A pink and a yellow vinyl record sit atop a teal worktop
Credit: Erik McLean via Unsplash

Genre trouble: niche or needless?

By Olivia Marrins

Are increasingly specific genre divides a help or a hindrance?

he music listening process, whether through vinyl or a streaming service, finds that each sound is distinguished by its correspondence to a genre or musical period. From rock and punk to pop and grime, we find ourselves unconsciously guided by the existing structures in music consumption and everything in between.

The categorisation of music into sonic boxes can be argued as successful, yet is this only in the realms of originality conservation? Thinking of mono-genres such as country, rock, or jazz automatically connects the social or cultural backgrounds of each style to the artists and their sound. Perhaps the lack of crossover between certain genres is a lucid depiction of societal constructs within the listening experience? The strength of micro-genres in fact opens the gates to artistic freedom in music and this danger of not fitting to a certain box inflicts insecurities within musical communities. That is, it is the artists which influence these constraints as they can be threatened by the abnormality in outside success.

It is not merely that genre consumption restricts the fluidity of music, it also creates a system of forced boundaries between musical artists. Whether you become a fan of an artist’s music for the genre in which they produce music or the status they hold as an individual; genres are encompassed by the environment in which the music is released to. So, when you become a fan of one artist you are wrapped up in not only the style of their music, but the fan base as a whole. Therefore, it is not just the genre specification which constricts the types of music you listen to but which artists individually you are attracted to. Whilst you may think you are a sole listener of country if you listened to Taylor Swift in her early years, through the fluidity of genres we have seen the country star turn into that of a pop sensation, and her fans, in turn, gravitate toward the pop genre.

However, when we are exposed to these sub-genres through the expression of our favourite artists, do the cross-genre experiments act as a true representation of the style of music? Many pieces of music sell themselves as a mixture of genres, obfuscating the wide-reaching influences within each. Although they can be labelled into a sub genre, this practice means listeners often miss the many styles embedded under the genre phenomenon and are snatched from finding the style they love.

It is now the norm for major music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, or Soundcloud to use music classification to organise their advertisement of music. However, this classification of sound into genres struggle to recommend distinctive styles to listeners. Are genres confining listeners into a pattern fuelled by the restricted trends in the bath of media manipulation?


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