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In The Style Of ...

Poly wants a cracker!

Composing ~ Inspiration, Part 1.

This Approach is to look at an existing piece of music or genre as the source of inspiration. In my case I look online for posts that request music "In the style of...", or "Similar to..." an artist, then I use those requests to find material. Two bonus attributes of this approach are that it makes me aware of musical styles that are currently sought after, and it challenges me to listen to music that I might not otherwise listen to. The core of this approach is to identify key elements of a track or genre that can be used to create an identifiable association between that source track and a newly created piece of music.

In the broadest sense, this means looking at: Era (when it was made), Production Quality, Genre, Instrumentation (and effects), Key, Melodies, Chord Progressions and Harmonies, Rhythm, Phrasing and Tempo. And, of course, within each of these elements; the further details that contribute to giving a song/recording it's unique feel. If we look at instrumentation, we can question: is it a guitar driven piece of music? What kind of guitar is being played? How is it being played? What effects are being used? What kind of amplifier is being used? With production quality: is there reverb across all tracks? Is it bass heavy? What does the EQ look like? etc.

Now, to be honest: I can't clearly identify every single characteristic of a recording. So the best I can do is give myself some kind of guide to follow. For me, that guide is formed by looking at my limitations. Looking at what I can't do helps to clarify what I can do.

The first limitation is rooted in my own lack of knowledge. Recognizing that there are characteristics I will not be able to identify. I don't have a superhuman ability to identify every synthesizer by ear, nor the vast array of physical gear and software used in production. Likewise, I am limited in my ability to identify all attributes of harmony. Looking at these limitations used to seem like a bit of a downer, but now I look at them as guides. Guides to help me create what it is that I can realistically create. Guides that also show me where I can improve in my practice and in the endless pursuit of learning.

The second limitation is in my ability to create something of a similar quality; am I good enough to attempt playing something in the style of this genre/artist? I can play the piano, but I don't consider myself a pianist. I'm much better at guitar than piano, but I'm not Eddie Van Halen, or Wes Montgomery, or Joe Pass! So, in most cases, I probably won't match the quality of playing... but, there might be a way that I can capture some essense of that style, and that's good enough!

The third sacrifice is the limitation of means; do I have the equipment necessary to create a track in the desired/required style?

Now, the point of asking these questions is not to respond with a simple “yes” or “no”. Instead, I try to include a “but”. So, I might answer one of these questions with: “No, I can't play the guitar that fast, but I can play a similar arpeggio at a slower speed and have it echo across both speakers using delay, and that should have a similar impact.” Or: “I have no idea what synthesizer is being used in that track, but it sounds like a square wave combined with some other shape with some kind of overdrive distortion, let me try combining some sounds”. Or: “I Don't have access to that kind of guitar, but if I use my neck pickup and brighten up the distortion a bit, I should be able to get an equally fat and aggressive sound”. Eventually by answering these questions, dealing with my limitations, I create a model of exactly what my new piece of music might be.

Returning to the limitation of means... If, for example, one of the key characteristics of a recording is a Fender Stratocaster (guitar), because I need to create a song in the style of Hendrix, then a Stratocaster really is crucial to the overall style/sound. Jimmy and Stratocaster go together like "Pean" and "utButter". Does that mean I should give up If I don't have access to a Stratocaster? Of course not. It just means that a limitation is placed clearly on the table, and therefore other aspects of a Hendrix recording will need to be highlighted. Will the song sound even less like it's hendrix inspired without a Strat? Of course. Again, this isn't about copying, it's about finding inspiration and composing, getting it done. Building a library in varying styles.

I do have a Straocaster, which I use in the track Back to Back (below), but the source inspiration track is clearly played on a Gibson. Well... I don't have a Gibson! So I did what I could. I used what was available to me. It's important to have realistic expectations, and just do what we can. Also, think about the studios that these source recordings were produced in, these are some of the most sought after acoustic environments in the world, filled with the most unique sounding gear available (or in many cases; unavailable, because it's rare, vintage gear), never mind the literal geniuses who crafted these recordings; musicians and engineers alike. Again, I just try to have realistic expectations. This isn't to say I don't push myself. Just that in the end, I do what I can.

Finally, outside of limitations, there is the recognition that I do have my own unique style, and that my style will show through. There is no point in trying to hide it. I try to embrace it and honour it. So, the finished piece, even if it is very different from what I might normally create, is the result of my design/compositional sensibilities and decisions, for better or worse; I let the “Me-ness” shine through.

What I want to stress, is that I am not copying, nor am I trying to create a cover of an existing piece of music. This is about creating new music, but music that is inspired by and hopefully captures a bit of the vibe of some existing music. Also, this is not about creating a piece of music as ingenious as, or complex as, or revolutionary as the source material. My larger goal is to create a library of instrumental music that contains a broad spectrum of styles, vibes and feelings that can be utilized by video producers to tell their stories. Using this approach I can categorize my pieces in the styles of Classic Rock, or Synth Pop and have them convey characteristics of a category/genre/artist while still being completely new, and uniquely my own.


Here are 3 pieces in different styles, created using this “In The Style Of” approach:

1. Back To Back

The inspiration may or may not be obvious. ACDC's Back In Black. The inspiration track helped guide my opening chord choices, the rhythmic feel of the intro, and the instrumentation, but beyond that the track has evolved into it's own distinct piece of music. Again, it's not about copying. It's about inspiration.

2. Fashion Party

This piece was a big challenge for me. The request I used was for a song in the style of Charli XCX, somebody I had never heard of at the time. I'm happy to have been exposed to her music now. For this song I highlighted heavy layered Synth textures, a thumping dramatic kick doubled with taiko drum and sharp sequenced drums for punctuated rhythmic atack. Again, my track exists indepently of the inspiration track, but only exists as a result of listening to and being inspired by Charli XCX.

3. Velvet Lies

The source Inspiration for this short piece is Howlin' Wolf's Spoonful. One of my all-time favourite Blues tunes. Highlited elements for inspiration were the driving piano, the basic rhythmic feel (though mine is closer to a march than a shuffle) and of course, the lamenting Blues guitar.

One final note about this approach is that it is much more freeing that it might seem at first. For example: If I were to create 3 new pieces, each inspired by the same source tracks, I'm quite certain that they would be entirely different than the tracks above, even if I did many times over.

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Cory (Daniel) Todd is a Canadian Artist and Musician. | Listen: Spotify and iTunes. | Watch: youTube | Visit for more info.
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