the many aspects of music.

In the past, I would have someone come up to me and say I needed to play more slow songs. Five minutes later, someone from the same audience would tell me I should play more upbeat songs. That’s why you would want to weigh the advice given to you by multiple people before making a final decision. As I have already stated, It, in the end, cones down to you, after all is said and done. You just have to do the music your way.

© 2017 Bob Craypoe


AustinAmerica from North Bay, Cali on November 17, 2017:

Right On! Copying and imitating can only take you so far, and that's if you are in a cover band