One of the greatest assets music has to offer is its diversity. Be it rhythm, melody or lyrical content, you can create a song and it’ll fit somewhere along the wide spectrum of genres. However, an interesting thought came up recently when I was asked what genre I perform. For simplicity's sake, I often say Singer/Songwriter or Americana. However, these definitions are so broad, and people can have very different interpretations of them, that such descriptions of my music are not wholly accurate. So what genre do I perform? That’s what I want to explore and, at the same time, ask if there are too many genres.
Most songwriters and performers begin their creative careers in the genre by which they were most inspired. For example, Ed Sheeran was brought up on rap and 00’s acoustic singer/songwriters so they make up the building blocks of his style. However, as we grow as artists, we’re influenced by lots of different musical talents. Taylor Swift is a great example. Initially, she was a firm country singer but, as her career has evolved, she has wandered into synth pop and even rock. So how do you describe these cross-genre experiments? You could go for the easy answer and say that as a person experiments he/she becomes a multi-genre artist. But, more often than not, unless the artist completely jumps ship, the style is often in the same ballpark. So, what is the answer?
Subgenres are great opportunities to find niche artists. They also allow budding musicians to experiment with new sounds while remaining under the same general banner. For example, going back to Swift, she is now more likely to be categorised as a Pop artist than as a country singer, her genre to begin with. However, as her more recent albums each have different influences, they fall under subgenres: Reputation is Electropop while the back to back releases of Evermore and Folklore are Folk-pop. This little bit of freedom means artists don’t have to constantly feel as though they need to reproduce the same stuff over and over again. Furthermore, it can also be a means of revealing to their fans, other musical interests and sharing that journey with the community.
Conversely, bands and artists that don’t feel as though they fit in a specific genre can create a new genre and sit between two or more. Take medieval folk rock. This genre emerged in the 70’s as an offshoot of prog rock that took things even further combining early musical elements with rock often ditching electronic instruments altogether. Whilst this is an extreme example, it does prove there is space for everything.
With so many subgenres emerging in the last 40 years (wikipedia states that there are over 1,200 definable current subgenres) how do you find your style amongst them? For this, it’s often helpful to ask someone else to define you. I have found my subgenre by studying the artists I’m told I’m most similar to, as well as those that cross over with my own inspirations. I use this feedback and my own musical knowledge to help me whittle down the categories. These days my work has a strong raspy folk influence and some indie softer tones, so I would probably put myself in the indiefolk/anglo-americana camp, with occasional acoustic pop songs. Yet still, see how difficult I find it to pick a specific one.
However with so many different genres to define your music, how do you learn to stop? If you have a Country album and each song has a slight influence from a different genre you could say you’re a Country, Hip-hop, Folk, Americana, Soul, Rock, Disco, Alternative artist, which in reality doesn’t describe your work in a pitch to someone very succinctly. This huge variety of minutiae under one “head genre” can also mean songs sound very similar from a general audience’s perspective despite the artist having passionately tried to put a unique spin on a track to help them stand out.
Purists wouldn’t call my work Americana, but as I am British (anglo) and have country/roots elements in my songs, they technically constitute as such. This is why, in recent years, people in the industry have started to say that “Rock is having an identity crisis” or “Country music has lost its heart”. This could be true, or could it just be music evolving and we need to keep up with the times and redefine what genre means. Certain subgenres could become the new “head genres” or perhaps we’ll come up with new terms.
I believe, with music and anything in the creative industry, inventing and exploring is the only way forward. To find new sounds and perspectives to identify with, we must continue to diversify, whether or not this comes at the cost of what we have previously known. Are there too many different musical genres? To some, possibly. But it’s my belief, by comparison to what the future probably holds, there is are barely any at all.
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