“So what do you sound like?”
Almost every new artist will get asked this question at some point, and yet it is something that many artists resist thinking about. Those same artists will say things like “We do our own thing!” or “We don’t sound like anyone else,” or “We don’t want to be categorized.”
However, defining your sound is not about pigeon-holing or limiting your artistic freedom. As a new artist, identifying your genre and peer musicians is an important step in defining your brand. Identifying what you sound like as an artist immediately identifies your target market and creates a foundation for your marketing strategy: which platforms you should be targeting, which fan bases you should reach out to, and which media outlets you should contact during your PR campaign.
These connections also make you more discoverable. Including these comparisons in your marketing materials will increase your search engine optimization (you’ll start appearing in searches for the artists and genre you are associating yourself with), and it will help potential fans figure you out straight away. Like it or not, we live in an ADD culture where the average attention-span online is approximately 3 seconds. Defining your brand in familiar terms will help people imagine your music.
Here are a number of things to think about while you craft your answers to this question:
Associate Yourself With the Right Artists
This should be a mix of big and small artists. If all you do is identify yourself with bands that are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (“we’re like the Beatles meets Stevie Wonder!”) then people are just going to walk away from that thinking, “And you aren’t as good as either of those bands.” But if you find some artists that are closer to your level, it will give you more opportunities to build on.
For example, you could pick a band you’ve toured with, or a newer artist who is still building a name for themselves. Find out what artists are being hailed as the “Next Big Thing” by music bloggers. Journalists are going to be interested in writing about other artists like them. Utilize sites like The Hype Machine or Shuffler FM to see who is being buzzed about. Remember to remain realistic and true to yourself when doing this.
Create Your Own Genre
…as long as it can be easily explained. The folk-rock quintet The Dreamscapes Project (pictured above) defines its cello-infused music as “folk-core.” It’s a term that gives the reader enough of an idea of what it might mean to seem familiar, but its newness also invites people to listen in. Fans love to discover something new but at the same time they need to instantly understand it.
Plus, the beauty of creating your own genre is that you can lump anybody you want into it. You know who else is folk-core? The Kinks. Do you need their permission to call them this? No.
Compare and Contrast
The aforementioned Dreamscapes Project describes its music as fusing “the theatrical bent of Arcade Fire and The Decemberists with the distinct vocals of the Dave Matthews Band.” This instantly conjures up an image of their musical offering.
Be sure to limit these kinds of comparisons to two or three. A band that’s like Orange Juice AND Peter Gabriel AND Dirty Projectors AND Feelings-era David Byrne isn’t going to make sense to anybody. Don’t over-complicate things.
Ask a Journalist and/or a Loyal Fan
One of the reason artists struggle with the “sounds like…” question is they’re too close. It can be hard for them to step back and be objective. This is why it’s good to ask someone else what they think. It could be a journalist, a friend or a loyal fan. See what they say about you and quote them.
Also a media quote describing you as “the new Radiohead” is more credible than describing yourself as the new Radiohead. Take the lead from others.
Remember, knowing who you sound like is a blessing,