The question, "So, what do you sound like?" has a familiar ring to most musicians, and for many, it’s difficult to answer. It can tempting to try to get it over with as quickly as possible and just toss out your genre (for many – your grandma’s friends, for example – that answer's probably good enough), but there are reasons it’s worth your time to put a little more thought into your reply.
The most obvious, of course, is that you want people to come to your show or at least check out your music online, and a one-word answer like "jazz," "metal," or "pop" just isn’t as enticing as a more detailed reply. Another is if you’re reaching out to members of the music industry, such as promoters, label heads, or writers as you’re building your career. A unique and accurate description will only help them recognize your potential.
First impressions count. If you're not enthusiasic and interested in your music, why should anyone else be? In the business world, the term "elevator pitch" describes a succinct summary of a concept, product, or a person’s professional skills; the idea is to be able to deliver your spiel in the span of an elevator ride. That might not sound cool in the context of arts and music, but the same general principle applies in how to quickly generate excitement for your music – without ever playing a note.
Many of you already have your summaries anchored down, but for those who don’t, here are five handy tips to help define your music so you won’t be caught off-guard the next time someone asks what you sound like.
Think about all of the words you would ever use to describe your music. What moods come up in your songs? In what style do you write your lyrics? What sort of visual imagery does your music create in your head? After brainstorming all of the possible adjectives you can think of, narrow down your focus to the terms that work the best.
Bring up this issue with your bandmates. You may have different opinions of your sound, which is totally expected and awesome. The idea here is not to necessarily be identical, but to make sure that everyone is able to communicate his or her thoughts to create some fluidity. If the same person approaches both the singer and the drummer with the question, their answers should be in the same ballpark.
3. Ask around
Your musically inclined friends, bands you’ve played shows with, and even your social media followers have a more objective perspective on your music than you do. Ask how they would describe your music, and consider what they have to say when formulating your own answers.
Just like you’d prepare for a job interview, make sure you’re comfortable voicing your descriptions of your music so you come across natural and not "canned." Take some time to practice with your bandmates or friends. The confidence, sincerity, and passion you bring to your music should be clear.
5. Be flexible
The way you write music isn’t set in stone, and neither are the words you use to describe it. Make sure to revisit your descriptions every few months or so to make sure your words match the current state of your band.
Jamie Ludwig is a veteran music writer and editor who has worked in various facets of the music industry. She is currently the editorial director of ChicagoMusic.org, a not-for-profit website focused on regional and touring music of all genres; a contributor to Noisey (Vice) and Wondering Sound, among other titles; and has spoken on a number of industry panels.