I can’t speak for everyone, but I can definitely give an overview of my experience on this subject matter.
I actually think this is a tough subject, because there isn’t an exact path to finding your own voice or style. Growing up I’ve always thought that emulating your favorite artist was the best way to grow as a singer/piano player/song writer. I do believe it has some validity, because it gives you a place to build your vocabulary. At the same time, it can also hinder you. If all you ever do is practice trying to sound like them, you lose out on yourself. How one artist sings a vowel or puts an inflexion on a phrase might not exactly be good for your voice.
I think the first steps are to really spend time with yourself and learning your voice. The last few years, I’ve spent countless hours recording. I’ve learned so much about what is good for me and what isn’t. I think it allowed me to get real with myself. All of the things I “thought” sounded good, in fact, sounded horrible. I started paying attention to the little details. All the way down to the way I sang an “Oh” sound, or how I transitioned into my head voice. Learning my voice helped me understand what sounded good on a recording. In return, I feel like I produce more of a pure sound that is true to my own personal voice. I definitely won’t proclaim to be the best singer, but I’m much more aware of the sound I produce.
I think the next step is to really understand what moves you and fuse that into the material you are playing or singing. The artists before us were able to develop their own style that we as fans fell in love with. When you can begin to take what you’ve learned and developed and then relay that on a song or record, you begin to see more of your DNA or identity in the song. I’ve always felt like if I didn’t play a song exactly the way I heard it on a record, then I wasn’t playing it right. Ultimately if I sound like someone else, the feedback will be, “we don’t need another Usher, Justin Timberlake, Aaron Lindsey, etc.” You can fill in the blank with any artist.
I think the next level only comes from spending time developing you. Guess what, it may take a few years. As musicians, we want to be great overnight and it just doesn’t work that way. You can’t get impatient with the process.
The third step is putting it out there for the world to hear. You get a sense of what people respond to. This should guide some of your decision making on what you should focus on. My whole world growing up was R&B, but I’ve received a better response with some of my Pop/Rock songs than R&B. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing or singing R&B, but I’m starting to understand what my lane should be. I think your number one goal should always be quality. With social media and technology becoming more accessible, it’s easier to put material out. You should always remember that you are trying to portray yourself in a professional light. You have to separate yourselves from the amateurs. Otherwise people won’t respect it.