Genres are great to help find your footing in the world of music, and can also be excellent tools to find the right way to promote your music online. However, with so many genres, sub-genres, and micro-genres out there, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of hyper-specific terminology. According to the Music Genre List, there exists 41 primary genres of music and within those primary categories, 337 sub categories of music, and if you’re releasing music, you may have some unanswered questions, like: 

Are genres all that important? 

How many listeners does my specific genre have? 

How do I determine my genre?

Should I tap into new genres from a promotional perspective?

The importance of genres in 2023

Let’s start with our platform, SongTools. If you’ve run a playlisting or ad campaign through our platform, you’ll notice our genres are intentionally very broad. One of the main reasons we do this is because we rely on genre, as well as other metrics to get your music in front of the right ears. We use 26 large primary genres to tag your song as the base, and then use additional data points like Playlistability, previous playlister interactions, and even reviews, to paint a more accurate picture of what a song actually sounds like. By using more granular metrics, our system is able to more accurately predict if a specific playlister or music fan will like a song or not, instead of relying on a simple sub-genre tag.

We believe the industry can use more of this as a whole, especially in today’s music landscape with millions of songs being released every year, a more accurate tagging system leads to better curation, and as a result, a more streamlined music consumption ecosystem. In short: Genres are important as a foundational categorizing tool, but we can use other metrics like BPM, Key, and even Echonest/Spotify categorization tags to paint a more detailed picture. 

How many listeners does your specific genre have?

Understanding the number of listeners in each genre will give you a sense of the size of the market. It is important to know, for instance, that Hip-Hop has surpassed Rock as the most popular genre in the U.S., and that, along with Rock, Christian Gospel has been decreasing in popularity for the past few years. 

Below is a snapshot of the most popular genres in the U.S. as of 2021.  

Source: MRC Data Reports 2021-2020

It is also important to know how listening of each genre happens across each streaming platform. For instance, based on the chart below, we see that for Pandora, Country Music has a disproportionate share of streams (35%). So, if I were a Country Music artist, I may want to create targeted promotional campaigns for Pandora listeners. The same applies for R&B & Hip-Hop– Apple Music has the highest proportion of Hip-Hop streams, so it might be worth considering Apple Music-specific promos. 

Source: Coleman Insights

How to determine your song’s genre

While genre determination was traditionally based on the blend of instrumentation, rhythm, and thematic elements of a song, in the digital age, it's become a combination of both intuitive and data-driven approaches. For newcomers, analyzing popular tracks in the genre they think they might belong to can be a starting point. For instance, if you believe your music has a hint of indie rock, listening to top tracks on platforms like Spotify or Apple Music can offer comparative insights. These platforms also provide analytics that show which other songs and genres your listeners frequently tune into.

Another more analytical approach is utilizing tools like Cyanite or Echonest (now part of Spotify) which breaks down songs based on numerous attributes. These services analyze tracks to provide information about their BPM, key, and other musicological aspects. Such tools can assist in classifying your music in a genre more accurately.

Additionally, consider crowdsourcing opinions. Sharing your tracks with trusted peers, mentors, or even on music forums can provide diverse perspectives. Often, listeners might draw parallels between your sound and some other established genre or artist that you hadn't considered.

Why you should you tap into New Genres from a Promotional Perspective

Every genre has its unique audience, but we also know that listeners are not 100% loyal to one tiny subgenre– there is such a thing as ‘Genre Fluidity’! By understanding how listeners of your sub-genre consume other music, you can adapt your promotions to capture them in other instances and events. For example, a study by the Music Business Association found that 34% of rock fans also listened to country music. Have you thought about promoting your rock album to Country Music listeners? Perhaps it has a lower acquisition cost than the crowded rock promotion space? Have you considered introducing subtle country elements into your rock song, to appeal to both these audiences, thereby amplifying its reach? 

Taylor Swift is the master of genre fluidity. How does she bounce between seemingly different styles (Pop, Country, Folk, Rock, Alternative, etc.) so seamlessly? Her tracks vary in style, instrumentation, lyrics, and her own dressing style shifts as she matures. By doing so she manages to capture all of these audiences. 

Streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music also use algorithms to recommend songs. By diversifying into multiple genres, your music could appear in varied genre-based official playlists, leading to more organic listens, and even appeal to a wider range of independent playlisters.

As music consumption habits change, versatility in your songwriting and production can be a significant asset – it will allow you to stay relevant. One of the best classic examples of this is the unlikely crossover of Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C.

Aerosmith and Run-DMC at Magic Venture Studios in New York on March 9, 1986. (Lloyd Nelson/From the Bill Adler archive at the Cornell Hip Hop Collection)

One of the most iconic instances of genre-blending leading to massive success is the collaboration between rock band Aerosmith and hip-hop group Run-D.M.C. with their rendition of "Walk This Way." Originally a hit for Aerosmith in the 70s, the track was reborn in the mid-80s with a hip-hop twist. This fusion not only reintroduced Aerosmith to a new generation but also broke hip-hop into mainstream music charts and MTV. Both rock and hip-hop fans embraced the song, proving that genre-blending, when done authentically, can bridge diverse listener bases. While the industry has changed significantly since then, it’s cemented in history as one of the best examples of genre blending.

Tips on how to tap into new genres as a music creator

Research, research, research; Start by delving deep into the history and top artists of the genre. Platforms like YouTube have documentaries that can offer rich insights. Subreddits are also an interesting place to gain insights on specific subgenres by the fans themselves.

Collaborate: Work with artists or producers who have experience in that genre. You can network on places like Instagram, LinkedIn, and even use specific apps like Vampr or SoundBetter that can help you find new potential collaborators. 

Start at the source: Software like Ableton Live, Logic, or FL Studio come with genre-specific sound packs. These can help you get the authentic sounds you need. Start with these pre-sets and edit the sounds so you can create your own unique sound.

Attend Live Shows: Experience the genre in its most authentic form by attending live performances. It provides insights into the elements that resonate with audiences.

Seek Feedback: Before releasing, share your new genre-influenced tracks with trusted friends or on platforms like SoundCloud. Feedback can help fine-tune your approach.

Stay Authentic: While it’s tempting to tap into the trending genres, ensure your exploration feels genuine. Audiences can sense inauthenticity, and the music landscape is replete with examples where forced genre crossovers didn't resonate well.


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