Musicians often have difficulty describing their own music. I’ve been guilty many times myself of shrugging when someone asks, “What kind of music do you play?”
After an awkward pause, I’ll say something like “Oh, it’s kinda Beatlesque folk pop” — which, if not a great descriptor, at least gives them a point of reference that’s been confirmed by friends, fans, and music journalists.
Some bands though, they’re not just in a different ballpark when they talk about their music; they’re playing a whole other game.
Avoid useless descriptors and confusing comparisons
Before my buddy Brad and I joined CD Baby’s marketing team, our job — as music editors — was to listen to every single album that got submitted to CD Baby. While the music played, we’d inevitably read some of the information provided by the artist: album notes, short musical description, genre designations, etc.
Probably 75% of the time that album information made sense. But the other 25% of the time? Wow!!!
We’d read the album notes, listen to the music, and wonder, “What the hell are they thinking? This doesn’t sound like Brian Eno’s ambient music; it sounds like 90′s frat rock ala Barenaked Ladies!” Or “Do they really think this is reminiscent of early hip hop? It’s more like trance music.”
The obvious lesson here is: just because you were influenced by an artist and admire them greatly, it doesn’t mean you actually sound like them. Make sure your “sounds-like” comparisons are reasonable.
Not EVERY band that plays guitar sounds like Radiohead or The Beatles. Not every rapper sounds like Jay-Z. And just because your blues band plays one country rock song, it doesn’t mean you sound like The Eagles.
If you’re having trouble being objective (and of COURSE you are), ask your fans who they think you sound like. Pay attention to who the press is comparing your music to. And be prepared for people to compare you to artists you don’t like, or who you’ve never even heard of before. It’s happened to me a couple times; a person told me, “Oh, you sound just like [band I hate].”
At first I was like, huh? But after it sank in and the unintended hurt feelings faded, I was thankful for the feedback.
“You just have to hear it…”
Even more puzzling than the musical comparisons, though, were the ways in which bands could “describe” (in quotes) their sound in terms that were both grandiose AND vague to the point of meaninglessness:
“If you love music, you’ll love this…” — People disagree over all sorts of things: food, politics, religion, fashion. What makes your music so universal?
“Totally unique…” — Have a little humility and acknowledge that even the wildest experimentation is a continuation of or a response to some musical heritage.
“You just have to hear it…” — Why? Because you couldn’t find 3 or 4 words to describe your music? Don’t put the burden on me.
“The absolute best…” — Well you should be famous in no time then!
Are you guilty of any of these? What are your music description pet peeves? Let us know in the comments below.
For a more thorough list of ways you should NOT describe your music, and some tips for finding the RIGHT descriptors, check out Brad’s article on the HostBaby Blog.