Have you ever gone to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame? Apart from the fact that it’s in Northeast Ohio, which means I automatically love it, there are a lot of neat things to see in there. One of my favorites is the room where you can trace influences from one back to another, something that was around long before Pandora came along. Geoff Livingston recently alluded to strings of musical influence, and it got me thinking.
As a blogger, it’s really important that you frame yourself not as someone who can be imitated, but as someone who can influence. In the music world, Roy Orbison embodies that balance perfectly. While a lot of people have been influenced by the man in black, for my money, no one has ever come close to imitating him.
So how can Roy Orbison help you prevent imitation? Here are some things to think about.
Infuse your soul into your work. It’s pretty darned easy to identify a song as one sung by Roy Orbison. With every song you hear, you feel like you’re listening to someone just singing those words for the first time, whether they are words of sheer joy or words of tragic misfortune. Roy Orbison felt every song that he sang. Do you feel every blog that you write? Do you pour your soul into it? It’s a great way to avoid imitation. After all, who else has your soul other than you (If you have a story about a crossroads and the devil, this may not apply to you)?
Tell stories you can believe. Some of Roy Orbison’s most famous songs are the ones in which he tells stories. Pretty Woman describes a scene where a fellow is walking down the street and sees a woman that is just too gorgeous to believe. It seems like she’s walking away, but oh, guess what? She walks back to him. In Running Scared, the story is of a lover’s triangle and the singer winning his lady’s love. If you ask me, few song endings are more joyful and triumphant than the endings of those two songs. As a listener, you feel that suspense, and then you feel that surprise joy. Tell your readers stories as you experienced them. Add details that make the stories uniquely yours. Put your own spin on an experience your readers can relate to.
Don’t pigeon-hole yourself. It would have been easy for Roy Orbison to choose a single type of song and just stick with that throughout his career. He could have been king of the rockabillies. He could have been a crooner. The problem with mastering just one thing is that then you’re offering people tons and tons of ways to study how you do what you do. You can’t help but develop a technique for doing the same sort of thing over and over. Roy kept exploring until the day he died. He sang solo, he sang duets, and he sang with the Traveling Wilburies. He sang heart-wrenching songs like Crying and silly, catchy songs like Oobie Doobie. Could Only the Lonely and Anything You Want be more different? Yet you know it’s all him. His voice, his style, keep it all tied together. This doesn’t mean niche blogging is bad, by the way. It just means that you can approach that niche in infinite numbers of ways. Try things out. Keep the imitators guessing.
Raise other people up. This is something that imitators can’t touch. Roy Orbison easily could have worked solo his entire career, keeping all of his fame to himself. But he did just the opposite. He raised KD Lang to greater heights of fame by singing one of his most famous songs, Crying, with her. His famous concert, Black and White Nights, spotlighted tons of other people including Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, KD Lang, and of course, Bruce Springsteen. When he joined the Traveling Wilburies he shared the spotlight with Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynn – quite an unlikely gathering, by the way. No one can imitate your community building techniques because it’s all about how you interact and engage with people. You just have to do it.
All of these things can influence people in major ways, both in general and in the nitty gritty details. You might have people who will come along and try to sing one of your songs. You might run into someone who is compared to you because of a certain nuanced part of how they do what they do. But you’ll still be you. And there’s no imitation for that.