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Embracing music genres

Understanding the usefulness of music genres for discovery and communication.

Lately, I've seen so many rants about "why do you need to categorize music" and "genres don't matter". And to be honest, you don't need to, and they don't matter.

But they help. And I'll tell you why.

Have you ever heard a song that is simply amazing, unlike anything you've experienced before? It resonates with you, and you just have to keep listening to it on repeat. Wouldn't it be incredible to find more music that excites you in the same way? I know I'd appreciate it.

Here's where it gets tricky. People often see genres as a way to pigeonhole songs into separate bins. They try to assign each song to a specific genre, while in reality, it doesn't work that way. The way I see it, all songs take influences from various styles and tracks. Unless you're the creator of something entirely new that sets the benchmark for a wholly new genre, you most likely combined a few genres and created some fusion music that may or may not be original.

Genres should be treated as labels. Combine the labels, and you get a genre that might represent the style. Instead of saying,

"No, this isn't psytrance; this is twilight,"

you might say,

"Yeah, I think this psytrance has some strong night psy and full-on influences, so I guess this falls under twilight."

I personally find this useful when trying to describe music to other people. Especially in the creative business, being able to use your words to recreate an experience from another medium is crucial. You can't usually sell work just on its merits; you need to explain why it's exceptional. If you can't, you don't understand it well enough yourself.

The two biggest problems I see with genres are that they evolve and get misused. Genre names get misused partly because the definition of a genre might change over time, and people try to ride the mainstream bandwagon, misusing the genres on purpose.

Take Beatport's House category, for example. Half of the tunes in the top list aren't even close to house as a genre. Instead, they use it as a catch-all term for anything with a 4x4 beat. If I were to look for music that genuinely falls under the house category, like Jacking House, Disco House, or French House, I'd most likely find zero tracks. However, if I wanted big room EDM-influenced tracks or some future music with a 4x4 beat, that would be labeled as house.

This is just one example of misuse. The same happens for techno—a genre you've probably heard a billion times. But have you ever actually heard a real techno tune? No, DJ Mangoo's Eurodancer doesn't count. This misunderstanding is partially because people who look at genres from the outside don't know enough about the styles to assess them appropriately. It's similar to when your mom calls all game consoles Nintendos, right?

Another issue with categorization is how styles evolve. Deep house ten years ago meant something entirely different from what it means today. That's because people heard "house" (aka big room stuff) and, when they created more relaxed and melodic tracks with deeper basslines, labeled it as deep house. They used their previously false knowledge to create new false genres, which furthered the confusion.

It doesn't help that this mostly happens in more mainstream genres, causing the false names to gain momentum and the adoption of these genre names to become more popular. Thus, it never stops.

This doesn't mean that genres are inherently bad. We should use them as tags, and analyze the music we like, trying to pinpoint what separates and connects them. This helps us explore and discover new and exciting music, while making conversations about music and its various styles more descriptive and meaningful. Embracing genres as a tool for understanding and communication can open up a world of possibilities for music lovers everywhere.