Dear Indie Girl,
The above comic is brought to you by Mr. James Pray, my beloved husband/ artist in residence. I was telling him about a kid I met who’s in a band. When I asked this kid what his band sounded like he was so worried about being original that he refused to list any influences at all. He wouldn’t even tell me what his favorite bands were! So that’s where the comic came from.
This is a common struggle among Indie bands. I’ve felt a lot of pressure from my fellow artists who don’t play cover songs as a rule because they might sound too much like so and so, or don’t list influences because they want to remain completely original. There are also those bands that come up with a completely obscure genre of music to shy away from being grouped in with everyone else. I’ve had friends tell me to change the name of a song or change a line because it too clearly referenced another artist that they know I’m influenced by. See, the thing is, I want to let my influences show so long as there’s no copyright infringement and it’s done as a tasteful shout out to those who’ve gone before me. I see this as honoring their legacy. Those artists have influenced me and I want to pass that on.
Because if we tried to strip down and peel back all the pieces of our work that were influenced by someone else’s band or sound, there’d be nothing left. Just an empty paper sack. Sometimes in the pursuit of being completely original, I fear we risk anonymity.
People who have never heard you play need to make some kind of connection with your music in order to come to a show or go to your website and download your album. A good example of this recognition thing is The Crane Wives. They’re a local Grand Rapids, MI band with a HUGE following. They got a lot of recognition because they’re not only great performers and have really solid music, but also they named their band after a Decemberists song. The Decemberists got ahold of their album, took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook. Then all the Decemberists fans went crazy over The Crane Wives. Talk about a blatant musical reference. These guys listed their main influence in their band name. And it paid off.
If you don’t have a “sounds like” pitch ready for everyday conversation, it would be like going to a job interview and handing in a resume or application without references. “I didn’t want to list the other places I’ve worked because I didn’t want you to think I am only capable of doing one job.” No one would hire you. In the same way, if you’re not ready with a 15 second pitch to explain your sound, not many people will book your band or buy your album (except your mom).
For example, when people ask me what my band sounds like, I typically answer, “We’re an Indie-folk-pop band and we sound a bit like Ingrid Michaelson and Brandi Carlile.” BAM. That was actually like a 6 second pitch. You should also be ready to list one or two big venues you’ve played at or bands you’ve opened for.
Bottom line, there is truly nothing new under the sun. Anything original is really just a Frankenstein’s monster of various influences. And that’s okay. Being an artist is really just making the old … new. This surprises people in the most pleasant way. If you’re nervous about people thinking you’re too much like one band or another, then you should know, you sound like them for a reason. Probably because you only listen to them and bands like them. Maybe it’s time to vary your influences. Listen to something completely different. What comes out is directly influenced by what you put in. The only way you’d have to worry about being a real copy cat is if you were a 100% cover band. But hey, cover bands can make a lot of money having fun playing everyone’s favorite songs from way back when!
Here’s to doing what we love,