In the world of classification, there may be no subject more hotly debated by people not in the taxonomy world as music genres. As we recently read about video games, genre classification helps consumers find something they might like. Most forms of entertainment are relatively easy to classify, “action” or “role playing” for video games; “comedy” or “horror” for movies.
Music is treated quite differently. At its highest level, these classifications act much the same: “country,” “rock,” “metal,” or what have you. But unlike other forms of entertainment, those terms don’t actually describe a whole lot about that particular style. Music lovers look far more granularly into subgenres to better understand what to expect when they play that record for the first time.
Even then, there is little agreement as to where a particular piece of music might be classified; fans are especially quick to hop into a semantic debate on the subject. To that end, we asked standout musician and part of our programming team Allex Lyons to lay out some of these subgenres and lay out a few of their characteristics. One can easily see how certain characteristics can make up one of the genres, but looking at the list, it amazes me just how diverse other characteristics are under a single genre…no wonder there is such a debate.
Classic – heavy reliance on steel dobro guitar, violins, heavy twang in vocals, guitars seldom vary from clean sound
Pop – heavy use of violin, occasional steel guitar, slight twang, guitars use distortion to more emulate pop rock
Bluegrass – can use banjo and/or violin, often at a fast-paced tempo
Bro – drums emulate dance beat, some violin, heavy use of autotune in vocals
Pop – guitar distortion kept to minimum, can use synths, usually strives for catchy hooks and lyrics
Southern – guitar uses bluesy dirty sound, slight rasp in vocals, lyrics vary from melancholy to pridefulness
Punk – dirty guitars, simplistic chords and lyrics, songs usually short in length
Prog – can rely heavily on synths, long solos and long songs, cryptic lyrics
Grunge – dirty guitars with heavy distortion, often played in mixolyidan key signatures, wailing vocals, anti-establishment, sometimes cryptic lyrics
Glam – distorted guitars, lyrics usually highly sexual, fast solos, heavy emphasis on catchy riffs, clothing and hairstyles
Funk – Uses blues ryhthms and chords with clean guitars, sometimes wah, medium tempos with heavy bass, avoids triplet rhythms
Thrash – fast-paced, heavy distortion, screaming lyrics
Nu – screaming lyrics, reliance on drop-D tuning or 7-string guitars for muddier sound, tempo can vary
Classic – uses instrumentation/some sampling, PG-rated lyrics
Gangsta – minimal instrumentation, lyrics often cover harshness of urban life, heavy use of expletives
Crunk – minimal instrumentation, lyrics often sexual or materialistic
Disco – heavy use of strings and bass, medium tempos
Techno – heavy use of synths and electronic instrumentation, heavy use of autotune
Swing – heavy reliance on complete horn section, often played in triplet rhythm
East-Coast-Swing – uses most hallmarks of swing music but at more relaxed tempos
Cuban — heavy reliance on drums, highly syncopated rhythms, can use horn sections
Mexican — mostly fast-paced, guitar rhythms on downbeat, heavy use of horn sections, often accordion
Classic – slow tempos, guitar rhythms on downbeat, laid-back vocals
Dance Hall – medium tempos, lyrics sung fast
Ska – fast tempos, reliance on horn sections
While this list is highly interesting and informative, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the entirety of subgenres out there. Techno, for instance, has at least a dozen subgenres that have their own classification and it gets even more granular below that. There have even been algorithms written to attempt automatic genre classification (to varying degrees of success).
While it can be easy and even enjoyable to go down the rabbit hole with trying to get every piece of music classified just so and for definable reasons, there really isn’t a point. The second one were to accomplish this fool’s goal, somebody would release an album that defies that nifty classification. You may not have to start all over, but you’d never finish. Plus, you’d also have no time left to actually listen to the music you’ve so meticulously categorized. Where’s the fun in that?
Allexander Lyons, Programmer
Daryl Loomis, Business Development