What Is a Music Genre?

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Music genres refer to styles of music. Rock is a music genre, as is country, reggae, classical, jazz, and others. Genres are a key to unlocking lost avenues for music industry success, so resist the urge to shrug it off as a meaningless label. It really is an important part of communicating your music to the masses.

When talking about genre in the music industry, it is helpful to think in terms of top-level genres and subgenres. 

Various Levels of Genres in Music

Rock, for example, is a very broad term that encompasses many different types of music, some of which are actually pretty divergent from one another.

Telling someone that a band is a rock band is not as helpful in describing the sound as saying the band is a punk band. The description of punk is more useful in telling someone what an artist sounds like.

Punk, indie, shoegaze, AOR, metal, and many, many, more all fall under the top-level genre of rock, but each stands as an individual subgenre. Such subgenres usually are more useful in terms of describing music to other people.

Why Their Use Is Important

To work in the music industry, understanding genres is important for a number of different reasons:

  • For Descriptive Purposes: The ability to be as descriptive as possible about someone's music is a great tool for a number of different musical careers. Whether you're a manager trying to convince someone to listen to your artists' music, a PR person trying to sell a magazine on a review, a radio plugger trying to land some plays for an artist or a booking agent trying to get a band a show, being able to give some musical points of reference in the form of a genre description is critical.
  • Understanding the Audience: Understanding genre is also key to understanding audiences. Subgenres tend to have a culture all their own. Fans of a particular subgenre of music may tend to flock to the same kinds of venues and same kinds of shops, listen to the same radio stations, watch the same movies, and use the same websites. This kind of information is invaluable when it comes to promoting and marketing music and putting together live shows. If you're in or representing a punk band, you can increase your chances of success by understanding where punk fans go for their music in any given area. It helps you reach the right listeners every time, increasing your chances of success. Understanding the identity of a subgenre even can help direct the design of your cover art and merchandise or dictate whether you need those things at all.
  • Affects Decision Making: Identifying genre also helps musicians and their representatives choose the right labels to approach with their music or if they need a label at all. While music in the pop genre benefits from having a major label behind it, indie rock can thrive on an indie imprint and can be self-released much easier than a record by an unknown pop artist.