Evolving as an Artist

author: Jacques Nel date: 05/22/2014 category: artists' discussions

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Evolving as an Artist
As many musicians will tell you, music is a never ending journey and learning process. A common pitfall of writing and playing original music is having your style become stale or repetitive. We've seen it many times, fans and critics alike complaining about a particular band's albums sounding the same album after album.

On the extreme other end of the spectrum, we have musicians who seem to completely reinvent their sound constantly. A good example would be Linkin Park who have caused a stir among their fans when they started making albums that took a completely different direction than "Hybrid Theory" and "Meteora." However, changing it up and doing something different becomes an essential part of being an active musician. The problem comes in doing it right. 

There are many aspects of growing and evolving as a musician. One of the first ones is your technique and your "musical arsenal" if you will. Knowing only the most basic chords and playing simple chord progressions will only get you so far as a musician, in fact in today's music industry that won't get you anywhere. Taking the time to learn something new with every passing day becomes an important part of growing your sound whether it's even just one new chord, or a complete scale to a brand new technique like string bending. Spending a little time each day on mastering something new will take any musician so much further in their musical career whether you are a casual musician or a full blown professional. 

Another core part of keeping things fresh is just that, keeping things fresh and trying new approaches. Whether you approach your writing from a different angle or whether you try creating a new sound with your pedals, experimenting is essential when you are aiming to keep your music fresh and getting rid of repetitive sounding tunes. You will find that a riff you wrote may sound bad on a clean acoustic guitar, but later find that it sounds amazing when adding some overdrive with an electric. A key part in this aspect of keeping your music fresh is to think outside the box. I know it has been said so many times before and we are all sick of it, but it still holds true to this day. There are thousands upon thousands of books and DVD's and YouTube videos to teach you how to play the guitar, but creativity can't be taught, it must be found within yourself. The only way to find it is to step outside your comfort zone and try new things. Release the fears of trying and failing, at least when you try and fail you know where not to tread in the future. 

This brings me to my next point, too many musicians I have spent time with are afraid of setting foot on new ground. Musicians must be wary of staying within a predetermined sound bracket as this will make listeners grow tired of your music pretty quickly. Imagine listening to an artist where all the songs sound exactly the same; then make sure that artist is not you. Experiment with different time signatures, different tunings, different scales etc. Once again, trying and failing is a necessary process of learning.

If you want to evolve as a musician, you need to always keep track of where you are coming from. As important as it is as a learning tool, as important is recording yourself as an evolutionary tool. In the end, what brought you to the game will always be present in your playing, look back and see where it came from, see how far you have come since it all started.

A common mistake made by many musicians is having others dictate the direction they take. While professional musicians are after all out to make money from their music this is understandable. However, I would advise as far as possible that every musician allow their music to grow in whatever natural direction it takes. The turmoil that taints the music industry stems partly from good musicians being pushed in certain directions that they do not want to take. Stay true to yourself and your sound.

Another aspect that goes hand in hand with the latter is finding your own unique sound. Undoubtedly there are various musicians and bands that inspired you to become a musician yourself and in some way, shape or form we tend to have elements of our muses in our own music. In the end it is up to you to find that one part of your own style that is unique to you. Whether it is a way you bend your strings, the way in which you employ harmonics or just your time signatures, in some way we naturally find that something that is part of our own playing and the mistake commonly made is to suppress it because "no one else does it." Embrace your unique sounds and evolve them into your own unique masterpieces. 

The last aspect of evolving as a musician I would like to touch on today is criticism. As I said, a musician needs to decide on the directions he takes with his or her music, but criticism is inevitable. Accept the fact that there will always be someone commenting on your music, sometimes it will be a complement, sometimes it will be a note to take into consideration, at other times it will be harsh comments. Take criticism in each of its many forms and use it to your advantage. All of us make mistakes, but without mistakes we will never grow, we will never learn. When someone comments on your music, take a few seconds to decide whether the comment is constructive criticism or just plain useless and pointless heckling. Use constructive criticism to improve on your sound and grow as a musician.

In closing, there are so many aspects to discuss when it comes to keeping it fresh, but just like the difference between learning to play and being creative, there is no "set-in-stone" guideline to growing as musician. The key point comes in stepping outside your comfort zone and not let the fear of failing keep you from trying something new. Turn negative energy around, and use that momentum to improve your music with every passing day.

Thank you for reading.
More Jacques Nel columns:
+ Rocksmith, Powerful Training Tool or Just Another 'Guitar Hero'? Features 03/18/2014
+ Nirvana - Pioneers of Modern Rock, or Another Over Commercialized Pop Act? Artists' Discussions 03/12/2014
+ How Players Lose Interest General Music 02/07/2014
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