Genres: Necessary or Too Divisive?

It seems that we have a myriad of genres that demand audiences’ attention, and while it is good that we celebrate a host of different musics, I have reservations about this multiplicity of genres.  At times it feels like the borders separating these genres of pop, classical, jazz, world, etc. and all of their sub-genres (eg. metal, minimalism, free jazz, religious, etc.) are more like iron curtains.  These curtains divide audiences, and disperse the wealth of music-lovers everywhere into audiences too small to sustain certain genres (look at the dying Chicago blues).

I can be divisive with my views: I openly admit that I can’t stand country music, certain club/dance music, and 21st century rap.  But I at least try to understand the music a little better, after all, a country singer’s relation to their rural upbringing isn’t that different from Xenakis’s sound mass ideas coming from fighting in war and Grecian turmoil.  And I admit that my favorite metal bands get melodramatic and glamorous like a rapper’s pomp and bling.

But, life is too short and inconsequential in the grand scheme to argue about things like this.  I probably will never buy a country song on iTunes, but that shouldn’t stop me from making sure I’m not making too biased of a statement when I criticize it.  Music should be a universal experience, open and enjoyable to all, and we should respect that.

So, are genres necessary or divisive?

I believe that genres are a good tool to refine a search for similar musics, but labeling music under one genre can cause divisions that are really unnecessary and harmful.  They’re a functionally necessary asset, but their nomenclature causes rifts that don’t serve any good purpose.

Examples?  Here are some:

The jazz world is a world of its own, with its own history, language, and aesthetic.  Some people claim that they just “don’t have an ear for jazz”, but that stopping point can be harmful.  If one isn’t aware of jazz, one will be hard pressed to find the  roots of minimalism and fully understand its beginnings.

And speaking of minimalism, one of the hallmarks of minimalism that has made it a more universal music is that it breaks down barriers–between classical and jazz, east coast and west coast, notated and improvised (see Robert Carl’s book Terry Riley’s In C for a great look into this).

In another example, classical music has recently found a fusion with popular music through the likes of underground indie bands and (on a larger scale) the artist Bjork.  (Spotify is a great place to find these artists.)  This has helped to broaden classical music’s reach and audience pool, and this collaboration of genres is an encouraging growth of energy that I find promising.

And rock-n-roll is dying, giving way to a more commercialized, studio-driven (as example of this look at autotune’s proliferation) music built for dance clubs.  Making rock-n-roll popular again might require a more inclusive approach–most of the rock on today’s radio sounds more like Nickelback to me and is less varied and innovative than the rock I grew up with.

I think genre-bending is one of the best things that can happen in 2012’s music scene.  We’re divided enough as a people, a country, a world, and it’s time to accept the universality that we call music as it truly is–something universal.  Genres are great for iTunes, but they’re not a good thing for the music.  While genres are in no way the only killer of music, they are a tool that has been used wrong.  It’s time to fix this situation with open minds.

Got a different opinion?  Please share it–I don’t want to have more than my fair share of the time talking!

Thanks for reading,


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