Genres Aren't Real
by Mike DeFabio
I like to get really meticulous with how I tag the music on my computer. I use the sort artist field to sort solo artists by last name. I scan the cover art myself if what I get from a quick image search is too low-res. It’s really satisfying when I get everything tagged and sorted just the way I like it. But I never touch the genre tag.
I’ve tried to go through my collection and tag everything with the appropriate genre, and I never get very far. AC/DC? That’s pretty straightforward: they’re hard rock. But then I hit Acid Mothers Temple and I’m confronted by so many questions. I could tag them as “psychedelic” and I don’t think anyone would argue, but the Beatles were psychedelic too, and the two groups aren’t similar at all, which defeats the purpose a little. And what do you do about the Beatles, anyway? Do you get really specific and tag the early albums as “beat music,” the middle period as “psychedelic,” and the later albums as something else? And why are the names of genres so awful, anyway? What sort of person decides to call something “Intelligent dance music”? And all this has only served my long-standing hypothesis that genres aren’t real.
I mean, that’s not entirely true. They’re really useful as a shorthand way of describing what something sounds like. But if you venture too far beyond that, it gets slippery, and before you know it, you’re arguing with a group of strangers over what does and does not constitute yacht rock, when what I would much rather do is anything else at all.
I’ve had this idea for a long time that if I were ever to open a record store, there would be just one big section called “MUSIC” and that would be that. You might expect it to be harder to find things that way, with everything all mixed together, but I think it would be exactly the opposite. For example, I have never bought a Colin Stetson album in a store because I never know where his albums are supposed to be. (I suppose I could just ask someone, but why would I do a thing like that?) If everything were in one big section, you’d just look under “S” and be done with it. And you might find something really interesting nearby that you wouldn’t have even thought about if it were filed away in a corner over there.
Music is really just one big thing, anyway. There are certainly parts of it I don’t like very much, but that hardly ever has anything to do with what kind of music it is. Once you start thinking about it like that, you start finding all kinds of new things to like, and liking things is always a more enjoyable experience than not liking them.
And those are my deep thoughts about leaving the genre tags blank.