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The Myth of Being Unique

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There are two camps when it comes to embracing your influences. Camp A believes it’s good to research and absorb music, listening on a regular basis.

Camp B believes it’s good to limit your influences in order to be “unique.” That is, you should sequester yourself from other art so you’re not influenced.

As I get older, I realize that Camp B deprives you of the joys of music. After all, if you love music, why wouldn’t you want to explore it?

Oblique Unique 

I don’t like the word unique. It’s been widely misused by some in my life. What is unique? Can anything really be unique? It’s rare to catch anything at its premiere by the time you’ve heard it.

It’s more likely that something was around for awhile and you simply hadn’t heard it yet. I find that people who throw around the word “unique” tend to have a narrow view of music history.

Attack of the Clones

When I was young I had an influence who had this “crated” view of music. There’s this fear that if you listen too much you’ll become a carbon copy.

But that’s not the case. People become carbon copies when they want to emulate someone perfectly. It’s a conscious decision. It’s not like someone slips you a mickey.

Get in Line

We often hear artists credited for being the first, like Chuck Berry for rock ‘n’ roll, or the Beatles for being original.


First off, rock ‘n’ roll was around before Chuck Berry. It just hadn’t reached mainstream yet. As for the Beatles, they had a lot of influences, like Bob Dylan. It’s obvious they listened to lots of music because of what they borrowed from and expanded upon.

It’s ridiculous to think that you should lock yourself in a room and never listen to anything. Music is everywhere.

Tea Time

Since you’re going to hear music, why not let it inspire you? Take it apart and put it back together. See how it works. Think about what you would do different with it. Remember, it’s not about replicating. It’s about exploring and learning.

Doesn’t a chef taste other food? Of course! They taste a lot of food. They learn and modify.

I love listening to music. I try to listen to something new everyday. When I hear something I like, I’ll bookmark it. Later, I’ll come back and write down the production elements: chords, bass lines, and melodies.

What is it that inspires me about a track? I want to know how they did it. I want to see the springs and sprockets. I’m not intending to replicate it. I just want a little taste.

Gumbo Jumbo

As artists, producers, and engineers we’re all musical gumbo. What you put in it makes it your own. Not everyone is going to use the same recipe.

For instance, I have a band called Fife & Drom. It’s a blues band based on early delta and electric blues, from Son House to Muddy Waters.

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But I grew up in this time period. I love punk. I grew up adoring the Beatles. I can’t un-listen to all that music. So, even when I play the blues and try to be authentic, those roots still show.

Well Rooted

I’m not afraid to admit who my influences are. They mean a lot to me and I have a deep connection to them.

But I’ve noticed a trend lately where people try to hide their influences. Why does ego have to get involved? Why does anyone need to feel power in being the sole inventor? That’s never really been part of the process for making art.

I’ve always found this disrespectful to the origins of the music. Pay your respects. It’s unlikely you’re going to be able to hide it from everyone. Even though you may deny it, people are going to hear it.

Library Card Member

Research is important to your growth. Feed your mind.

Right now, I’m going through a phase of listening to Bernard Herman and Jerry Goldsmith. I’m really into the original Twilight Zone soundtracks. Bernard and Jerry composed for some of my favorite episodes.

I’m listening to absorb some of the vibe. I’m also dissecting some pieces to get an understanding of how they created specific tensions. I’m not going to recreate their works, but I will draw from some of their methods for my own compositions.

Open your ears and your mind. Don’t close yourself off. Let it all in and continue to craft your own combinations of sounds.

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at