I remember entering a metro talent search when I was in high school. I was a Stanley Clarke fanatic and even performed in a custom made T-shirt reading “Stanley Clarke” that was given to me as a present by a classmate. That night I played every “Stanley” lick I knew to impress everyone, but it went over most people’s heads and a Go-Go drummer ended up winning 1st place with me in third. While I was backstage waiting for the verdict, a fan slipped backstage and walked toward me. As I postured myself to receive an accolade or two, The guy ripped into me with the most honest opinion. “You play well, but you sound just like ‘Stanley Clarke’. You need a voice of your own.” Man! Were my feelings hurt, but it was great constructive criticism and changed my life. I immediately began looking for my own voice.
Every player has a unique voice no matter who or what their influences are. It is essential to learn licks from and emulate tones of the great predecessors who have paved the way for us and have laid a solid foundation for us to grow upon. But there comes a point where you make those licks your own and develop your own licks which will enable those to hear you to recognize you by hearing only a couple of notes played. You also recognize when emulators become imposters by sounding so much like their heroes that your deduction is “If that’s not him it is a sound alike!”.
Finding your own voice is a great step toward being a recognized player. It not only entails the licks that you play, but all the little nuances such as the way you perform pull offs, slides, bends, etc. and your tone. So choosing a bass that gives you what you need to accomplish what you are striving for is equally important. There is a plethora of great basses on the market to choose from so this part is, generally, easy. Checking out a player whose sound you dig is a start. Then see what equipment he uses (effects etc.). Eventually, You will or should modify the sound to your individual taste which inevitably will change from time to time. That is simply the growth process and the same thing applies across the board. It is not an overnight process and is a journey parallel to your aspirations as a successful musician. But whatever you do, Play you.