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Imitate a Classic

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Updated July 28, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

To imitate is to represent, reinterpret, or reproduce the style and vision of someone else’s work. To copy is to try to make an exact duplicate. Imitation is not superior to copying—both have their place. You might need to imitate before you know how to copy exactly. For example, if you were to re-create a song you really liked, you might need to find the right instrument, drumkit, or sound file, and figure out what the layers sound like. But to imitate, you find your own way to recreate the original.

When I asked Dacoury Natche how he learned to make music, he spoke of imitating as a way to refine his own technique as he was first getting started. There will be things that you don’t know how to do yet, and that’s the point. When you don’t know something, do whatever you can to replicate it. As producer Chris Kim pointed out, the search for the answer and attempts to imitate or reproduce the original often provide more interesting results than recreating the original idea in the precise steps of the original creator.

Remix a Piece

When Dacoury Natche and I met, Kazakh music producer Imanbek’s remix of SAINt JHN’s “Roses” was at the top of our charts. I was on a road trip a few days prior and heard it at least twice an hour.

While the original artist SAINt JHN released “Roses” three years prior, it was the remix that was picked up on social media and broke through to mainstream radio stations, bringing the original with it. Essentially, the original served as a demo for a much more popular remix.

Remixing is at the heart of popular music. DJ Kool Herc sampled the best part of songs and hip-hop emerged as an art form. Hip-hop is one of the best examples of creativity involving mainly combining ideas. As Maria Popova writes in The Marginalian, “I frequently use LEGO as a metaphor for combinatorial creativity—if we only have bricks of one shape, size, and color, what we build with them remains limited; but if we build with pieces of various shapes, sizes, and colors, our creations will be infinitely more interesting.”

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