I think it’s fair to say that no one becomes famous for simply being good. There are lots of really great musicians — and I’m thinking specifically of studio musicians — but unless you take the time to look them up on Wikipedia, you’re not likely ever to know them.
The ones that get famous for being good are actually getting famous for being, to some degree, unique.
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The studio drummer Hal Blaine is a good example of someone who had little fame when he was at the peak of his career. More recently, though, he’s acquired a bit of the fame that eluded him back when he was playing drums in some of the biggest hits of the 60s and 70s.
If you’re one of the few who don’t know who Hal Blaine is, he’s the one that played drums for many, many singers and bands that either didn’t have a drummer, or whose drummer couldn’t cut it in the studio.
So he’s who you’re hearing when you listen to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe”, when you listen to The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man”, The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and many, many more. He’s a fantastic drummer.
His fame has come about more recently because it’s only been in the past few years that his contribution has become more commonly known. He played on six consecutive Grammy Record of the Year recordings, from 1966 to 1971 — an astonishing achievement, and a testament to how in demand he was.
It wasn’t common knowledge that Hal and his circle of musical friends, known by their unofficial name “The Wrecking Crew“, were actually the players for many of these acts. They were used by producers because they were so good.
And because most of them read musical notation, they could get from rehearsing to recording in very short order, thus wasting very little expensive studio time.
I’ve been mentioning players, but the same thing about being famous and being good applies as well to songwriting.
To be a studio musician, you need to be good. Fame isn’t important. Being good is. In songwriting, it’s different. Being good might mean that you’re simply copying what others are doing. And no one has become famous as a songwriter, or as a performer, for copying anyone else.
So if you’re wanting to acquire a bit of fame for the music you write, being good is a starting point. Being good will allow you to start building a larger fan base. But then you need to be unique.
In songwriting, uniqueness can mean one or both of these two things:
- You need to write about unique things.
- You need to perform your music in a unique way.
And this is simply another way of saying that you need to stand out from the crowd. If you’re trying to sound like others, you may actually do a good job of that, but you’ll need to work hard to get any fame for that.
You need to sound enough like others that you start pulling in a fan base from other singer-songwriters. But then you need to stray a bit off the beaten track, and provide something unique.
How unique is really up to you. It doesn’t take much. In the balance between “predictable” and “different”, a mere touch of “different” may be all you need.
But if there’s no difference between you and other acts in your chosen genre, you need to ask yourself, “Why am I trying so hard to sound like someone else?”
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