Updated: Jan 29, 2019
Written By: Sam Moses
Every artist or producer has had trouble figuring out their sound at one point in their careers. This article shares my experiences finding my sound and what I learned to help you find yours. So let's talk about following your gut, trusting yourself, and not being afraid people won't like what they hear.
“Fuck shit up”, Joe said.
I was sitting at the console in the south of France at Mix With the Masters, where Joe Barresi (Chevelle, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Coheed and Cambria,) and Andrew Scheps (Adele, U2, Beyonce, Red Hot Chili Peppers) began to listen to my mixes.
I was sweaty. I was nervous (cue Eminem song). After three minutes and twenty seven seconds we reached silence.
I looked at them, they looked at me, and Joe said “That was really good, but I was super bored, you gotta fuck shit up”. Andrew felt the same way.
The next seven days, I lived by the rule of “fuck shit up”.
Joe's rule of fucking shit up meant if your gut tells you “This feels boring, something isn’t right”, you trust it and try the opposite. If you need to run a lifeless mix through a fuzz pedal, you do it. If your drums sound terrible, reverse them. If the vocal is boring, pitch shift it. Your gut is your sound.
I had spent my first five years of music trying to get things to sound like my idols. Andrew was one of them and Joe - I more so had a fascination with. Joe made albums that made me feel something. He would pan the whole mix hard left just for fun. He would record his dog and find a place for it in his albums because he has an obsession with his studio dogs.
Andrew made albums that sounded interesting and real. He loved color, character, and anything that would make you move.
I neglected my sound. I neglected my gut. I was too scared to trust it. I was scared of what others would think. I was scared that my clients would leave. I was making music from a place of fear, instead of a place of infinite possibilities. I was making sterile boring mixes. They sounded great, but that’s not the point of music.
We all have “our sound” within us. Joe and Andrew wanted me to stop focusing on plugins, settings, numbers, and comparison. They wanted me to have a mindset that honors what I can bring to the table.
They were huge on making me understand that chasing someone else’s sound and copying them was not going to be the key to my success in the industry. The reason for that is because it’s boring.
We don’t need another Joe or Andrew, but what we need is for each person to make music the way they hear it.
They both gave me permission that week to do whatever I needed in order to not make another sterile, smiley face mix that was forgettable. They both encouraged me to listen to my gut, to try new pieces of gear, reverse signal chains, forget about everything I was currently forcing and focus on making music exactly how I hear it.
If it didn’t make me feel something, get rid of it.
One of the turning points for Joe was realizing that people wanted to work with him because he had a unique approach. That unique approach was him being true to himself. He purposely bought strange gear and monitors and would use them in bizarre ways to create his sound. He wanted his music to feel different. He wanted it to sound like him. People hire you for you, not your gear or plugins.
If you want to hear drums loud, then make them loud. If you want to record things on an iPhone then record on an iPhone. If you want to have a full blown studio and buy all the high end gear, then do that. Whatever your heart's desire is, do it. Your gut is normally right with music. Your sound is an extension of you, not a copycat of everyone else. Be confident in yourself and know what you offer has value and over time people will find you.
Know that your sound is already there. You hear music in a way that no one else can. Your ears are unique, your experience is unique and that makes “your sound” already marketable. No one else can recreate what you do. It’s as if you have your very own secret set of plugins and samples called your ears. Use them. How they hear is unique and that will become your big break, your light bulb moment if you trust it.
If you have ever been in a mix contest, there’s no clearer example of this. Everyone gets the same song, same multi-track, and each mix is so drastically different. It’s as if the song changes from person to person, morphing into a new piece of art. Everyone's ear is different.
It’s beautiful. They’re all correct mixes as long as the mixer was true to their sound.
Comparison will no longer be about who is better but more so an appreciation of what is different.
A celebration of diversity and people being true to how they create art.
You know you have found your sound once you begin to produce and engineer music that fulfills you. The common questions of, “How do I make a hit song? How do I get signed? How do I work with the pop flavor of the month? Which plugin should I use for vocals?” become boring as you have figured out that those things will not fulfill the desire in you that got you into music in the first place. This is the beauty of music and your sound.
You must honor yourself and create art that’s a reflection of you in order to find your sound.
When I got back from Mix With The Masters, I deleted my templates, stopped using presets, bought old quirky gear and began to create music how I wanted to hear it. When you begin to trust yourself, double down on your sound, and make music exactly how you want, it becomes contagious. People will find you instead of you having to find them. Remember, not everyone will like “your sound”. This is normal. Don’t view it as a personal attack. I like deep dish pizza over thin crust. I still respect thin crust pizza. I love all of pizza, but my gut, literally likes deep dish. In a blind shoot out of pizza, deep dish always won for me. I digress.
We need you to be you. We need you to make the next boundary pushing album. It will feel normal to you, but to us, it will change our lives. We need you to make music that shows us who you are, what you have learned so we can also grow and expand in life and music. I want to hear “your sound” and celebrate it, learn from it, and collaborate with it.
So ask yourself this week, are you creating music that reflects you or are you creating music in hopes of validation and impressing others?
What shit do you need to fuck up in order to start making your sound?
Now go create and share it with me so I can get to know the real you better.