6 tips for finding your signature sound as an artist

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Illustration: Lan Truong

Do you hope that one day people will hear your song on the radio and instantly recognize that it’s yours?

Having a signature sound as an artist, singer, or producer is an absolute must in today’s world. With tens of thousands of new songs released every day, you don’t want your music to sound just like everyone else’s—you want it to be memorable and recognizable.

So how exactly do you accomplish this?

Well to start, let’s dispel the idea that a signature sound is something you can create, or something that lives outside of you that you must obtain. When you take this approach, you run the risk of simply copying other people’s signature sounds (and that defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?).

Instead, your signature sound should be viewed as something that already exists somewhere inside you—it’s part of what makes you unique as a person, not just a musician. Your job, then, is to search within yourself, uncover this unique sound, refine it, and use it at the core of all your projects. When you take the time to do this, your music can evolve through different styles and genres, but retain that special something that makes it uniquely yours.

In this post, let’s go over a few things you can do to find your own signature sound. None of these are a quick solution, but with enough practice and patience, you’ll be well on your way to making authentic, memorable music that only you can make.

1. Listen to a lot of music

Your signature sound is essentially synonymous with ‘elements of music that you absolutely love.’ In fact, if you think you’ve found your sound, but you don’t particularly like it, that’s a good sign that you need to keep looking.

And how do you find out what you love? By listening to lots of music, of course. You likely already do, but simply passively listening to music isn’t enough. Instead, engage in active listening and document what you learn. The idea here is to identify what you like about other people’s music, what resonates with you, and what inspires you.

Start with your favorite songs. If you don’t already have one, make a private playlist of 10 – 20 all-time favorite songs that you never get tired of. Then, go through each song and write down specific elements that you like. Are there any common features among them? Is there anything that you think you’d like to try in your own music?

Keep in mind that the purpose of this exercise isn’t to simply copy ideas from other people. Rather, it’s to identify what your ear naturally finds pleasant and interesting. From there, you can modify these ideas, combine them in unique ways, or try them in unexpected places. You may even try to replicate something, and in the failure to do it precisely, find that you’ve created something you like even better.

Once you’ve gone through your favorite songs, you can also try actively listening to songs you don’t like. It’s just as important to identify elements that you’re not a huge fan of, so you can deliberately avoid them in your own music.

Lastly, be sure to listen to songs in genres you don’t typically listen to—you may discover something you never knew you liked!

2. Embrace your strengths

Your strengths are also a good indication of what you like. If you’re a skilled drummer, chances are you enjoy drumming so much that practicing it for hours on end doesn’t seem like a chore. It makes sense, then, for your songs to feature live drums and complex patterns.

On the other hand, maybe you’re not as good at playing guitar—you don’t enjoy playing it so you don’t practice. Of course, there’s something to be said about persevering and developing new skills, but if you’re not already completely obsessed with guitar riffs, they’re probably not a part of your signature sound.

Remember that your sound is something only you can create, so think about what you’re naturally good at, what you gravitate towards, and what you enjoy working on.

3. Break the rules

Your signature sound is unique, and it’s hard to find it if all you’re doing is copying other people and following the same old rules. Instead, get creative and see how you can push the boundaries of how music is made.

We often think of creativity as spontaneous, but this process can (and should) be intentional. Think of a music element you like and deliberately try to achieve a similar result using an entirely different process. Or, think of something that fits into your song nicely, and then do the exact opposite of it. The key is to have fun with it and make breaking the rules something you practice every time you sit down to work on music. Not all of your experiments will produce amazing results, but somewhere in there, you may just find a nugget of gold.

4. Trust your instincts

Your signature sound is what you find exciting, not what you think other people will want to hear or what will help get your song on the radio. So when it comes to which elements of your music should stay and which should go, only you can be the judge of that. Trust that your musical taste and preferences will lead you in the right direction.

Maybe you’ve created something that you love, but you aren’t sure how it will resonate with other people. Whatever you do, don’t change it. Changing it will simply strip away everything that’s authentic about it.

Similarly, if you’ve created something that sounds pretty good, but you feel like something is missing, take the time to find that special something. Trust that your instincts will guide you through just the right edits and help make the song uniquely yours.

5. Create as much as you can

Above all else, the best way to find your signature sound is to create as much music as possible. It’s likely that most of it won’t ever be released, but the very act of practicing creating music will help you develop new skills, broaden your experience, and refine your taste.

Most importantly, you’ll be able to see patterns in your music that will eventually develop into your signature sound. It may take tens or hundreds of songs to notice it, but there will undeniably be a common thread tying them together. Hold on to this thread, use it more deliberately, and put it in the spotlight for your listeners—this is exactly how a signature sound is born.

6. Ask your friends to listen to your music

If you’re already a prolific musician but you’re still not sensing a common thread in your music, consider this: other people often notice patterns in our work sooner than we do.

Use this to your advantage and ask your family and friends to listen to your music (released or not). Take note of the feedback you receive and pay attention to what they like about your songs. You can even ask them directly if they can identify any patterns, though more often than not, the answers to this question will come out in their feedback naturally.

If your music has ever been featured in the media, pay attention to how the reviewers describe your sound. The aspects they choose to focus on are exactly what makes you different from the other artists they’ve written about.

The next steps for your signature sound

Wherever you are in your music career, remember that finding your signature sound doesn’t happen overnight. The good news is, it’s not something you have to carve out extra time for, but rather a byproduct of consistently making authentic music and paying attention to how it makes you feel. Simply keep creating and stay true to yourself as an artist, and your sound will eventually find its way to the surface.

Do you have any other tips for finding your signature sound? Let us know in the comments below.

July 19, 2021

Sayana Sayana is a contemporary R&B singer-songwriter based in Toronto, Canada. When she's not making music, she creates content on personal development and navigating life as a musician. Learn more about her at https://www.sayanamusic.com/.