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Are There Too Many Genres in Music?

With the increased use of the Internet and various streaming services playing a more active role in bringing novel and/or off-kilter sounds to our attention, there’s been a related desire to hear these sounds and become better, more discerning consumers of media.

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Spotify alone features at least one thousand known genres, and (although I couldn’t find any stats that satisfied me) it’s safe to assume popular album-hosting site Bandcamp has more than this. Considering the idiosyncratic, specific nature of newer, less-common styles of music, essentially anything an artist dreams up and appreciates can be applied as a genre tag – Google anything ending in “-wave” for proof (e.g. “vaporwave,” “synthwave,” “coldwave”).

What are the implications of this? Does it really make a difference, in either direction, if there are countless genres – and more arriving as the years pass? What’s the point of having twenty varieties of experimental music, with the only difference being a few less beeps and glitches in one type?

Are There Too Many Genres in Music?

The truth is, it’s a good thing. The question of whether or not there are too many genres isn’t much different, in practice, from asking if there is too much art. It’s always a good thing when people get to follow their muse – whatever strange and dissolute muse that might be.

To tear artists down for doing as they wish is a crime unto art itself. Our innovators of years past roll in their graves when this happens.

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But the question here isn’t, “Is it good or bad that we have so many genres?” It’s whether or not there are too many to pick and choose from. Does it hinder artists to have such a splinter and a break from generalized categories?

The answer to that is a resounding no. For one thing, it allows artists to be able to specify their sound and tailor their specific brand of unique art to whatever sonic goals they have in mind.

The community they form is less fractured than one might think, despite what a listener might be led to think. Of course, it seems this isn’t so, but of the scenes I’ve followed and the shows I’ve attended, you’d be surprised at the sense of community and like-minded people these disparate microgenres foster.

It reminds me of concerts in the Sixties, where a pop band might open for a hard rock act. At the same time, it’s better because shows are usually scheduled by the artists themselves (or, at least, by the friends of the artists). It feels more authentic, and, typically, it is. There’s less interference from big-name labels and industry executives. Sure, there’s no money to push artists to the forefront, but music and art shouldn’t be about money. 

It’s this lack of focus on making money that is key to the seemingly infinite number of genres blossoming these days. Taking the drive to become famous out of the equation makes for a purer, more distilled sound. Every note, every squeal, every pop and crackle means something.

But, as with most things, there are downsides to all of this. Ironically, making it harder to locate artists that fall into a given genre, in turn, makes it harder to form a larger community. The genres and their fans become more like a clique than a group of music-loving individuals with like-minded tastes. You get a New York scene, a Nashville scene, a Pittsburgh scene, a Tacoma, Washington scene – you get the picture. It’s more sporadic and regional, but most act tour and perform in other towns.

As mentioned before, this is thanks, largely in part, to the internet. In addition to housing many self-titled releases, this is where artists congregate and network. Social media is typically a cesspool of negativity, but, in this case, it has been the greatest tool anyone has ever had. An entire world of songs, albums, and artists to indulge in and get to know personally. It really is a blessing to be an artist in this day and age.

So where do we go from here? Clearly, the number of genres will not likely diminish. As the saying goes, once the mind is opened it cannot be closed. Truth be told, I wouldn’t want it to. As a fellow artist, it feels good knowing I can make my own sound and have a category to put it in. Genres tend to be useless, yes, but for finding a scene and having a general goal for a given sound, they can be useful. And as the lines become further blurred, we’ll see even more artists defining themselves as they see fit.

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