One of my favorite things in music is when one artist samples another artist’s work. (“Sampling” means taking a portion of an existing song and using that as an element of a new song.) Musicians in all genres do this, but you seem to see it the most in R&B and hip-hop. The sample can be used as the basis for the entire song, but sometimes is just used in one line as a quick nod/homage to another artist. It’s always fun to see who their influences are and to whom they are giving a shout out.

But what is really interesting to me is when you see a “chain” of samples – how one artist sampled another artist who sampled another artist. One day I was listening to Spotify when the Slick Rick song “La Di Da Di” (which itself has been sampled nearly one thousand times) came on. In the middle of the song, a portion of the recording was clipped out. It turns out that it was a licensing issue because the skipped portion was sampled from a 1980 song called “Sukiyaki” by the American disco group A Taste of Honey.

And that song was sampled from the 1963 song “Ue o Muite Arukō” by a Japanese crooner named Kyu Sakamoto. Interestingly, that song reached the Billboard Top 100 – one of the few non-Indo-European language songs to have ever done so. It also sounds like it should be playing in an abandoned room in Bioshock.

But there is a significant difference between a sample and the efforts of what are called “cover bands” or “tribute bands.” A sample takes inspiration from an existing work of art, transforms it, hopefully even improves it.

A tribute band sets out to be a flat-out imitation of another musical group or solo artist. Same hair, same clothing, same mannerisms and of course the same songs – done in their very best attempt at a note-for-note imitation/impersonation of the original.  There is no originality or innovation to it. No added value (other than the chance to have some fun hearing “your favorite band” – who may not be performing anymore or even be alive anymore – at a fraction of the cost at some local festival.)

What’s the point of this long, meandering introduction?

In the past few years, more people are recognizing the importance of building a personal brand and the benefits of marketing yourself through social media. Things that were unusual a few years back (and thereby were extremely effective) such as recording videos of yourself giving advice, going live on Facebook, telling stories with a business angle to build a following, etc. have become much, much more commonplace.

Tons of people now have their coaches and mentors telling them to “go live.” They’ve bought training courses outlining how they need to post “inspirational” stories daily. They’ve friended thousands of other entrepreneurs and are trying to imitate what they see their peers doing.

An obvious issue with this is that the more people who are doing something, the less novel and effective it becomes. A few years ago, you could win simply by being visible and making noise. Now that so many more people are doing it, the challenge is not to simply make noise – but to figure out how to break through it.

And therein lies the rub. You cannot differentiate yourself if you’re doing and saying the same things as a bunch of other people. It’s impossible to get noticed and provide value if you’re doing your best Gary Vaynerchuk, Tai Lopez, or Grant Cardone impression.

You can be influenced by what other people are doing. You can be inspired by it. But you can’t just copy it. You have to transform it in some way – actually providing something with unique value.

To put it another way: you can sample from other people, but you can’t be a tribute band.

What we’re seeing a lot of now is the equivalent of a bunch of wedding singers and cruise ship bands: people who are imitating what other people are doing and regurgitating the same information. And then they get frustrated because their efforts are not yielding any results. And understandably so since they’re doing exactly what their “mentors” told them to do – all with the promise that they would be effective.

More people are trying to build an online following than ever before. More people are giving information away than ever before. More people are leveraging their personal social media as a platform for their business than ever before.

And because of that, getting results doing those things is harder than it was in the past.

But if you find a way to provide unique value with your information, you can still succeed. There are people who are doing it very successfully right now – despite the increased challenges. But if we don’t differentiate ourselves, then we’re just going to look like a bunch of karaoke singers.

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