With more than 8 million artists on Spotify, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. But artists like Skrillex, J Dilla and Billie Eilish are instantly recognizable, regardless of what genre they're working in, thanks to their signature sound. In this blog, you'll learn how to create your own signature sound and give your tracks the professional polish they need to stand the test of time.
What Is A Signature Sound?
An artist's "signature sound" is a collection of songwriting tropes and production techniques that they commonly use in their music. It's a combination of all the things you've learned along your journey as an artist.
Part of your signature sound might be your writing style, like Taylor Swift's simple melodies and breathy vocal style. Or your performance technique, like Eddie Van Halen's blistering guitar solos. Or even your sound, like Wu-Tang Clan's gritty production style and East Asian influences.
Your signature sound should always include a variety of influences, otherwise, you'll start to sound like a "one-trick pony." For instance, T-Pain is known for his heavy use of Auto-Tune, but simply pitch correcting your voice won't make you sound like T-Pain. There are a number of other elements to his signature sound that you need to adopt in order to emulate his style.
Creating a signature sound that's fresh, resonates with people and doesn't copy other artists can be tricky. Your signature sound should highlight the most interesting and authentic things about your music. Let's take a look at some tips to help you hone in on your signature sound.
Pros and Cons of Having a Signature Sound
Having a signature sound is a great way to cement your legacy as a musical artist. Artists like Chuck Berry, Garth Brooks and James Brown are all heralded for their contributions to their respective genres.
Generally, an artist develops their signature sound over the course of a career. Their first albums usually touch on the core elements of this sound, while their later albums continue to explore new directions and push the boundaries. However, artists who develop a signature sound early in their careers often have a hard time breaking away from that sound over time.
For instance, when Chance the Rapper was working on his third mixtape, Coloring Book, in 2016, he wanted to explore more gospel elements and Christian themes in his music. But he felt that his previous work, and the fact that his name was Chance THE RAPPER, caused people to perceive him a certain way and that they might dislike his new direction. Thankfully, he took a chance (get it?) and it paid off. Coloring Book went on to be one of his most successful albums. That's why it's important not to pigeonhole yourself with a highly restrictive sound.
Analyze Your Influences
You probably started making music because you love listening to music. Take some time to study your favorite artists and find out what makes them tick. Learn how to play their songs. Record covers and try to emulate their production techniques. By reverse-engineering their music, you'll be able to identify all of the little tricks and tropes that make up their signature sound.
Additionally, you can use reference tracks while mixing or even while writing and arranging to help you identify which techniques work best with your music. REFERENCE is the perfect tool for quickly referencing your favorite tracks. Simply drag and drop your reference tracks into the Wave Transport and engage the Level Match feature to ensure a fair comparison. Then check the Trinity Display for detailed tips on tweaking EQ, dynamics, stereo width and more.
Listen To Lots Of Music
One thing that all great artists have in common is they appreciate a wide variety of music. If you only listen to music within the genre you create, your music will start to sound like a caricature of itself. Eventually, you'll use up all of the classic tropes for your genre and your music starts to sound generic and formulaic.
That's why it's so important to expand your palate and listen to as much music as possible. And it doesn't have to be new music, either—just new to you. You might be surprised how many modern artists draw influence from classic jazz, soul or R&B records.
Set aside some time each week to seek out and listen to new music. Check the charts and see what's popular this week to get an idea of what's performing well right now. Check out classic albums in your genre that you haven't listened to yet. You should also intentionally try to listen to music outside of your genre to help expand your palate.
Write Lots of Songs
Creating a signature sound isn't something you do overnight. It happens over time, after ample writing and experimentation. That's why it's important to set aside plenty of time each week to write new material.
Don't panic—you don't need to release or even finish writing a new song each week. You just need to spend time writing, experimenting and honing your craft. Over time, it will become easier to write, and you'll start to write better songs faster. And eventually, you'll start to recognize all of the little elements that make up your signature sound, making them easier to sprinkle into your productions.
One thing to remember while creating—your music is for you. It's about the catharsis of creating, not the stats on your last single. That's why it's important to write music that is authentic to you.
Don't worry about trying to impress other people with your music. Just focus on making songs you and your fans enjoy. Otherwise, you'll end up chasing trends and copying other artists just trying to make a hit record.
Think about what you love most about your favorite artists. It's probably not the fact that they sound just like everyone else on the radio. Find what makes your music unique and accentuate it!
Step Outside Of Your Comfort Zone
Don't confuse being authentic with doing the same thing over and over again. Music trends change quickly, and it's easy to become stagnant with your production techniques. That's why it's important to continue learning and growing your skills.
As mentioned above, listening to lots of new music can be a great way to expand your sonic pallet. But the rubber really hits the road when you start integrating tropes and isms from other genres into your music. Kanye West is a good example of this, as he frequently combines traditional hip hop songs with tropes from a variety of genres including gospel, electro and even classic rock.
Even after you develop a signature sound, it's still important to continue experimenting and pushing your boundaries even further. You can't keep releasing the same album over and over. You have to find the sweet spot of familiar yet refreshing. Stay true to what makes your music unique, but continue looking for new ways to grow.
Use Unique Gear
Does the world really need another 1073 clone? Why are we still using compressors that were designed more than 50 years ago? I'm looking at you, 1176... In the audio world, we love vintage analog gear. But when you use the same signal chain as everyone else, your music starts to sound just like everyone else's. That's why it's important to step outside of the box once and a while.
Don't feel like you have to use the most popular signal processors in your mix to get a great sound. Plenty of great records have been made with lesser-known gear. Many artists have one or two quirky pieces of gear in their collections that they've picked up over the years. Things like cheap keyboards, obscure distortion pedals and boutique signal processors can impart unique and colorful sounds that you just can't get anywhere else.
Plug-ins have come a long way over the last few years too, and are capable of achieving sounds that some analog units could only dream of. ANIMATE comes loaded with versatile tools designed to help you inject life into your mixes.
- Expand mode allows you to dial in a pristinely clean sounding upward expansion
- Punch mode enhances the transients of your audio to help them bite through the mix
- Ignite mode allows you to dial in rich harmonic distortion in a dynamic way
- Grow mode lets you increase the width of the selected frequencies using a psychoacoustic precedence effect
Create Presets and Sample Libraries
Once you start to develop your signature sound, there are some steps you can take to make it easier to integrate those elements into future sessions. For instance, maybe you created a great synth patch that serves as a sonic starting point for other sounds. Or maybe you dialed in the perfect vocal sound using a special signal chain. Or maybe you really went the extra mile and created your own sample library to pull from to help create a one-of-a-kind sound.
No matter what method you use, it's important to document these decisions. Save synth patches and processor settings as presets so you can easily recall them later. Save full channel strip settings in your DAW so you can pull up your signature vocal sound with one click. Backup your sample library on a portable drive so you always have it with you when you're ready to create.
Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. Whitney Houston was The Voice. Dr. Dre is the Father of G-Funk. Public perception plays a huge role in defining a legacy. That's why it's important to associate yourself with your signature sound.
Whether that's through a cheeky nickname or some clever marketing, let it be known that you came to change the game. Just be careful not to pigeonhole yourself into one hyper-specific niche like Lou Bega did in 1999 with his breakout hit, "Mambo No 5."
The best advice for creating your signature sound is to be patient. It doesn't happen overnight. As a matter of fact, it takes some artists years to discover their signature sound. Don't sweat it—over time, you'll start to develop your own style naturally. As long as you're dedicated to becoming a lifelong learner and studying your craft, you'll get there in no time.