Making Music in a New Musical Style or Music Genre

When producing music, whether for a band, a film, an album, or an instrumental ensemble, musicians have a tendency to stick with what they know. And while sticking to a particular genre will help you develop your distinct musical style, branching out to styles you are unfamiliar with will not only expand your horizons, but also will make you more marketable. 

When working on a new project, I always ask myself what kind of style would work best? In 2002 I wrote some music for up and coming director Kalup Linzy's film series  "All My Churen". He wanted a dance music score. I didn't have much experience in dance music, besides some fiddling with a synth in class. Fortunately, there was a local dance music radio station which I tuned into for three months straight. Not only did I get the beats, I also learned how to change my vocal pitch to match the thin tones of many of the artists. The title track, World Order #1, is still one of my more successful "pop" pieces (you can hear it HERE).

Some things to listen for when learning a new musical style:

1) What instruments are prevalent?
2) What is the overall texture? 
3) What is the musical form (A-B-A, A-a1-B-C-A, etc.)
4) What is the vocal style? Is it heavy, light, with vibrato, breathy, accented, shouted, spoken?
5) What rhythms move the music along?
6) What chord progressions move the music along?
7) What is the overall sound quality? Some genres pride themselves on the RAW sound, while some works (ex. a film score), needs to be of the highest quality available.
8) What do the lyrics talk about?
9) What artists are respected (not necessarily popular), in this genre? Get their albums and learn what makes their music good.

10) For kicks, listen to a horrible imitation of the musical style (relaxation CDs or workout tracks are great examples of creating hackneyed version of the style). What makes these tracks cheesy, boring, or just plain lousy? Now avoid those pitfalls.

Also, talk to artists in that genre and ask what kind of equipment and effects they use. Ask about the final mix, and general do's and do not's of a particular style.

Now here is the hard part...BE ORIGINAL. After all, someone has asked YOU to make the music. Take what you have learned, use it like an artist mixes their color palette, and create a track that is not only convincing in the new style, but is strong in its own right.

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Brandon said…
I think listening to a lot of music helps as well, it helps you become familiar with many different types of music. Not only does this help you learn a new style of music, but also helps your ability to take different aspects of different styles and incorporate them into something new and creative.

I also have found that taking very good notes and asking lots of questions helps to narrow down what a director or music supervisor is looking for.

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