One of the biggest difficulties for a lot of producers, especially those who are just starting out, is finding and developing a recognisable style of their own. How do you get there? Where does this style come from?
Styles don’t just develop randomly – they are usually a combination of influences and borrowed ideas from a range of music. It can be deliberate or subconscious, but it doesn’t happen without plenty of creative input from somewhere. So let’s take a look at how you can take influence from other artists, scenes and genres without stepping into those dangerous territories of pastiche, or worse, just plain rip-off!
It’s all very well being a scene player – as we’ve outlined on this blog before, writing tracks that fit neatly into a particular scene can get you a fair level of recognition in that scene – but to really stand out you need to bring something else to the table. This is what the best producers do, and you can afford to be quite open about it, so long as you approach things in an artistic way. Consider the early tracks of bass music mainstay Untold – tracks like ‘Stop What You’re Doing’ were a welcome breath of fresh air in a scene that was looking for new sounds, as they used huge bass stomps in place of kick drums. Untold himself was very open in interviews about how this was strongly influenced by Wiley’s early productions, but what made it fresh was that he took this technique and incorporated it into a dubstep-inflected scene, combining the two to bring a whole new take on an existing style. As it was also extremely well-executed, it immediately catapulted him up into the ranks of respected producers.
A ‘pastiche’ is copying a style completely – take the melodic styles, the same kind of synth patches, the same drum machines or patterns, and write an original track. It’s not plagiarism, as you’ve written an original piece, but people could easily think it actually came out years ago, when that style was originally popular. Writing a pastiche is often actually a lot of fun, and you can learn a lot from it, as you try to copy production techniques and figure out how they were done, but it will never excite people in the same way as something genuinely new.
So, a better way to think about incorporating other styles into your beats, is to take what you’ve learned about these genres and bring it into your existing tracks. This way you can take a signature sound from a genre and bring it wholesale into your own stuff, without compromising your identity. Basement Jaxx are a classic example; their tracks pull in samples and riffs from latin, soul and early 80′s boogie records all the time, but since they are then putting these in the context of a UK house music sound, the result is something fresh and original.
Or take dBridge, who saw the sparse minimalism of early dubstep and started using those clipped halfstep beats in his drum and bass tracks. It was a straightforward concept, splicing together two existing genres, but it was a fresh new sound, and simply by dint of being one of the first people to do it properly, he was rightly hailed as one of the originals in the scene.
It’s something you hear constantly in the evolving field of dance music. Right now producers across the globe are taking footwork and juke sounds and throwing them into bass music structures; veteran dubstep producers are taking their soundsystem roots and using them in house tracks; classic Chicago house drum machine beats are suddenly all the rage amongst UK bass music producers.
So instead of just waiting for your productions to develop their own signature style, take them by the scruff of the neck and make one! Draw on that love you’ve always had for salsa music, or classic New York house, or experimental noise, and start referencing it in your garage, jungle or hip hop tunes. Take influence from wherever you can, and don’t worry about being too obvious – just make something new. Be bold, make a statement!