New York City-based Brett Altman shares a story of one songwriter’s journey in discovering their sound for a new project.
written by guest writer Brett Altman
Stream: “Break It Down (Acoustic)” – Brett Altman
How does a musician discover their “sound”? The answer to this question can be quite elusive. Some might search for 20 years, while others are blessed to find it almost immediately. In either case, it is a constantly evolving process for every artist. This article shares my particular experience discovering the sound for my new EP, Low Overhead.
All my life I have loved to sing. It started at a young age during the “American Idol” years, where my family and I gathered on the couch to watch nearly every season. It continued in the privacy of my bedroom throughout high school and college, that is until my college roommates pushed me to enter a talent competition at Penn State. Much to my surprise, I ended up winning the competition and singing in front of 17,000 people. That achievement drove me to seek out more performance opportunities going forward.
With the encouragement of a few close friends, I formed my first band in 2018. Yes, at 27 years old I was starting my first band. It was a year of ups and downs, but I learned a lot by throwing myself into the fire. I played monthly full band shows at New York City clubs, I released full band singles, and sadly, I burned out and developed vocal nodes in the process.
After only just beginning my live music pursuit in NYC, the first half of 2019 turned into a period of rest, recovery, and songwriting. During those 6 months, I wrote more songs than I had in my entire life combined. I also studied live performance techniques of the greats. In doing so, I realized that not all artists worked with traditional 5-piece bands on stage. I watched Bill Withers, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and more entertain crowds with limited backing arrangement. It was inspiring.
I returned to playing shows in late summer 2019, but this time as a solo act. The commentary after each set would be similar. “You and your guitar are so captivating live. Can we listen to this version anywhere online?” The answer was repeatedly no. I knew I needed to change that quickly, so I released a handful of solo acoustic performance videos. Those videos allowed me to see the true potential of my new minimalist approach, and I became excited at the prospect of creating an EP with this vision in mind. A few short months later, I had a fully recorded and produced EP (shoutout to Max Perkins).
In the end, we did find the sound I was looking for, one where it feels like you’re in the room with me for a raw performance of each song. While future projects may call for different sonic landscapes, my journey helped me better understand the key elements I want to incorporate in my music going forward. I hope my story can provide some comfort to those searching for their unique sound. It takes time, experimentation, and is an ever-evolving process. Good luck and enjoy the ride.
Listen to Low Overhead here!
Stream: ‘Low Overhead’ – Brett Altman
P.S. You may be asking yourself, “Why is the EP called Low Overhead”? Well, I came up with the name right before playing a Sofar Sounds Charlotte show in December 2019. I was the only solo performer at sound check. I watched minivans of musicians and gear pull up to the venue, while I patiently sat by myself. I remember an audience member saw me standing alone and said “man, you travel light”. We both laughed and I said “yeah, I guess I’m all about that low overhead on the road”. The light bulb went off at that moment, and I knew this was a project I wanted to complete and share with audiences across the country.
Brett Altman is a bluesy singer-songwriter from the New York City area, with a knack for witty lyricism and sweet hooks.
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📸 © Hayley Altman
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