What Does it Mean to Be Authentic?

New Birth Brass Band in Preservation Hall

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity in music. In particular, what does it mean to be perceived as an authentic band

I used to think this meant sounding ‘old school’. That you needed to sound the way the style used to sound. This is the thinking I see in the majority of blues and some soul & funk fans, and it isn’t without merit. If you can’t play the style the way it used to sound, then can you really play the style at all?

But this raises the debate of what is the roots of a style. In the blues context, some would say Robert Johnson, others Freddie King or Albert King – but the reality is there was a point where these artists would not have been considered ‘old school’. Sure, they were influenced by those before them, but they added something.

So whilst you need to be able to play and understand the background of a genre, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something new with it – make it modern. This is the adding of a piece of yourself and a piece of the time in which you live. You can’t talk to a modern audience if you don’t have modern values and ideas.

With this in mind, this also eliminates the way you dress and present yourself on stage as a sign of authenticity. A 60’s cover band, dressed in 60’s clothing, is more likely to be perceived as a tribute band than anything else. Whilst fashion, like music, is influenced by the past, it always has modern elements to it.

I’ve watched bands of all genres and styles and instantly thought, they are either authentic or they are not. So perhaps how a band holistically, as opposed to superficially, presents itself, has something to it. This seems to be the ability of a band to take themselves seriously enough that they don’t look like amateurs, but not so seriously they look contrived and fake.  Relaxed, effortless and comfortable, but also professional.

Overall, authenticity is that ‘something’ that an audience collectively perceives from a band. It is most prevalent when it is seen live, although it can be captured in a recording. It is a combination of old school and modern, of seriousness and tomfoolery, and of studio and street. It does not come from having the best equipment, or being the best dressed on stage. But it is something that authentic bands do not aspire to have, they just have it.

What do you think it means for a band to be authentic?



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