WTF IS A GENRE?

What year is it? Are people really still separating sh*t into boxes? What even are genres these days?

Ok, I get that it makes the ‘system’ easier, and it works for the business part of music. Record companies use these designations to file artists into neat and easily trackable boundaries. Then marketing, promotions, radio and press outlets use these boundaries to file artists into safely targeted consumer parameters.

As a result, the consumer becomes very passive, and puts little to no thought into what’s good, or what they enjoy, or why. And this works for the system, as long as we keep consuming. Plus, they get to use these same targets, boundaries and music to sell us more sh*t that we don’t need – but that’s a different article.

I’ve always thought that as consumers, we are just better than that.

Nobody is all one way. Once we’re exposed to something new, we can like different things, and we should be able to make that decision for ourselves. And it’s a great feeling to try something unfamiliar, and find that we love this ‘new thing.’ That’s the beauty of discovery, and the music that we’ve picked for ourselves has a lasting effect, because it’s personal.

Why limit yourself to boundaries that someone else has set for you?

“Music is art, and art is subjective”

Hip-hop is always my favorite ‘go-to’ genre, but it wasn’t the first music I was introduced to. My parents played a lot of soul and jazz music when I was a baby, and as I got a little older, started adding R&B and rap into the mix – there was always music in our house. We even had lip syncing challenges, and the dance-offs were TOO real.

It wasn’t until much later that I got into alternative and indie rock – and a few years after that, I found house music and other experimental electronic genres, like footwork and bmore club. And trap is as much a rip from rap music as rock & roll was from blues, so there’s that. But I’ve always had a strong connection to hip-hop, because it’s the only genre that continues to incorporate ALL other genres.

There’s countless examples, from A$AP Rocky sampling Moby for his latest single, and Wiz Khalifa sampling Alice Deejay for one of his biggest hits – and of course Drake, who samples every genre from Nola Bounce and Dancehall, to Afrobeat and Jersey Club.

I love the fluidity. I love that I’m being inspired by different styles of music on a subconscious level, without even knowing what the style is or where it originated. It just feels good as sh*t.

This is what drives me. I always want to give the listener something that has a balance of ‘a little familiar,’ and ‘a little unfamiliar,’ but always something that makes you feel. Good art should make you feel something.

“Ultimately, the goal is to find your own sound”

Music is art, and art is subjective.

From the artist’s perspective, it’s easier to allow inspiration and creativity to flow freely – to see where it takes you musically. I’d even say it’s more natural to follow true inspiration down a rabbit hole, instead of trying to follow standards and rules that dictate a predetermined outcome.

It’s like the head vs. the heart. Thinking vs. feeling.

That being said, both are extremely important to the outcome of the final product. Skill, knowledge, technique and direction all come into practice when it’s time to actually finish a song. BUT, you should be free enough creatively to have come up with something interesting in the first place.

Ultimately, the goal is always to find your own unique sound. Have some artistic integrity. Get away from making sound-alike tunes. Otherwise you’re just helping dilute the music you’re into, and as an artist you’re forgettable.

When I’m listening to music, I have a thing where I’ll get bored, or uninterested if I know where a track is going. This happens in my production process too. So for me, a unique sound grew from experimenting with multiple genres. If I know a song is following some set of obvious rules, I lose interest quickly. Like “oh it’s gonna build right here,” and “here comes that drop that always happens in this type of track,” or “yeah, this is where the airy female pop vocal goes.” Nah. I’ve heard this before. Like a lot.

It’d be like knowing the end of every movie, at the beginning of every movie. No thanks. And every genre is guilty of it, from hip-hop to country. And I guess you could say, that’s where a genre starts to define itself, or set its own boundaries. But, I think that’s the point where I get bored with the “limitations” of a genre. I think styles should be defined by the artists that cultivate them. Like, “this song feels like Thom Yorke meets Bonobo,” or “this artist is a combination of Kid Cudi and ODESZA.”

And, I think the newer generation of creators and consumers feel the same way. I see more overlapping influences in music, now more than ever, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a huge relief for me, I’ve been waiting for us to reach this point for a long time.

Mainly, because this is my normal creative process – pulling from different (sometimes opposite) influences, and producing a new interesting vibe that even I couldn’t expect. But, also because my favorite music is something that I can listen to over, and over, and not lose interest. Something that feels unique to itself, even within a given musical style.

Like a BBC murder-mystery TV series, that’s written so well that you’ll never know what to expect – but the feeling of each reveal is so significant, and worthy of each unique build up. Something where you can feel the changes happening, as if you’re being carried somewhere vs. mentally knowing what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and how it’s going to happen.

“The future of music is genre fluidity”

I don’t make disposable music. Which is unfortunate, because I could probably be rich and famous already. But I like some disposable music, and I understand the experience of it – I’m just not built that way. I put a lot (probably too much) thought and emotion, into my stuff. And there’s a threshold, where the listener can’t tell how much work went into making something (and of course, most don’t care either way), so the important thing is “how it feels.”

When someone’s listening to your music, they’re not thinking about how many jungle sounds and 808 subs you stacked to make your kick. No, at the most they’re thinking “f*ck, I feel like I’m being punched in the chest every time this kick hits, and I love it.” DJing is the same way. The average person could care less about your turntablism, or that you’re juggling tracks on four decks. No, they only care how it felt when you played a song they love, but added a new unexpected vibe to it, and then that progressed into something totally unfamiliar, that they now love as well.

That feeling is priceless. I’ll put in the extra work for that.

The one major caveat to having a unique sound, is that it’s harder to gain traction and popularity. Nothing really to do with the listeners, but more-so the writers, tastemakers, promoters, etc.

Gatekeepers are less willing to take a risk in supporting you, if they can’t guarantee some kind of return on investment.

Which brings us full-circle to those boundaries we talked about. Gatekeepers go with what’s already working, that’s the nature of the business. So if you choose to be unique and stand out, understand that it may take you longer to blow up; in my opinion it’ll feel way more rewarding. I started Infinity Pool Recordings as a result of this.

After sending so many demos, asking for help and hearing so many “no’s,” I decided I could push releases better myself (and with the help of a few friends). There are so many dope artists out there that don’t easily fit into one box – nor should they. I’m taking everything I’ve learned over the years, and using it to help other unique artists get their music out, and build a listener base of true day one’s that couldn’t give a f*ck about a genre. The future of music is a genre fluidity. Let’s get it.

Share this article with #conradclifton

Header Photo Credit: Ross Figlerski

Conrad Clifton

If you enjoyed this article, add your email to receive more like it!

Close