Posted: Mar 28, 2023
Category: The Musician Business
**Guest post written by Just Rijna, a guitar player based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In addition to teaching private students, he is also the founder of a guitar educational site, www.stringkick.com.
"So what kind of music do you make?"
If you make original music, you know how difficult this question is to answer. You’re right in the middle of the project and familiar with all the influences, contrasting genres, and subtleties that have made their way into the music. How do you summarize all that in a couple of sentences? What’s more, as musicians we have trained ears that simply hear different things than the average listener. This makes it even more tricky to communicate what your music is about. So in this article, I’ll share a few tips that will help you nail down your pitch.
As Frank Zappa once said, talking about music is like dancing about architecture. It’s impossible to use words to create an accurate idea in someone else’s mind as to what your music sounds like. So don’t try! Instead, your description should motivate people to give your music a shot. To hit play on your track over the tens of millions of other artists they can choose from.
So the goal is not to accurately describe your music (which is impossible), but to create a description that’s memorable and invokes curiosity. How you do that? Let’s take a look in the next step.
I don’t think ‘genre-defying’ music exists. And even if it does, it’s not a good way to explain what your music is about. “We’re doing our own thing” doesn’t provoke the slightest hint of curiosity, and makes it impossible to imagine if someone might like your music or not. You can use genre names to give people a rough idea of what you’re doing. Are you more punk rock or Armenian folk? More synth pop or avant-garde jazz?
A broad genre like that will already be an improvement over saying “well, it’s hard to describe…” (something I’m guilty of as well!). But we want to make the description of your music more memorable and ‘catchy’ of course. We want to make people curious enough to hit play. One trick is to start with broad terms such as rock, pop, indie, jazz, and folk, but to then add terms that make them more specific, distinctive and intriguing. This is where you get to be creative. Here are some examples of phrases you might use:
- Piano jazz trio influenced by heavy metal and Armenian folk music
- Poetry that you can dance to
- Highly political math rock
- Drum n’ disco
- Hypnotic, soothing hard rock
- Exotic country music
Now, you might read some of these and think: I’d never listen to that. And that’s the goal. If your description isn’t putting some people off, it’s also not enticing other people to give your music a spin. If you have a description that sounds like it could be interesting to almost anyone, it’s probably too general.
Notice how contradiction works well here. It makes people wonder how, for example, hard rock can be soothing. It stands out because it’s unexpected.
As musicians, we suffer from ‘the curse of knowledge’. We understand music on a different level than most listeners. For example, because we know music theory, there’s a temptation to talk about things like the types of harmonies in the music or what sort of rhythms we use. But for most people, that won’t mean a lot. A better, more evocative approach is to not describe the music itself, but to describe a place, situation or moment where your music makes the most sense. Some examples:
"We play the kind of music that requires sweaty and violent mosh pits."
"We’re best listened to with a broken heart."
"This album is made to fall asleep to."
As with the previous points, try to find something unexpected. Look for something that makes them curious as to what your music might sound like.
It might feel like describing your music should be easy. After all the work you put in writing the music, it shouldn’t be too hard to come with a few sentences describing it, right? The opposite is true. The more you know, the harder it becomes to distill that down into a few sentences.
So, be aware that a description like this won’t always come easy. If you have a five-minute chat with your band and come up with the perfect description, count yourself lucky! For most of us, it will be something that you have to sit down and work on. Write down all your ideas, thoughts and associations. Cut them up and put them back together and keep looking for those phrases that both sound right to you and have that hook to entice potential new fans.
You spent countless hours creating the music. Now spend some time on finding the best way to tell people about it. Your music is worth it!
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