For over a decade, music has been a central part of my personal and professional life. I’ve interviewed and written about hundreds of artists, from Lady Gaga to the next up-and-coming guitar player. What’s more, my wife is a radio DJ who receives song submissions for the airwaves on an almost hourly basis. So when it comes to the scope and landscape of the music industry, I’ve seen how much of the sausage is made.
When it comes to getting new work noticed, I’ve learned one lesson above all others: Be yourself. But what does that mean, exactly? Aren’t we always being ourselves by default? To some extent, that’s true. But what I’m talking about here is leaning in and doubling down on what makes you you.
In other words, believe in what makes you stick out, not fit in. Don’t run from it. Embrace it.
With that in mind, here are six ideas to help you find, and stay on, your own unique musical path.
1. Don’t compare yourself to others.
There’s an old saying: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” While it’s important to learn from other people along the way, it’s equally important not to imitate their journey. Prince would not have been Prince if he tried to be just like Jimi Hendrix. David Bowie wouldn’t have been David Bowie if he wanted to sound, look or carry himself like Frank Sinatra. It’s hard to forge your own path instead of following someone else’s, but in the long run, it’s almost always what’s best. Sure, going it alone can be scary, but the things you’ll discover along the way will be more personal. And it’s what’s most personal that leaps off the proverbial page.
2. Take risks.
Standing out requires a leap of faith. You have to believe you have something to say and you have to be willing to say the things no one else will, can or has. You have to take risks and create what you’d like to see in the world. First, see how well you stand on new ground. Then risk it all again and leap off for even fresher terrain. You’ll likely find new inspirations to fuel your next work.
3. Don’t conform.
As human beings, most of the time, we just want to fit in. We don’t want to feel ostracized so we tend to try not to rock the boat. But as artists, we have to stand out or else our work can get lost, like the static in white noise. So don’t try to conform to what’s around you. Instead, be the most expressive version of you, even if it means breaking the mold.
4. Follow your curiosity.
What interests you is truly a sacred thing. It’s your instinct, your internal voice speaking directly to you, saying, “Hey, let’s check this out! We want to know more about this!” There’s likely a good reason for it, too. So trust your curiosity. It’s your guiding light in an unknowable future.
5. Learn from others.
Absorb as much as you can from others, then leave the rest for later (or never). As Shakespeare once noted, “All the world’s a stage.” But the world is also an encyclopedia. So take in new ideas or philosophies, and by all means try them on for size — but if they’re not for you, discard them and move on.
6. Find your voice … and believe in it.
Finding your own voice and believing in it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want to evolve. But it does mean that once you’ve identified what makes you unique, you need to cultivate it. Someone else may have a roaring bonfire going, but that’s okay. Creativity is not a race. Your journey is singular; your fire is your own. Let the spark inside you flicker at first, then help it grow into a flame that can light the way for others.