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Expand your horizons

Expand your horizons

Published on 19.10.21 at 09.11 by Will Showler.

There really is no feeling quite like hearing a song for the first time and falling in love with it. Often though, like many people, I find myself playing the same artists over and over again. There’s a certain comfort and safety in playing the tunes and styles we know we love, but taking a step outside our comfort zone and exploring something completely new can open up a world of inspiration.

A global library of music

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K-Pop superstars like BTS and Latin rappers like J Balvin are slowly releasing the English language’s stranglehold on the charts. That said, if you limit yourself to one language or genre, you miss out on great swathes of music from around the world. Global artists have always been putting out incredible music, but such a tiny fraction slips through the net to reach our ears. Obviously, it’s physically impossible to listen to every one of the 60,000 new songs uploaded to Spotify every single day. It may well be worth exploring some songs in a new language though – even if you can’t always understand the words, the music can still speak to you.

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Think about how many great songs have come about from unusual combinations of genres. People might have thought Lil Nas X was crazy teaming up with country star Billy Ray Cyrus. That was until their collaboration became one of the biggest selling singles of all time. Don’t let any preconceptions you may have about an artist or genre get in the way of making amazing music. Approach every song with an open mind, knowing that, even if it’s not for you, somebody poured their heart and soul into it.

Fusing unexpected genres

The web of creative influences behind any musical work can be so dense and various that unlikely links and inspiration can be drawn. One band that showcases this exceptionally well is Zeal & Ardor. They blend Black Metal with African-American spirituals to create a completely unique sound, frustrating some Metal purists in the process. At first thought, the fusion seems unlikely. But if you trace the roots of Metal back through the years, via Rock and Blues, you’d quickly find a path straight to the Spirituals that inspired this sound.

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The origins of Hyperpop

Here’s an example of how music from the other side of the world has influenced pop music. Japanese pop music’s over-the-top vocaloid production and saccharine sweet style may not be for everyone, but it became a key influence for a generation of Western producers who went on to birth Hyperpop. Artists like Charli XCX and 100 gecs wouldn’t sound the way they do if it wasn’t for the likes of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Hatsune Miku. Of course, all music is born of a creative stew from all sorts of different influences but it is worth going back and listening to some of the tracks that could have inspired artists you love.

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Many artists speak of how they draw great excitement and inspiration from the hunt for new music. DJs can spend hours ‘crate digging’ in old record shops looking for some obscure vinyl records to sample. In his Virtuoso course, Melé effused about searching for Latin records and sampling their percussion sounds. These were records made thousands of miles away but their grooves struck a chord with the producer. If the thought of searching through old vinyl sounds a bit too hipster for you, you can discover any song from anywhere at just the click of a button online.

At Virtuoso, most of the staff are active musicians and producers ourselves. A great example of how inspiration can come from unexpected places was in the Eats Everything video course. I’d heard of the DJ and producer, but his signature brand of Big House beats wasn’t exactly the sort of thing I’d regularly play. However, in working on materials for the course, I learned several transferable skills and tips to take into my own music.

Here’s your homework then (yes, this blog post has homework) – go onto your favourite streaming site and browse by category. Choose something that you’d never have thought to go and listen to. Maybe it’s Country, Black Metal or Punjabi Pop. Have a really critical listen to the elements of the track – there could be something unexpected you like that you could use in your own music. You could find yourself inspired by Mizrahi rhythms or the percussion on some Congolese rap. Anything that gets your creative juices flowing is time well spent.