Probably the greatest advice I ever read which to this day stands true. As an artist I think to most important thing you can do is CREATE your OWN art. Original music. Document your own musical journey and take a musical picture of you in that exact moment in time. After all I always say “your immortality is your art” as you will live forever through your art and have something to pass onto future generations and your family to remember you by long after you’re gone. It is the greatest gift. After all the art you are creating is not a gift to anyone; but to the gift itself. As we start to learn our instrument and music we expand and explore our own creativity and what it is. Certainly at first we do not have either the confidence or the musical knowledge or creativity to create anything unique, and honest enough to be what we really are, at least yet. In a sense it is you at that point, but Im sure none of us are proud enough to call it “Timeless work” we are proud of. Or may seem to be an exact replica or “copy of a copy of a” as Trent Reznor so bluntly and honestly put it, an homage to our fav tunes or artists or blatant rip off at times of the artists and music we are favouring at the moment.
At first, this is necessary and part of the learning and writing process, in order to better our guitar playing, when we are learning songs or attempting pentatonics and how to solo we are to learn and listen to the greats first, mimic, and copy what has been done. THEN make sure we take, learn from it and make into our own. The cool thing about everyones unique lives and experiences and way of playing, when we are doing a cover, or copying a lick of someone who has original composed it, our own skill level, style, and unique lives experience will make us perform it NEVER exactly like the original which in a sense makes it it’s own unique version of. But at the end of the day is still a copy of. This is a great way to learn, and expand your own repertoire, necessary, long as the artists can break free of the chains of mimicking their favourite artists and trust in themselves enough when at a certain level of skill they learn to grow and write and develop their own style.
I know myself, when I started learning to sing I would mimic my fav artists at the time growing up, (doing a horrid job mind you) of such vocalists as Dave Grohl, Brandon Boyd, Raine Maida (yes I had a whiny obnoxious voice on purpose once) as It helped me find my vocal placements and what was comfortable, learn my limits, what I was capable of and eventually what I wasn’t and different vocal techniques I could use and make my own in order to develop my “own voice” and the style in which I sing today which is to this day constantly (I like to think) developing and learning. My songwriting took a similar path, in which I would try so hard after listening to my fav songs write something exactly like, whether it be the same tempo, chord changes, a vocal melody, whether intentional or not. It never seemed to work in my favour. Not to mention I would be comparing the songs to someone who had been writing for YEARs or a whole bands collab much beyond my own skill level and comprehension which was devastating to the spirit. Every writer listens to their own song at one point and says “fuck, this will never be the next stairway”. But thats ok. And good. Why would you want to write whats already been?
I find some artist never no matter how old, grow or expand, and remain in the bubble and rewrite either their own songs, the same songs, or you can blatantly hear in their work direct derivatives of someone else’s music, which is equally unimpressive, but I am trying to stay positive in this. I think the biggest issue is either a) the artists are NOT listening to ANY new music, or one dimensional in their listening, not expanding their minds to other genres, DIFFERENT music or anything beyond their usual iPod and not taking the time to listen to music to make them think and inspired beyond the just ONE or two genres they typically listen to. Which is crazy its like a painter only using Green and yellow and orange. Why refuse to acknowledge the rest of the colours there? SO many more possibilities! WHY would you close yourself off to so much? The other issue I personally think is people are thinking of OTHERs and what OTHERs like and “will anyone like this?” or “is this danceable? can i hear this on the radio next to Robin Thicke?” I mean really, we all are starving to feed our own egos, but when you think of ANYONE but YOURSELF in the music creating process it really puts a damper on the honesty and that comes across very much so in the final product.
I am victim to this for many years since I was about 16 writing trying to sound like others and appeal to other friends musicians music taste I would write shit. Or nothing, and never be satisfied. Its not very fulfilling or honest and people are receptive to that I think subconsciously. I read in an article about a writer speaking of how he continuously writes and fights against writers block. And I Read the sentence that changed everything was simply “write the book you want to read”. Write about what excites you and what YOU enjoy, write and challenge yourself and when it comes from a more honest place within yourself and you spend less time comparing and bringing anyone else’s opinion but your OWN the results are life changing. It took me a few years even after reading this to truly integrate it into my own writing and process of, years of writing with the F.O.R. or other bandmates always seemed to keep other players in mind, or styles kinda put myself in a box and specific genre even though I think a lot of the songs on the album vary in genre but still have a cohesive SOUND of the F.O.R. a mix of my own style and my Emcee Johnny Ohms flavour and taste as well. The players on each track on the album to be released also put their own spin into it to give it a new life and presence so they songs and whole album became interesting and different again. I wrote about 60% of the material when I was 18. The remained when myself and Johnny Ohm moved in together the last few songs on the album. Which was also easier lyrically coming from the place of writing for no one but my own and about things that excited me and something I wanted to hear on record.
I have since started in the last two years a Shawn Steinhart Solo project, all small songs I’ve had on the back burner throughout the years in which will involved numerous collaborations from local friends artists I work with, and all done in my basement a much less polished and less produced in terms of production step down audibly from the F.O.R. project, but as being a bit older and a bit “wiser”, where the writing comes from it is simply the easiest it has ever been. And I couldn’t be happier with the results. The whole writing process used to scare and worry me, be frustrating, I would constantly be battling myself and my ego and writing capabilities and questioning all the above until I learnt to simply write the song I wanted to hear in my head. With the ego let go and no expectations, I would pick up any instrument, armed with only a feeling, one I wanted to paint into a musical picture and pick up either a bass, guitar, synth, percussion, whatever was closest and slowly start to explore and find truth between the tones. Basically fuck around until I either heard what was in my head, or pretending there was a musical puzzle in front of me, and had to pick away at the excess pieces which didn’t belong until what was left was a full song. One bit at a time.
Point being, it was so much easier and still is to this day, I enjoy the process, never rush it, and always try to remain inspired, with local talent, my fav artists and bands I still listen to, my family, reading, everyday life, taking inspiration and translating it into feelings into music notation and abandoning all expectations and free from worry about what anyone else wants to hear. And that’s when the writing comes from an honest place, and you can hear, and feel it when an artist does. Want to be able to write no problem? Free of all ego? This is the best advice you can get and put into practice.