Monday, April 11, 2011

On Musical Genres...

Well, I suppose I should say something here about music since it was my major in college and grad school and I guess I've put some thought into it...

I don't like many of the labels people assign to music. Mostly they're more limiting than helpful and what's worse is our tendency to use categories like "genres" as a way to reinforce arbitrary differences in us. Race is a big one. Really, there's not much difference between "rock" and "soul" other than the fact that "rock" = "white" and "soul" = "black" in most people's minds. Same thing with "blues" and "country." Today, blues and country sound pretty different, but in the 50s & 60s, there wasn't much difference at all.

I think genre labels also limit what people can do with music. Musicians are pressured to write songs that fit into certain structures like making sure there are "verses" and a clear "melody" and simple, danceable rhythms. Genres are also expected to adhere to many other conventions, like a band's overall "sound quality" (ex: distorted, bass-heavy, twangy, subdued, over-produced, under-produced, heavily synthesized, etc.)

In this country there's a lot of pressure for songs to have both vocals and lyrics. Frankly, I don't think there are enough competent vocalists to cover this! In fact, a song's "melody" doesn't always have to be the most interesting thing about it. Rhythm can be interesting too! Syncopation is great! So are really complex rhythms like duples-against-triples, and all kinds of variations. Really, "sound quality" and "energy factor" are probably two things that I consider more interesting than what the singer is doing.

There's also pressure to assign a genre to yourself in order to get gigs and do successful marketing. Even if you just want to play gigs at bars and upload some of your tunes on itunes, most of the time you have to choose a "genre" from a drop-down menu and have that define what you do.

This whole set-up doesn't allow for much creativity or originality. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of musicians who ARE actively pushing the limits,* and I think their stuff is pretty sweet. I just think more of it would be better.

*Prince, Rage Against the Machine, P-Funk, That1Guy, Sufjan Stevens, Primus, Tree Thump, Balkan Beat Box, White Stripes, Hazmat Modine, and many more!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

word weirdness...

Have you ever typed or written a word so many times that it starts to look really strange and not like that word at all anymore? This happened to me today with a really common word, "like." Go me!