Do we really need genres?

Thursday December 31st, 2009 / 00:49 Written by

Record StoreI had a great conversation the other day and I wanted to add the topic to the list of music discussions. The conversation was about whether genres are really necessary. Merriam-Webster defines genre as “a category of artistic, musical or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form or content”. I’ll keep the focus of this discussion on music and start by asking the question, “What about music that spans multiple genres?” I can think of several artists who don’t just sing one type of music. We see soul artists singing gospel and gospel artists making jazz albums. So, do we really need genres after all?

In the conversation, we posed the idea of categorizing music by the actual sound rather than what it appears to be. For instance, what if we could go into a music store (assuming there will be any left in the coming years, but that’s another story) and we could search for an artist with strong vocals? That way, we may find albums from Luther Vandross, Nina Simone and Shirley Caesar all in the same section of the store, rather than on separate aisles. Does it matter that they all sing a different type of music if what you’re really looking for is a strong vocalist? I’m not saying I agree; I’m just putting the question out there.

I have to pause for a second to address the obvious question that you may have, “Why does Finding the B-Side have a heading for genres? Although I think genres sometime add unnecessary boundaries to music, I think people simply prefer to have them. I certainly wouldn’t want to lose any valuable readers by not explaining what this website offers. So, I use genres to steer your clicking as you read about the music. But, in the future, Finding the B-Side may try to shake things up a bit and use categories like vocalists, guitarists and uptempo to describe the music rather than the genre categories that we see all too often. I wonder what that might really be like. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Do you think we really need genres in music today?


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I'm the editor of Finding the B-Side.

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4 Comments on “Do we really need genres?

  • i understand why we currently use genres. they can be very helpful when searching for artists. However, i think an equally helpful search method could be by “category (strong emotive vocalist, aggressive vocals, etc.).”

    when i think of music, i don’t think of it in terms of genre. instead, i think of it in terms of the components of the music – cause that’s what i really listen for. Also, what i think is happening today is that many artists create music to fit a particular genre rather than making music that represents their true artistic nature. when this happens i feel the world misses out on some great expressive music.

    like i said i’m not against genres per say, but i think it would be great for music in general (and for me) if we could start looking at music through a different prism – and maybe that starts by offering up a new way to search for your favorite artists as well as new artists.

  • I would have to agree and disagree, both points are well stated. Genres are very helpful if you happen to not recall the artist names or titles. Therefor looking up an artist in a particular genre can assist you in finding a particular artist or while thumbing through you may come across another artist that you may have forgotten about, which can always be a plus. On the other hand, I would have to agree with the writer that genres could place a stigma on the artist or album based on the point that many artist sing within many genres. I would have to say that I would like to see many artist possibly titled within different catagories as well.

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