If you’re trying to develop an innovative songwriting style, a major impediment is one that’s often unnoticeable: you’re listening only to music from your own genre of choice.
So if you’re a country-folk songwriter, and you’re only listening to the latest and greatest country-folk singer-songwriters, it makes developing your own style immensely difficult. Innovation is almost impossible.
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The songwriters who can lay claim to being a new kind of sound within their genre are usually only innovative and imaginative within their own genre. What I mean is that though the music they write uses ideas that may be unique their typical fanbase, those may be ideas that have existed in other genres for decades or more.
Most songs can be produced to sit in different genres, so we’re not just talking about writing style here, we’re also considering production.
When Queen came up with “Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon” — a kind of music hall-salon music melange — on their “A Night At the Opera” album, it was surprising, unique and, for all intents and purposes, risky within their chosen genre.
That’s an extreme example, but there are thousands of other examples where singer-songwriters took on music that was just outside their normal genre. A good example of introducing production values from one genre and applying them to another is Dolly Parton’s rendition of “Here You Come Again” (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil). Dolly was concerned that it was too pop for her mainly country fans, so some country steel guitar was added at the production stage.
My point here as that “Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon” would not ever have happened if Freddie Mercury didn’t have some passing knowledge and experience with other genres other than the heavy rock genre with which he and Queen were most associated.
Once you take those ideas that exist in other genres and pull them into your own genre, it sounds to your fan base as though you’ve come up with something new, fresh and innovative. In fact, all you’ve done is taken tried and true techniques from other genres — techniques that probably have existed for many years — and given them a new audience.
So if you’re bemoaning the fact that you find it hard to offer something fresh and innovative to your fans, start fixing the problem by examining what you’re listening to on a daily basis. If it’s all the same kind of music that you’re trying to write, it’s practically impossible to innovate. Broaden your listening tastes as the best way forward.
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