I recently had lunch with Terrence Coffman, a wonderful painter and musician. Coffman has sold paintings from realism to more recent abstract works as well as his two independent folk albums, the latest of which is, Songs From Center Avenue Studio, 2008.
What was great about our conversation was simply talking to him about his life experience in art and music and discussing the successes and failures along his journey—a journey that continues to perpetuate forward.
It was a pleasure to speak with Mr. Coffman because he has some years of experience beyond me regarding self-promotion and being an independent artist/musician. When I find myself in conversation with people like that I just want to absorb everything they say to later discern whether or not I can utilize some of their advice and experiences to inform and inspire my own music and artistic journey.
One thing that stood out from our conversation that resonated with me was his thoughts on style. Now, initially Coffman was referring to style as it relates to visual art, but he quickly began to parallel that with one’s style as a musician. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but he said that young artists/musicians often get frustrated and caught up in finding their unique style (what differentiates them from others) that they allow that frustration to hinder their forward progress. It’s best to pay attention to your influences and simply engage in the creative process to continually make music or your art, and eventually your own voice and style will emerge. After a while your sound will be less like your influences and more unique to you, or your art will have less elements that are recognizable as another artist’s style and will be unique to you.
After hearing that, I thought to myself, “I would have liked to have heard that as a younger musician and artist. It took me a bit of time to figure out Mr. Coffman’s sentiments about style on my own.”
As a self-promoting musician or artist Coffman’s style evolution can cause a little frustration in the beginning…here’s the question I had, “How do I articulate my style to promote it before I feel like I really have found my own style?” My answer to that is to rely on your influences. Look at the musicians/artist you are inspired by and aspire to be like—how do they articulate their style? Don’t blatantly copy the way they articulate their style, but certainly get some ideas about how you can formulate your own articulation from theirs. It’s also acceptable to actually identify your influences as you articulate your style, especially in the beginning. I still do this when people ask what kind of music I play. I say, “Think of a style that is something like Ryan Adams and John Mayer meet The BoDeans.” I rely on the fact that a lot of people know who those musicians are and are familiar with their style of music, so without the benefit of me actually playing my music for those folks I can offer them some insight into what my music sounds like. Your style’s articulation will evolve over time as it continues to develop, so don’t be afraid to change or update the way you articulate it every so often.