It's the eternal struggle of artists – do you be true to yourself, or do you try to package yourself in a more commercially-viable way?
Here's the answer: Absolutely be yourself!
You Are The Sum Of Your Influences
I'm not saying don't be pop or don't aim to make music people will connect with – I'm saying be true to your influences with whatever style of music you make!
I personally love bubblegum pop… to me, Taylor Swift's 1989 and Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion are some of the greatest albums ever across any genre. But you know what makes them work for me? Because they're still being 100% artistically authentic – with both of these ladies, they were saying what they wanted to say, making music they wanted to make. It's 100% true to their influences.
You Are Unique
I know it sounds cliche, but there really is nobody like you musically. Nobody in the world has your set of interests and creative influences. If you try to mimic someone else (or whatever flavor of the month seems to be “working”), it will come across as just that – a poor imitation.
People listen to music to feel something. How can they feel something if YOU don't feel what you're singing/playing/writing? Your goal is to figure out what you feel and figure out how to package it so someone else can connect with that same emotion.
Meet Mat Kearney – An Authentic Artist
Mat Kearney is an AWESOME artist. I had the privilege of interviewing him on an episode of our podcast, Music Business Mindset. One of the things he credits his success to is that he was not afraid to bend genres when starting his career.
Mat grew up listening to both Paul Simon and Hip-Hop. When he started writing songs in the mid-2000s, he wasn't concerned with the distinct genres of the day. He would write a singer-songwriter song with a spoken-word breakdown and not care. That's what he wanted to make. It was authentically him. People with similar musical interests heard it and it connected with them.
Since then, Mat has experimented even more with genre, evolving his style over time and collaborating with people outside his niche – all while still being authentic with his creativity.
Listen to my interview with him on Music Business Mindset (formerly known as Behind The Band):