There is a tricky balancing act that is undertaken by any and every successful singer-songwriter: how to be innovative enough that audiences get to hear something fresh and new, but similar enough to your previous music that you don’t scare your fans away.
It all comes from trust. Your fans learn to trust you and to trust your music. For your fans, they’ve learned that the kind of music you’ve done before is indicative of the kind of music you’re likely to do in the future. At least, they trust that that’s true.
On the other hand, if you use your previous songs as a kind of template to indicate the kind of songs you’re likely to keep doing, there’s a downside: your music becomes too predictable, and fans start to think that they’ve heard it all before.
In general, you want your music to sound enough like music you’ve done before that fans feel comfortable. But you also want it innovative enough so that you’re giving them something fresh, something they’ve not heard before.
No one ever said that getting that balance is easy. Getting it wrong is what can kill careers.
Here are some thoughts to guide you as you work on tweaking that balance:
- Lifelong fans are more nervous of innovative music then they are of “same old.” In other words, if you’re looking to satisfy your most steadfast fans, sticking to what brought them will work. But sticking with what brought them may impede your ability to attract new fans.
- New fans will have a more open attitude to your newer, more innovative musical styles. If you find that your style is changing, the up-side is that newer fans will be more open to it, as they haven’t invested in your older music. You may lose a few devotees, but you will likely gain more than you lose.
- A new, innovative approach to songwriting can stimulate your own creative juices. You can feel stuck if you feel that you have a large chunk of audience you must be serving. Changing your approach to songwriting can get your creative mind out of the doldrums and moving in an exciting new direction.
- The best way to become more innovative is to listen to music from outside your genre. If you’re mainly into metal, for example, you might be surprised what spending time listening to country or folk might do to your own approach. You start to hear new melodic shapes, new rhythms and new production that can find a new home in your compositional style.
- Innovation can happen in increments. You may feel that you’re moving in a completely new direction, and that’s usually a good thing. But if you want to be sure that you don’t scare away your older fans that were attracted to your older style, make your changes in a more incremental way. A song here and there that move you in your new direction may be the gentle kind of nudging that will attract new fans without scaring the old ones off.
The best songwriters are the ones that are constantly redefining themselves. But the very best ones are those that do it without leaving fans behind. As I say, it’s a tricky balancing act, but when done well, it pays off.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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