Graham Music Blog

Welcome to my new blog, where I look into the world of arts and entertainment

Genres in Music

An old friend of mine once said there are only two types of music , Good & Bad, but try and enter event details on the Skiddle Listings site and they will give you seventy genres to chose from, some I have never heard of and some just don’t make any sense. ‘Acoustic’ is listed as a genre but surely this just means performing with an acoustic instrument rather than a style of music, I have organised many ‘Acoustic’ events this year ranging from Classical Guitar Recitals to a Ukulele duo performing Heavy Metal numbers, so if the point of putting music in a Pigeon Hole is to entice potential listeners then this really doesn’t work.

I am a firm believer that music is a living breathing thing, it evolves and develops with each generation and that to me is what makes it exciting, if you ask most musicians who perform their own material to describe their music they will generally be loathed to do so, eventually stating they believe they are different to everything else that is out there, but when it comes to promoting relatively new acts then there is a need to categorise with the aim of getting an audience, so I can understand genres are necessary.  The problem is although music keeps evolving and blending many of the formats that promotes it stay the same, the internet is full of Rock, Folk, Jazz, Country  Radio Stations, Magazines and Blogs and they all have their own made up rules as to what defines their specific genre, but as music grows thanks to technology, the world also gets smaller. When World Music was first defined it was generally excepted that this meant all music outside of this country, but now there are World Music Festivals and Radio Stations across the globe many of which book and play music from the UK, so surely in this day and age World Music just means .... music?

One of the issues with genres is that everybody has their own idea as to what it is, many Folk Clubs and some Folk radio shows for example state that they only book or play Traditional Music but you could argue that as there are very few field recordings of those songs when they were written it is difficult to say what they are supposed to be like, in fact most people’s idea of Traditional Folk Music is what the Revivalists from the 1960’s thought Traditional music should sound like. One of the acts that I have the deep honour of working with are The Salts who as well as writing original songs perform Traditional Sea Shanties often in a Rocky energetic style, in some circles they are frowned at simply because they have a drum kit, which is definitely a no no in certain Folk Clubs at the same time there  are DJ’s and journalists stating that these songs would have been sung by Seafaring Testosterone filled Sailors who would have sung with the same energy and vigour as The Salts , proving that every individual have their own take on what a genre is.

It is not just individuals that decide what a specific genre is, there are also cultural differences in meaning, I recently had a long debate with an American artist over what constitutes Folk Music and she was shocked to hear that I didn’t think the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Carol King and Neil Young would be described as Folk over here, but in the USA they are such a big part of their Folk heritage, eventually she said would Mumford & Sons be called a Folk act in the UK, after a long pause I had to say no although objectively listening to their first album you would have to say yes, but I don’t know anyone who would describe them as a Folk act and even the band themselves would rather associate themselves with the likes of Reading Rock Festival over some of the more established Folk Festivals.

I first got into working with bands as a roadie for Sledgehammer who were initially described as a Blues/ Rock band when they started  but they coincided with the arrival of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the UK and very quickly they evolved in being a Metal  band as it helped them get bookings which led onto to us supporting the likes of Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Saxon, April Wine  etc although at their core they were still a Blues/ Rock band, but it is a good example of how aligning yourself with a genre can be helpful . But there are many examples where genres hold music back.

One act I worked with described their music as Country, Folk & Blues so I Googled Music websites and found one called Country, Folk, Blues, so I sent them a CD and few days later the person who ran the site contacted me saying they loved the album and couldn’t stop playing it, although he couldn’t review it on his site as we were Country, Folk & Blues and he was Country, Folk or Blues, I had to read his email several times and still couldn’t understand fully what he meant. The point is this was his rules and his guidelines which prevented him from reviewing music he liked.

Overall most people I come across are enthusiastic supporters of new music and encourage the development of genres and actively work to promote it but there are times when it can hold things back and times when the genre needs to evolve with the music.

Graham Steel