The world of music can be an incredibly intimidating force for someone who aspires to enter it yet doesn’t know where to start. In recent years, social media has been a driving tool in helping otherwise unknown artists skyrocket to fame. However, it can be hard to navigate how to use apps such as TikTok and Instagram to your advantage. Factors such as who blows up online, when it happens and how they do it can all be unpredictable based on current trends and algorithms. While some spend time perfectly crafting their posts in the hopes of getting noticed, oftentimes luck is their best bet. 

Justin Bernardez knows this better than anyone. The singer-songwriter taught himself how to produce as a teenager, much of the time through trial and error. One day, he realized he could take everything he had learned up to that point and observe how other artists create their songs. He looked at everything that made their tracks uniquely their own, from the instruments they used to the way they pitched certain parts. He took this one step further and posted a video recreating the formula of a Travis Scott song. As luck would have it, the video went viral on social media, and Bernardez saw his fanbase quickly increase.

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Inspired by the response to that video, he began making more. In some, he uses instrumentals, ad-libs and his own vocals to break down how other singers make their music. The final product of these “imitation songs” is a track that sounds like it would fit in perfectly with that specific artist’s discography. In other videos, he experiments with how it would sound if an artist was featured on someone else’s song or if two artists made a track together. These bite-sized videos gave Bernardez the chance to explore his musical creativity while also entertaining his ever-growing following.

His ability to produce these tracks that sound like the artist themself created them has also affected his progress with his original music. The main difference is that his music allows him to be authentic instead of leaning on other artists’ styles. His songs draw from personal experiences in a way listeners can easily relate and connect to, creating a uniquely close singer-fan dynamic. He self-released his first single, the trap-leaning “There I Go,” in 2018 and credits it as shaping him into the musician he is today. In the years since, he has experimented with many different sounds across various singles and his 2019 EP, Proof, and hopes to continue finding his groove in the future.

You found a following on social media by covering songs but also by reimagining them as if they were sung by a different artist and had a different sound. How did you come up with the idea, and do you see it helping you grow as an artist by exploring different musicians’ styles?

It’s funny how everything happened, and to be completely honest, it was half unintentional and half on purpose. I self-produce all of my music, so I just decided to make a TikTok like, “How to make a Travis Scott song.” I know I could produce for these bigger artists, so let me just post this video. Then it accidentally went viral overnight, which was really cool, and I was really fortunate for that. Thankfully, though, because the videos got so much attention, I noticed that it started to convert to my original music, which of course meant so much more to me because I don’t want to be that TikToker who makes songs for other people.

You have said that as a teenager, you were passionate about teaching yourself how to self-produce. What was that learning process like initially, and do you still find yourself learning more every time you produce something?

It was pretty difficult in the beginning. The only reason I’m where I am now is honestly [through] so much trial and error. Things weren’t sounding right, [and] I wanted to know how to get better. So through genuine trial and error, I was able to get to the skill level that I’m at now, and I’m really grateful. Every single day, I’m still learning so much. It’s hard because in the recording world, it can be really overwhelming at times. But every single day, I’m actively trying to get better and just working on my craft, and it’s honestly paying off. So I’m really happy it’s paying off.

Many of your original songs incorporate elements of pop and R&B, but how would you describe your sound? Are there any genres you would consider experimenting with in the future?

I would definitely say my own musical taste is pop, R&B and rap. It’s difficult because before my videos went viral, all I did was sing. I was just a singer. Then, I made a couple of rap videos, and those went viral. I was like, “I can rap.” So I would definitely describe my music as pop, R&B and rap all infused in one. In the near future, I would really like to put out some more pop songs—some radio hits—because I just really like pop music as well. I was a huge One Direction fan. I’m still a One Direction fan and a Justin Bieber fan. I want to put out some pop songs, but also I really want to go the more R&B route, too. So if I could find a nice way to infuse those two, that would be the perfect blend for me.

You released your first original single “There I Go” in 2018. This year, you released “Must Be Important.” In between, you also shared a handful of singles as well as your Proof EP. How have you seen yourself grow and change as an artist from “There I Go” to now?

It’s definitely been quite a journey. “There I Go” was my first song that I put out on my own. That song really shaped who I am as an artist. It was literally me saying, “I’m going to make it one day.” That came out in 2018, and I was like, “I know how and I’m going to do it.” And it happened. That song was more on the trap side. Then I put out a pop EP because I was just like, “You know what? Let me try this.”

Now, my most recent song “Must Be Important” is a rap song, so I think I’m always changing as an artist. I’m always going with the times but always making music that’s very real to me. In the future, I will probably just continue making rap and pop music. The fans seem to love it, and that makes me happy more than anything. The best feeling is when people can relate to it because it meant something to you to begin with. There are some songs that are just fun songs, but there are also songs where you’re just like, “Wow, I really needed this, and I really felt that.” Those are the songs that I’m trying to make.

What advice would you give to people who see what you’re doing and want to do something similar, especially in terms of harnessing the power of social media to showcase your work?

Everybody can say don’t give up. That is very important, but I think the biggest piece of advice I can give is to start. Starting is always the scariest part. You start doubting yourself. You start overthinking. But if you can start, you can always upgrade along the way. You can’t upgrade along the way if you don’t start. So that’s the biggest piece of advice. I would definitely say to anybody that wants to start to really immerse yourself into social media. Oftentimes, I feel like a lot of people are scared because they don’t know [how to use], for example, TikTok. I would just say try to learn. Especially if it’s a free app that can change your life overnight.

You don’t lose anything by trying. Educate yourself on social media as much as you can because it’s really taking over the world. It’s important to get on it while it’s hot. I would say just really take the time to educate yourself and to be yourself. That’s so important. I feel like my videos did as well as they did because I was just being myself. I never had to fake anything—it’s just truly me.

Be yourself and start and success will follow you, and so will happiness along the way. Sometimes the internet can be harsh. So for anybody that wants to get started or wants to take social media more seriously, by posting on the internet, you have to be prepared for both sides of the internet, whether that’s love or hate. As long as you’re being yourself and as long as you’re happy, and every now and then don’t read the comments, I think life can be great. So, I hope everyone could just be happy. Honestly, that’s my biggest thing: happiness.