Welcome back to the dance floor, Quick Trackers! Once a month, we hook you up with a short production or songwriting challenge, aimed at helping to up your musicianship. To respond to the challenge, just email us, leave a comment, or post to social media with the hashtag #quicktracks and tag us @learntosoundfly.
It’s so easy, as a musician, to get stuck in a genre and spend the rest of your career just hanging out there in the safe zone. It’s comfortable. But it’s also very limited. So much of the best music of all time has come about as a result of musicians adopting sounds and processes from other styles.
This week’s Quick Tracks was suggested by our friends over at ASCAP — the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. As one of the biggest organizations in the world representing music creators and helping them grow their careers, they know a thing or two about coming up with interesting songs, and this was one of the suggestions they came up with.
In that vein, we challenge you to write a song or a groove in a style you’ve never used before. It doesn’t have to be a polished product, but should clearly demonstrate some elements of the style you chose and be at least one-minute long. You can go as granular as you’d like with it — gypsy jazz, 8-bit chipcore, hardcore avant-garde folk rap — whatever you come up with!
It’s a common saying that innovation happens at the intersection where ideas between fields collide. The same thing happens in music. The examples of musicians pushing themselves to create more original sounds by incorporating elements of other genres are countless.
As a big Radiohead nerd myself, the example I always think about is Radiohead’s transition from alternative rock band on 1997’s OK Computer to a more electronica-infused sound on 2000’s Kid A. They incorporated sounds from a variety of genres including krautrock and early electronic music, subbing out many of their guitars for synths as well as 20th-century orchestral music — even borrowing instruments like the ondes Martenot from classical experimentalists like Olivier Messiaen.
Radiohead is always pushing themselves as a band, but to hear the wide variety of different influences in Kid A has made me question my own music: What new flavors can I add that will give my own instrumental music a more original edge? It’s a game of consistent experimentation — sometimes going too far even — and then pulling back until you’re left with something that both sounds like you and sounds like something you love.
There are obviously tons of other examples, from the controversial (Paul Simon’s incorporation of South African music in Graceland) to the iconic (Bob Dylan’s switch from folk to rock) to the weird (Lil Wayne’s awkward rock album).
One of my favorite pianists, Brad Mehldau, has made albums in collaboration with a bluegrass artist (Chris Thile) and an opera singer (Renée Fleming) among others. Last year’s hit musical, Hamilton, created a mega-hit by incorporating elements of hip-hop and musical theater together in a way that treated both genres with deep respect. Even Lady Gaga recently put out a jazz album with singer Tony Bennett.
Exploring, experimenting, mimicking, and incorporating sounds from other genres is critical to pushing yourself and developing your versatility as an artist and songwriter.
Who are some of your favorite musicians who have pushed themselves to incorporate different genres in their music in some way, whether through instrumentation, meter, timbre, progressions, or something else?
Share your thoughts in the comments below! And then use that inspiration to try your own cross-genre exploration.
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