Make Your Band's Sound Unique

Details on a way to set yourself apart from generic musical sounds.

Ultimate Guitar

In this lesson, I'd like to start off with a little story as an example of the process I'm suggesting here. Through this story, it should allow you to grasp and mimic said process to set yourself apart from sounding like a generic imitation.

When we first formed Mute Prophet, Chris, James and myself sat down together and tried to figure out how we wanted to sound. After a lot of deliberation, it turned out that the only element on which we could agree was a female lead vocalist. We found that the higher vocal registers led to a more exciting, powerful sound than lower male vocal pitches.

From here, I had the idea of continuing the process by building upon this one established element by essentially stacking compliments, one on top of the other, until each instrument had locked into a coherent picture.

The vocals which Lauren and Carissa use together in our music are a mixture of a powerful rock style and a haunting operatic style. The powerful attitude lent itself to some form of rock or metal, but they didn't have enough power on their own. So, we added downtuned, seven-string guitar riffs in the high-gain, progressive metal style of the likes of Jeff Loomis or John Petrucci. This backing of low, technical riffs on the guitar and bass added a particularly unique, brutal contrast to the clean, pretty vocals.

From here, we addressed the drums. Of course, the style of drumming varies from song to song, but an overall set of motifs tend to occur; a strong snare accent that keeps the vocals and guitars pumping; airy, shimmery cymbals that mesh with the bright female vocals; and precise kick drums that lock in with and add punch to the guitar riffs.

From here, we found that, while the rhythm of the tracks could dictate some amount of emotion through pacing, we felt that we should have more harmonic content. Metal riffs, while awesome, tend to consist of single-string note groupings, or power chord chugs. Without the essential interval of the "third," there is no emotion to be found in the rhythm section. So, we added in synth elements. Epic choir synths playing deep, full chords packed with emotion. Melodic piano twinkles. Orchestral string ensembles that soared above the rest of the rhythm section.

And by this point, we realized that we sounded an awful lot like Nightwish, albeit if Emppu Vuorinen played lower, more interesting guitar riffs. Carissa's voice had a strong resemblance to Tarja's, and Lauren's voice had a strong resemblance to Annette's. And, as just about anyone will tell you, a singer's voice and established style is very difficult to change. So, it was up to us to move away from any further similarities.

We turned to progressive metal elements. Polymeters, key changes, complex chains of time signature changes, and, of course, absurd guitar solos. We combined the pure, unapologetic shredding of Rusty Cooley with the gorgeous fusion style of Guthrie Govan, resulting in a technical yet tasteful style of soloing that appeals to both metalheads and casual listeners.

Through this process of stacking additions, we defined a sound that, in spite of earnest trying, we cannot quite identify in any pre-existing bands. It is this same process that will allow you to set yourself apart from the metal clones that saturate the genre right now.

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I expected advice how to make my band sound unique, but got a story how some band started and then changed its style...
    Maybe try reading further next time? The point of the story is, if you learn like me, it helps to have an example in front of you, a start-to-finish process. I expected it would be fairly intuitive that you, too, can take the central elements your band agrees upon and build complimentary, non-redundant layers over it.
    I would suggest something completely different. I heard something similar by either Guthrie Govan or Steven Wilson (i can't for the life of me remember, but i believe it was Govan) Focus on being good. You don't have to be an innovator. Just focus on being writing good music, and if you are an innovator, you will do something unique. And if you don't, it doesn't matter, because you have done good music.
    I agree. If you just work hard to make good music, your are going to make good music. If you just focus on being unique your going to leave your audience thinking "dafuq did I just hear?"
    If you're someone who can learn like this, by all means! It's fantastic advice! It's just that there are many people who can't simply say, "I'll write objectively good music in a subjective field and be popular!" The approach I'm outlining here is far from the holy grail, sure, but it's useful for those more analytical minds like my own who need a more scientific approach to get started.
    It sounds like you changed your sound just for the sake of changing your sound. Not because you or other band members wanted to explore music in that direction. It's one thing to be unique, but you should want to actually be unique. Don't do it just for the sake of it.
    Best advice would be to look at the industry. Take Guns N' Roses, they created their unique sound by mixing elements of classic rock such as Rolling Stones/Aerosmith and mixing it with the energy and aggression of punk. Korn's approach to dubstep mixed with metal is another example on how to create a unique sound. Black Veil Brides are mixing the mainstream metal sound with 80's influences such as Motley Crue through use of gang vocals. etc etc. If you want to create a unique sound then the best place to start is by mixing things up. If you aren't capable of doing this solo, another approach is get other members of the band with different influences to approach songwriting and mix your influences together.
    Look at WHY they're doing this, though. In the end, what you're describing is no different from what I'm talking about. Classic rock is very well-complimented by punk. Taking nu-metal sounds and throwing in dubstep synths is a brilliantly complimentary idea, because the greasy synth adds a texture that metal guitars just don't have. And Black Veil Brides...aren't that original in my opinion :p
    Well the reason WHY is pretty much common sense. How better to get your signature sound that makes you stand out from the rest of the bogstandard bands? Black Veil Brides aren't very original at all, they just rehashed a vintage style with the modern. That is what gives their music its signature though. There is more to a bands success than sound though, how you market a band, the looks, who you play with, and sheer plain luck can sometimes become a better driving force than the music itself.
    Agreed! Musicians have to focus on far more than just the sound if they want to be successful. The point here, though, is the sound. There are other articles for the other topics.
    In my view, u need to explore yourself. Stop thinking what would my favourite band do here. Try doing something u never actually do or think is boring, like make rhythm parts if you are a lead player and let rhythm make lead etc.
    Another way is get more than one person in the songwriting process on songs. For example, my guitar work mainly ends up as a mix between Rolling Stones and Aerosmith since I have a lot of influence from those sorts of bands. When I write with my bass player however, he brings in his punk influences (he was in the leading Sex Pistols tribute act in his teens). Makes the songs sound a lot more unique. Another approach is writing lyrics first before the music since that can change the feel of how you would traditionally write a song. Nowadays when it comes to songwriting I only write/record small ideas which I then bring into a songwriting session and we all bounce off eachothers ideas to create a song, even making parts for eachother to play rather than ourselves (for example me coming up with lyrics or drum parts as a guitarist). We all have our own influences and roots and we all have experience in songwriting in previous bands.. kinda all goes hand in hand.