My thoughts and out loud thoughts on composition, performance, and many things musical.

Genre-Labeling + a rant.

By calling yourself a genre-specific musician, are you limiting yourself as a musician? 

By describing music with a genre-label, are you setting the music up to be assumed by listeners?

Perhaps the better question is, “Is there a need for genre-distinction?” Perhaps it’s best left at “good music is good music, and bad music is bad music.”  I’ll try and address both of these. (And then per the title, a small rant.)

For musicians, what does it mean to call one’s self a “classical” musician? A “jazz” musician? Or any other “genre”-musician for that matter? Is that the same as one saying they specialize in a certain genre or area?  And are either one of those limiting to one’s musicianship?

Is using a genre to define music helpful? Here is one interaction I had:

  • While meeting a new musician, a fellow trumpet player, I asked him if he was more of a classical player or a jazz player? He replied, “I just play trumpet.”  He went onto say that he liked playing all styles: classical, jazz, rock, funk, “whatever pays.”

When I posed the question, “Does labeling yourself as a genre-specific musician limit yourself musically?” here are a few responses I got.

  • I say yes. Play and write what feels good. Don’t limit yourself to one genre.
  • Can “Music That Doesn’t Suck” be a genre? 🙂 I wouldn’t limit yourself and if I were there with you I’d give you a ton of reasons why, just from my own experiences….
  • People demand labels. Without them we don’t know how to talk, we have no frame of reference. That said, I’ve decided to make every effort not to be the one who labels what I do musically, but listen closely to the specific comments of others….Or string together some meaningless avalanche of pop culture references…

I have come across two schools of thought, in response to that question. One school says that it does limit the musician. The person, by using an identifier for themselves, limits their overall musical creativity.  The other school says that the musician just announces him or herself as a specialist in that area, and does not necessarily represent that they are or are not competent or experienced in other genres.

In my world this is a constant conversation that is being had, especially when using genre labels in general, like in labeling new bands’ music, or a new group describing their sound. I am starting to believe it is a situational instance.

Here is an attempt to describe albums’ genre-blending. For me, it comes off as still ambiguous, though the intent is well-formed, but also pedantic.

Here is a very nice, articulate take on the usages of genre terms.

I have met some musicians who will say that they are just “a musician.” From there, they can extrapolate what it is they are good at or take interest in. I have also met musicians who say the same thing and are not necessarily competent in that area or don’t really consider him or herself to be a musician. Instead, they just enjoy using the title.

Conversely, I have met musicians who say that they are, for example, a “classical bassist.” They are completely foreign to other genres and struggle to perform within those guidelines. Just as well, I’m sure if Phil Smith, the principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic, said that he was a classical trumpeter that wouldn’t necessarily mean he cannot handle other genres (because he’s already playing at such a caliber of musicianship). Although, I do not believe he would say that he is “genre-specific musician.”

Here is an opinion on why genre-hopping, in literature, is bad. This would align with the opinion that one should just say that they are “a musician” first, before clarifying any further.

Is this a trite and pointless argument to have? I don’t believe so. It raises the question of how and when we use genres, and when they are useful or not. Perhaps it is only the small ramblings of someone who participates primarily in music. Perhaps the question is just a precursor to a bigger question of how we utilize our lexicon and how and when we are correct or not.

I think my end result is that I will always prefer to give any style of music or musician the respect it (most likely) deserves and describe it in thorough detail, instead of simply giving it an identifying term. I do, however, see the importance in the usage of those terms to provide a vague, if any, picture of what material is being discussed.



Miley Cyrus has a music video for her song “Wrecking Ball.” I suppose one could say that the song is good. Despite this music being stuff that does not interest my ears, I can and do recognize lyrically it sounds honest. For me, lyrical honesty equals satisfactory writing. Keep in mind these are all strictly my opinions. The music can be catchy, though. The chord changes are familiar to listeners’ ears—it’s easy to take in.

However, I cannot even for a second agree that the music video is good. The video is nothing more than the stereotype of a sleezy car salesman, playing to what “sells.” It is the “hipster” (the word purposely being used with its richest stereotype) that sees “greatness” in paint splattered on the wall.

Sure it’s paint on a canvas, and by the technical definition is “art,” but that doesn’t make it good–but again, I’m arguing opinions. The video, for me, is Miley Cyrus having thrown paint on the wall and then said, “See? I’m an artist too!”

I just think that the video is awful, and if it was meant to be art or expressive next to the song, it was derived from an un-matured set of emotions.

Rant complete.


One response

  1. i tend to use the two most generic terms i can think of to describe my music (singer/songwriter or americana) not to imply that i am more tend less proficient in any one genre or style, but in hopes that by being vague…the person to whom i’m speaking has no choice but to listen and draw their own conclusions.
    singer/songwriter isn’t exactly a genre anyway, but it does accurately (no matter how vaguely) describe my music. i’m more worried about telling and performing a story in the most accurate way possible than i am with sticking to a particular style.
    americana kind of encompasses all of the genres or styles in which i tend most often to dabble. it wouldn’t be out of line to label an artist “americana” who has a blues tinge, or a folk feel or a bluegrass edge or, most recently, even a strong pop sensibility.
    i guess my point is that using a genre doesn’t have to limit you creatively…because you can do whatever the fuck you want. but it might limit the chance a prospective listener might give you.

    September 20, 2013 at 12:21 pm

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