To the Aspiring Artist: Be An Original

One thing seems ever more clear the more I listen to music old and new: The artists who truly made a mark did their best work when they followed their own muse, rather than trying to copy another artist’s sound, style or message. It’s true of any genre and any era.

Lady Gaga is most interesting when she isn’t “doing a Madonna”. Neo-Progressive Rock bands are constantly admonished to stop trying to sound like Pink Floyd and find their own sound.

Looking back in time, the Turtles made some of the greatest Pop singles of the 60’s, music on par with the Beatles’ best work–that is, once they stopped trying to be the Byrds. Lennon and McCartney themselves began to make really interesting music after they stopped covering Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. And it didn’t get much more pathetic than hearing Sonny Bono trying to write and sing like Bob Dylan.

Dylan is among the truest of artists, those who seemed to take direct dictation from a voice heard only by them, rather than settle for being a poor man’s version anyone else. Like Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Freddie Mercury, Van Morrison…but also Bread, ABBA and the Carpenters. All are revered. All have the tribute albums to prove that subsequent generations appreciate their distinctive genius. And all seemed more determined to be the best version of themselves than an immitation of anyone else.

So I suppose the lesson to the young aspiring musician is to get inside himself and become more intimate with his own muse. Listen to hear what makes the great stuff great, then listen even more attentively to the voice in your own head. Because that’s what Roger Waters did.

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