What Genre Of Article Is This?

Alrighty then. Today, I'll be writing about the pros and cons of using genres to describe and categorize music. I'm doing this because I always see people avoiding perfectly good music because it's not "what they listen to," and because I always see people contradicting themselves when it comes to judging music by it's genre.

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Alrighty then. Today, I'll be writing about the pros and cons of using genres to describe and categorize music. I'm doing this because I always see people avoiding perfectly good music because it's not "what they listen to," and because I always see people contradicting themselves when it comes to judging music by it's genre.

First and foremost, what's a genre? I define it as a certain style of music, played (usually) by certain type of people. An example would be punk rock. There's a definitve style of playing for punk rock (fast power chords, faster drums, etc...), and it is generally played by the subculture of people we refer to as "punks." Genres can be as broad as "rock," or as narrow as "post-grunge rap-metal fusion." Now that we know what a genre is, let's talk about some of the good things about genres:

  • Pros:

    I find that genres are most useful when they are used in a broad context. For example, I would say that I like to listen to "rock music." Others might say "I like easy listening," and so on. At this broad level, genres are not only helpful, but they are essential. If you look at the scope of ALL music in the world, the fact is that it differs enormously. You need to be able to draw the line somewhere. If we only referred to music as "music," how the hell would we know what to call our favorite music, in relation to other music?

    Essentailly, genres are good as a comparrison tool. They make it easier to discuss music. Why do we call heavy metal "heavy metal?" Because there is different music out there, that sounds nothing like this heavy metal stuff, and we need a way to differentiate. Genres are also useful if you want to describe the sound of an individual band without having to name other bands. For example, what if someone asked you what the Red Hot Chili Peppers sound like? You could say: "well, they sound like a little bit of alternative rock, mixed with lots of funk, and a little psychedelic stuff too." You wouldn't need to list of the artists that influenced them, as that would take forever, and not everyone knows every artist, etc...

    And then there's the obvious positive attribute of genres, which is that if you hear a band you really like, you can refer to their genre to help you find similar music.

    But that's where the good things about genres end. A genre label is only useful if you are discussing music, and not really useful at all if you are listening to it, or making music. Here's why:

  • Cons:

    Why are genres not useful when you're actually listening to music? Because a genre is just a word. It's a general term. What's the root word of genre? General. No genre term can describe every aspect of every song, by every band. It just can't happen. I know this is a tired old saying, but if it sounds good, listen to it! If you don't like it, don't listen. I am constantly hearing people say: "I only listen to metal. All that punk stuff is garbage, and classic rock is so queer!" That in itself is completely ignorant. But then, these people confim their ignorance by saying something like: "So yeah. I only like metal. But have you heard Finger Eleven's new song 'One Thing?' It's really slow, and acoustic. But I only listent to heavy metal! Rock On!!!"

    Riiigghhhht....

    The point is, when it gets down to defining your entire musical diet, and discussing everything you like to hear, you can't just judge it by what music you listen to most, or what you listen to at parties, or on your discman, or when you're studying. And everyone likes at least one song from every kind of genre. Think really hard about it. You don't even have to like the band that plays the song, and it doesn't have to be a song that you can totally rock out to, but as long as the song is pleasing to your ears, you can't logically restrict yourself to one genre. Here's a sample of my tastes, off the top of my head:

    Rock: Well, I like most rock. It's my main thing. Punk: Sublime, Ramones, Nirvana (yes, they're a punk band), The Clash, The Offspring, Greenday, NOFX, Goldfinger. Metal: Ozzy, AC/DC, Motley Crue, Metallica, Def Leppard. Funk: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wild Cherry, Bootsy Collins. Soul: Any James Brown. Folk: Joan Baez, Bob Dylan. Country: Charlie Daniels, Johnny Cash. Oldies: Countless bands. 50's Rock & Roll: Chuck Berry. Blues: Muddy Waters, Albert King, Robert Johnson, etc... Jam Rock: The Allman Bros. Band, Grateful Dead... Rap: Ludacris, DMX, Eminem, Ice Cube. Pop: See rap.

    But I still call myself a rocker. I just use the term generally, if I'm discussing music with another person. I don't swear by rock music as my only genre that i could possibly listen to. Such a thing is totally ignorant. I see this happen mostly with (prepare to flame me), nu-metal fans. I said in a previous article that nu-metal fans, in my onw experience, tend to be the most genre-crazy people around. I'm sure you all know that one kid who's always got his discman on, and he's always listening to nu-metal, and if you try and discuss music with him, he has nothing to say about any other genre, except to explain why he thinks it's total crap.

    Anyone with an open mind can see that you can't swear by one or two genres alone. And if you're in a band, then genres become a bigger problem. Any good band should have a mix of styles, and put their own touch on it. Led Zeppelin was known for going all over the map with their music. The Beatles had psychedelic stuff, pop stuff, rock, acoustic, etc... The Rolling Stones did a lot of country and blues in addition to their rock classics. I refer to my band as a rock band, and nothing else. If someone wants details, I'll say we're heavily influenced by classic rock, but that's about it. If I were to call us a post-classic-rock revivalist garage band, I would be losing people's interest really quick.

    When I'm trying to come up with new songs for my band, I constatnly find myself thinking: "Okay, I need something that rocks. Let's have a good rock riff." The problem with that is that rock and roll is an almagamation of several genres. Most good rock riffs are blues licks, played a little differently. What I should be doing is trying to find a good musical idea, and THEN applying a rock & roll touch to it. So as an artist, you might find yourself "trapped" by a genre label, when your actual vision isn't of just being in one genre.

    Perhaps I'm just cynical, but I see very little use for all the ridiculous sub-genres we have in music these days. It's not longer proper to just listen to punk. You have to choose between old-school punk, street punk, oi punk, pop-punk, hardcore, emo, screamo, psychobilly, rockabilly, ska, skate-punk, chick-punk, party punk, grunge-punk, acoustic punk, post-hardcore, and something called "punk rawk." It's just useless, really. Most of these kinds of bands play the same festivals and tours together, and they all share the same major influences. Yet I still hear people arguing viciously over these little sub-genres of punk.

    The same goes for metal: Nu-metal, heavy metal, black metal, death metal, industrial metal, grind metal, classic metal, gore metal, gothic metal, power metal, thrash metal, war metal, speed metal, etc... All that such sub-genres do is try and streamline listeners into only listening to one shadow of one genre, and they create unnessecary rifts between fans of the same music.

    Are all these sub-categories really necessary? Does anyone care that much?

    And as my final point on the negative aspects of genres, let's talk about bands that escape genre classification. I always like to use Led Zeppelin as an example, so let's do that. Led Zeppelin is generally regarded as the quintessential hard rock band. This is, by most accounts, a true statement. Their heavy drums, screaming vocals and hammer-of-the-Gods pentatonic riffs define classic rock as we know it. But there are so many sides to Led Zepplein's music that defy that hard rock classification, that the term becomes useless when you really study the band.

    They've got acoustic folk songs like "Going To California," "That's The Way," and "Bron Y' Aur Stomp." These songs are played with harmonicas, acoustic guitars, and a mandolin. Not very hard rock, now is it? You could look at the blues numbers they do as well. "Since I've Been Lovin' You," "What Is And What Should Never Be," "Dazed And Confused," and similar cuts are closer to the blues than to rock and roll. Zeppelin got into southern-style blues/rock with numbers like "Trampled Underfoot," and "In My Time Of Dying." They practically invented the rock-ballad with "Stairway to Heaven," and they did their fair share of progressive music, with stuff like "Rain Song," and "No Quarter." They even ventured into reggae ("D'Yer Maker"), funk ("The Crunge"), Indian music ("Kashmir"), and pop ("Fool In The Rain").

    The Rolling Stones did their share of country ("Let It Bleed," "Dead Flowers," "Honky Tonk Women"), jazz ("Can't You Hear Me Knockin"), pop ("Mother's Little Helper," "Ruby Tuesday"), as well as all of their famous rock & roll classics, like "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Satisfaction," etc...

    The point is that many of the greatest bands of all time have been unfairly streamlined into just one genre, because people love to label things. People who judege their music by it's genre and not by it's sound are missing out on tons of great bands, simply because they decide that they don't like the genre it's in. Although genres are useful as a comparisson tool, they shouldn't have any place in music appreciation.

    So from now on, I urge you all not ask "what kind of music is it?" Instead, ask: "Can I listen to it?"

    Contact Info: Tom LeBlanc FrigginJerk, asstoupee@hotmail.com.

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  • 43 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Oswald
      I think that The Red Hot Chilli Peppers is to gay. But I like Fortune Faded, Scar Tissues and Californiacation.....
      hobo8917
      Great article! (Added bonus: my first post! I'm no longer a "UG Stranger." Yes!!
      zakk_wylde4
      I agree, kids these days all split the same punk music into divisions, its all alternative, all of it! emo, punk, pop- punk, its all just punk and alternative. I know kids who only listen to punk, no rock, nothing else, these kids need to realize that punk is really a sub genre of rock, doesn't anyone else feel that way?
      KURT IS A GOD
      There shouldnt be tiny specifications but there is a big difference between punk and rock. Nirvana and Black Label Society forever
      KURT IS A GOD
      You maybe could specify Nirvanas guitar parts under punk but there lyrics and singing can only put under grunge
      joestrummer
      youre right Jerre, grunge is just a sub-genre of punk. all grunge is punk, but not all punk is grunge
      bobisonthecob
      the one thing i dont like about this site is its mostly directed towards metal and punk, then there is one forum for all the other stuff. i dont know if you like phish or g-love and the special sauce, but we call that groove rock. just commenting
      HappyClam
      Good article. Im a huge rock fan but i like alot of punk music and it annoys me when people say that they are punk fans and that they wont listen to to any thing else or stuff like that
      <<< Frantic >>>
      Sub-genre's are pretty much needed, Bon Jovi falls under some categories of metal according to some people :S??? I dunno what that's about. But stuff like Kiss is different to say Black Sabbath. Alot of people don't even call Sabbath metal, when realistically they pretty much took it to the top, maybe not started it, but took it to the high levels of peoples listening and keep it there today. But some of the things they call Metal are absolutely appalling, honestly, Bon Jovi?! But it's not jsut in metal it's in all "genre's" (i friggin hate that word, whenever anyone says it they sound like a f*g). There's probably more sub-genre's to punk than anything else. They're needed, but only to an extent.
      skater9517
      Once again frigginjerk has done it. Ive read all of your article for the past.....6 months? You kick ass and should conciter a job as a journalist.
      desturbdchyld
      Nice, really nice. Maybe it'll put an end to this bullshit bickering th@ blah is this and blah is th@. It's a pointless waste of space and time. You people that do that need to shut up and actually listen to the music, and not make yourself a pain in the ass by worrying what type it is. Great article, frigginjerk!
      hilary.ous
      You know what problems I have with genres? Suddenly, everything is described by hyphenating two or three genres together until they just don't mean anything anymore.
      PaRaBoLaTooL420
      I don't agree with the thing aobut you have to like a song from each genre, whether you like the band or not. I am extremely picky in my music - if a band isn't talented beyond the average musician I can't bring myself to enjoy the music. Punk for example, there are lots of different types and I guarantee you i've heard atleast 10+ songs from the majority of punk bands and all sub genres therewithin and I dislike it all. If the music isn't very deep, and hasn't had a lot of effort put into it - I believe it doesn't deserve to be sold to the public. Musicians who don't stand out in the crowd by their musical talents shouldn't make a living off something they're just as good as everyone else at. So no, people don't have to like atleast one song in each genre. Maybe they sound good.. or have a good beat, but that doesnt mean you like them. I've tried countless times to expand my musical tastes to no avail. I've been spoiled by Led Zeppelin, Tool, AC/DC, The Smashing pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, etc. Bands that DO stand out amongst the trash that musicians pile up onto a CD once a year and throw at the public.
      Pyr0
      Listen to Dashboard Confessional, then listen to Anti-flag, and then try and tell me that subgenres are stupid.
      just some guy
      great article. the only thing that bugs me is that you call ska a dumb little sub-genre. but hey, ska is one of my favorite stupid sub-genres. also, you didn't include electronic, but i could understand why you wouldnt want to be associated with that. i know exactly what your saying, but the fact that some one only listens to one genre/more specific genre doesn't mean that they're ignorant, just that they only like that type of music or...you know...that music is the only music that gives you that really good adrenaline boost: you all know what i'm talking about right? i think it has to do a lot with how the music makes you feel. like, for me, i don't like most rap, pop, r&b, country, blues and soul because it doesn't make me feel different. you want music that you can just be engulfed by. and again, very good article.
      spudz04
      Pyr0: Listen to Dashboard Confessional, then listen to Anti-flag, and then try and tell me that subgenres are stupid. [POSTED: 18 December 2003 - 10:40]| My question is, who would listen to dashboard confessional? but I do agree with you, sub genres are needed, there's a big difference between NOFX punk and like Good charlotte Pop-punk
      Timmeah
      the only prblem with genres comes when people try to put themself into one which they don't belong, but just cos its cool they call themselves it. cough good charlotte avril cough. but nice article, i agree. if we didnt hav all those sub genres then it would be more general and noone could disagree because of the huge difference between them. like instead of sayin punk rock u could say nofx punk and good charlotte pop-punk and then everyone knows what ur talkin about cos of that band.
      Metal Matt
      There's also a big difference between Nightwish and Cannibal Corpse, yet both are metal. Subgenres help describe style more deeply than the broad terms such as 'metal'.
      frigginjerk
      Pyr0: I'm afraid I don't see your point. Yes, if we're DISCUSSING the music, sub-genres have a use. But the problem is people who say stuff like: "FUCK THAT BLACK METAL SHIT! I ONLY LISTEN TO WAR METAL!" know what I mean? people take the sub-genres too literally.
      mark276
      I was just thinking the same thing recently. Lately I've been incorporating my Jazz, Funk, Classical, and Folk influences into my band's music. It's important to keep yourself open to all genres or else your music will be come stale and repetitive. Good article, Frigginjerk.
      Destari
      Hey, TenTonHammer,to clarify Nirvana\\\'s status: they were punk. They didn\\\'t really begin the grunge movement, they were influenced by total punk adn you listen to it and you can hear that coming through. \\\'Grunge\\\' isn\\\'t really a genre, it was this movement, almost like the antithesis of a musical renaissance, know what I mean? Thats what it is to my mind, anyhow.
      Mack56
      destari is right about grunge. And friggenjerk has done it again. I swear, that guy should change is name to friggenawesome.
      yousuck
      SLAYTERA: they are just narrow-minded faggots. [POSTED: 19 December 2003 - 125]| hmmmmm... do i sense some irony in that statement?
      frigginjerk
      grunge was a movement, a fashion statement. Nirvana's music featured loud distorted guitar tones, with simple chord structures, driving bass lines, and fast loud drum lines. the vocals were anti-everything, and many lyrics were screamed rather than sang. Nirvana was a punk band.
      pinkerton
      yousuck, thats ***ing funny. but i think you put it in the wrong place. Back to the topic at hand, I think its suicidal for a band to put themselves into one, because it just narrows the sound and the type of music you will play. I however, do like to use them to discribe music i hate (mainly pop-punk and nu-metal).
      Wizcid
      frigginjerk u are the unofficial article deity. I agree with u 98% on this article. Good stuff keep writing.
      UseYourBrain
      Spine2600 have you ever bought a nirvana cd? You have probably only heard Smells Like Teen Spirit and their unplugged album. Listen to Breed or Territorial Pissings then you will realize that they play different genres such as Punk.
      Darkpsyde213
      frigginjerk: You're wrong on one point: "general" is not the "root word" for "genre"; however, they do share a common etymology (word history or word origin) in that they both come from the latin genus (meaning "race," "kind," or "type"). But that aside, I see your point. I'm an advocate of being eclectic in both the types of music that one listens to as well as the types of music one plays. Bands of today would have so much more staying power if they expanded their types of music. But don't get me wrong, some bands need to play a smaller range of music to maintain their style and purpose. Each artist needs to find that balance. Take Staind, for example. Many people feel that Staind's first album was their greatest and each successive attempt was of lesser quality (watered-down) due to Staind's assimilation into "pop-culture." But clearly this is not the case. I've loved all of Staind's albums because of what each represents. The first album was hardcore rock and very angry (showcasing Aaron's emotions at the time). Each following album reveals a metamorphosis in Aaron. He is still expressing his emotions to the fullest, yet he is not quite as angry as when the band first started out. He is experiencing a greater quality of life, and though is songs are a bit more uplifting, he recognizes that he's got a ways to go before he is "sappy." Every one of Staind's albums is generally a rock album just of a different sub-genre. To quote Dennis Miller, "Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong." Great article! You seem to have a knack for writing them!!!
      KevinHallX
      ahhh to be amond the enlightened few, totally agree with you man, the only arguments i have is that punks don\\\'t listen to emo/pop-punk, skaters do, and punks are way more uptight about their music than nu-metalers. you don\\\'t here us bitching about how Linkin Park isn\\\'t \\\'real\\\' metal because they don\\\'t live metal(punk argument for Good Charlotte i\\\'ve heard a lot)
      Iosoce
      you know something. I really don't care what the hell i listen to, as long as i can enjoy it. So that i think is basically my way of saying, "bravo"
      PuppetOfTallica
      KevinHallX wrote: you don\\\'t here us bitching about how Linkin Park isn\\\'t \\\'real\\\' metal because they don\\\'t live metal(punk argument for Good Charlotte i\\\'ve heard a lot)
      Dude, you must not know many metalheads. The number of LP-nu-metal or metalcore bitchings i hear from purists per day is insane. "this band is not real metal", "This dude is not metal", "this band is a bunch of posers trying to be metal". BTW FrigginJerk, I am going to form a religion around these articles. \m/