The murky definition of music genres

Putting music into a genre in 2016 is harder than ever. Back in 2014, genres had already diversified immensely, to the point that The Guardian hired a ‘data alchemist’ to analyse the then 1264 so called ‘microgenres’ of music he could find. This number has undoubtedly grown since then, and the discussion about the need to label music into a genre is still alive. Some proclaim that the concept of music genre has died, while others see genres as a necessary way to ‘find the right words and describe things properly’. There are even people who have started to index the multitude of genres out there.

Too many genres and styles. Picture from

Now, most people in an audience don’t care for what skweee is or whether the tune they’re listening to falls under ‘deep filthstep’ or simple progressive trance. The majority just want to have a rough indication of what kind of music they’re gonna listen to (e.g. reggae, house, rock). This helps to get a gist of whether the night fits their tastes or not. They are there to have a good time after all. The exact genre of a musical style seems to have become much more irrelevant for most. Music journalists seem to have a need to further scrutinise the type of music they’re reviewing. Sometimes they even give name to an entire major genre, as is the case with heavy metal. This is only logical, as it’s their job to tell their respective audiences about their findings, and a (made up) definition only helps to get their point across.

Where are you on this periodic table? Picture from

On a personal level, there are a couple of challenges regarding genre definitions. For example, imagine searching for music on a site like JunoDownload as a DJ/producer. Genres are oftentimes rather useful labels to find music you are familiar with. We find it easier to build a playlist when you can group the tracks in it by similar genres and styles. Moreover, discussions between producers and the audience about what genre an artist belongs to tend to create even more genres. Definitions like ‘vaporwave’ and ‘abstractro’ are born from this. Another thing that comes from this abundance of genres is genre blending, something that has become increasingly popular. Whatever the case, defining genres seem to have become a murky affair, but not dead by a long shot.

Baby Metal: A idol metal band from Japan. Picture from

So on one hand, there seems to be much more liberty to categorise your music under whatever the hell you want, but on the other hand, the abundance of genres makes it harder to define in words what kind of music you are looking for or talking about. In any case, we’ll be on the lookout and listening.

Much love,

Navi — Signalfire