How to Switch Up Your Sound as an Artist, But Remain Consistent
There’s nothing worse than having your favorite rapper come out with a country album because he wanted to “try something new”. Being loyal to an artist for years just to have them suddenly switch up their sound in a genre that doesn’t make sense is a disorienting situation.
Many artists have had issues fitting in experimental works with their old sound and overall body of work. I recently saw Herbie Hancock at the Toronto Jazz Festival, and he definitely pushed the boundary of experimental due to a young “artiste” of a guitarist who had joined the group and made it his own instead.
There was maybe one original Hancock track played over the course of a two hour concert, and I actually saw disappointed albeit nostalgic fans slowly slip out of the concert hall before the one hour mark. Compared to the ever-evolving jazz journey of someone like Miles Davis, this return to the spotlight seemed like a flop for Hancock.
Changing your tune isn’t a bad thing. Nobody wants to hear the same track, or read the same book, or look at the same painting a thousand times. But it does need to make sense. Context is everything, and references are important.
Granted, many of the artists that do make the switch do it in an attempt to stay relevant and broaden their pool into the mainstream. As Cardi B’s fame gained traction from the Bruno Mars track "Finesse", she tried to bring in other artists to diversify her sound for “Invasion of Privacy”. But instead, the artists she featured dominated with their sound and style, fading Cardi into the background.
Coldplay has managed to successfully enter our current age of fine-tuned production with their layered drum machines and synth, swapping out a quietly introspective identity for a more radio and pop friendly one. While I’m not personally a Coldplay fan, their reinvention journey somewhat made sense, and didn’t lose them any fans.
A beautiful instance of an artist re-working their sound this year is Ciara, with her thunderous “Level Up” comeback. The track is a pulsing foray into jersey club music, but doesn’t come with the annoying factor that many bass-filled EDM tracks can, holding on to stunning production, song structure and lyrics.
Ciara finally re-entered the music scene after the whole Future debacle, and took the narrative into her own hands with an empowering female anthem. The accompanying video was also very on-brand for CiCi, with fresh new choreographer talent and 10/10 styling and composition.
The sound was quite different, but still made complete sense for her and her audience. The singer has ventured into a few different genres over the past decade, and has stayed every one. But how do you accomplish this without millions of fans and a limitless budget?
Delve into your roots, and the roots of those who inspire you. Many musicians have an eclectic taste, but their inspirations act as a mosaic of branches which all seem to come together. Research who inspires the artists that inspire you, and explore sounds that interest you. But remember that you’ve earned the trust and loyalty of a fanbase, and you still have to pique the interest of those original ears, while bringing them something new. Not everyone is going to love the new direction, but staying authentic to yourself while remaining self aware will help you navigate the journey a bit more smoothly.
Whenever you try a new sound, you risk losing old fans, as well as the excitement of gaining new ones. Just make sure they’re the ones you want to gain, and you’re not sacrificing any truth within yourself to get there.