Genre Talk

Genre: the most arbitrary tag of them all. Guaranteed to evolve. Always in question.

The thing I hate about music is the inherent difficulty in classifying it, but if this weren’t the case, it wouldn’t be an artform, and that would be unacceptable. So the price of admission is to make the best sense of it that we can and to get on with the business of enjoying it.

Genre is in the main based on opinion. You might think a track is a different genre to someone else. I’ve found from personal experience that this is sometimes due to my own lack of awareness of certain musical styles.

I can only give you guidelines as regards genre classification, but I think they will aid you in that most senior of considerations, optimise the organisation of your music for retrieval on an iPod.

Refer to Source
If you don’t know, see what the original artist considers it to be. If they don’t say, then hit the big guns: Wikipedia, Allmusic and a general Google Search. Put all of the opinions together and decide based on averages.

Keep the Number of Genres Down
I used to specify “Rock”, “Alt-Rock”, “Hard Rock” and “Punk Rock”. The specific subgenres didn’t really help me create Smart Playlists or find music on my iPod, so I started to use less. I started to get so much “Alt-Rock” that calling it “Alt” didn’t usefully differentiate the tracks from “Rock” tracks. Also, if you only have a handful of tracks with a specific genre, then it’s not worth specifying them so precisely. Keep it simple.

“Soundtrack” and “Chillout” are Not Genres
I don’t care what you say, but these are not genres. Consider Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. It consists of funk, soul, R&B tracks. Consider Spiderman. It’s full of rock tracks. There’s a pop song or two in there. That disproves the “soundtrack is a genre” argument. Tagging a track as “soundtrack” will exclude it from searches or playlists that look for the genre that actually represents the track.

The same holds true for chillout. Chillout is an emotional response. The genres of music that evoke this are jazz, R&B, rock, pop, electronica, etc. My rule is “If it chills me out, it’s chillout music”, but because multiple genres can give this response, it’s not a genre in itself.

I’m big on chillout music. My favourite playlist is a Smart Playlist that picks 8 hours of chillout music at random. I usually play this all day at work. I achieve this by using the Comment field instead of using Chillout as a genre. Put a keyword like chillout in the Comment field and search on that. I also do this for soundtrack and live. This means you can preserve the actual genre while subclassifying.

Your Library Will Evolve
Music is dynamic. That means your library will change, and not just to add new tracks. Your knowledge of music constantly changes, so you find yourself updating earlier tags. I find that the tag that changes the most is genre. Use the genre tag to make your library more useful, not more complex.

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5 Responses to Genre Talk

  1. […] your first criteria will be Ambient, Electronic, R&B, etc. This is highly subjective (refer to my previous post on genre) but use whatever works for you. The selection will get more accurate over […]

  2. Yashin says:

    Genre isn’t something I’d ever really cared about until iTunes came along, but it’s still just a means to an end for me. I like my smart playlists to be consistent in the style of music they play, so my genre-tagging is done with that in mind. Multiple genre tags would be nice, but even just a ‘keyword’ field would be really helpful.

  3. tunegardener says:

    I thought about these things too much as well and spent too much time on defining them on a song-for-song basis, so I gave up on that and decided to keep the genres somewhat generic so that I didn’t obsess about them too much. I couldn’t stand multiple-genre tags like “Rock Pop Soul”, “Country Western R&B”. For the genre-obsessed crowd, the most elegant solution would be multiple fields for multiple genres.

  4. Yashin says:

    ‘Constantly evolving’ most definitley describes my iTunes genre definitions. I started off trying to keep it simple, but the frustrations of smart playlists that were too broad lead me to experiment with the ‘sub-genre’. Suddenly Indie became Indie:classic, Indie:Scottish, Indie:US and ther were similar subdivisions of rock, punk and hip hop etc.

    The big advantage of this is that I could have quite narrow smart playlists, but also by using the ‘Genre includes’ logic, I could have broad cross-genre playlists like ‘classic’.

    But of course the crossovers between these genre subdivions became a bit of a problem (are the Jesus and Mary Chain Indie:classic or Indie:Scottish?) and in the end I didn’t really maintain it very well. So now I’m aiming to get everything consistent again, but I have no idea which direction to go – back to basic genres, or a more consistent approach to the genre subdivisions? I’m leaning towards the latter, but getting definitions consistent is tough.

    (I probably think about these things too much)

  5. anji bee says:

    i hate genres! they really suck, from an artist’s perspective. i mean, lovespirals makes all kinds of different songs in varying musical styles. yet, we always end up lumped into one category. unfortunately, many times this genre category is “gothic” because the band was signed to a label that had a lot of goth bands. i personally don’t think our music sounds gothic at all! then, after years of internet promotion, we gained a totally new following who considers us to be an electronica band. ok, we did make a quite a few electronica songs. i’ll give everyone that! but these days, we pretty much rely on guitar for our music, so electronica is not going to fit our next album at all… i’ve been embracing the chillout label for lovespirals simply because it seems to encompass many genres under one giant umbrella, with the only stipulation being the one you mentioned, “If it chills me out, it’s chillout music.” luckily, no matter what lovespirals do, we always seem to make music that chills a person out.

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