The Death of the Music Genre (mostly…)

In a streaming world, statistics show that very, very few people search music asking for a genre with: “Alexa, play me some rock music…”. Instead, playlists and searches are built around moods (happy, sad, gloomy, relaxed, joyful, etc.), activities (exercise, driving, sleeping, dancing, etc.), artists or events. Said simply, the creation of these playlists is completely subjective on what qualifies as “sad” versus “tearful” versus “emotional”. No one is arguing about jazz versus pop or rock versus “alternative.” The song is king. The memories and associations we have with our music are paramount. As these songs drift by, we respond viscerally to the music and what we think we hear versus being stuck in a “I don’t listen to country” conversation.

A new hot topic is something called: “contextualized playlisting.” Context awareness provides opportunities for an enhanced user experience, interaction and customization of your playlists automatically. This process can be applied to the generation of music playlists on mobile phones or on your home computer. Using a form of Artificial Intelligence, the contextual playlist (CX) creates the type of music which a person might wish to listen to influenced by factors such as: song choices of the past, holidays versus non-holiday, the time of day, the ambient temperature (inside or out) and other weather factors (rain, wind, snow, etc.), amount of ambient or background noise, the current amount of physical activity a person is doing (heart rate monitor), and their emotive state, to name but a few.

What is even more interesting, is that polls and user data report that music users under the age of 34 (millennials and “Generation Z”) aren’t thinking about styles or genres. According to the RIAA, 85% of them listen to music everday via playlists. Psychology Today reports that this group is thinking about the song (or artist) that is trending and narratives in the lyrics that appeal to them when they listen to music and not genres. Therefore, they don’t create playlists based on traditional genres. In fact, much new music is operating outside of those tired old definitions anyway. For example, Kendrick Lamar is called “rap” or “hip hop”… but his music could just as easily be categorized as “jazz”, “avant-garde” or “experimental”. Question: has our musical expression has outpaced our ability to describe it in words? I hope so…

So, can we declare that: the music genre is DEAD? Well, mostly dead…

Let’s come back to context. We don’t know ourselves well enough to know what we want to hear all the time. Music is an important influence on changing or adapting our emotions to a current or about-to-happen activity. Imagine the performer or athlete who wants to get “psyched-up” before the game or concert. They put on music that will help release adrenaline and get their mental focus “sharp”. In reality, all they are doing is asking music to help filter out all of the psychological “noise” in their head that will help them focus on their coming ‘moment’. A contextual playlist can do the same thing… “Siri, play me some really romantic music” might be requested before someone goes out on their BIG date.

The question is: HOW will this music now be selected?

This is a conversation that record company executives, technologists, sociologists, pschologists and behavior specialists have been debating for YEARS. Is it previous choices by the user? Long-tail keywords? Song titles? Playlists wih the word “romantic” in it or as a description? What is clear is that genre is a rapidly shrinking part of this conversation especially since so many younger people are growing-up in an almost radio FREE world and they don’t care about the genre labels that their parents or grandparents adhere to.

To them, genre is boring.

It appears that the concept of musical genre is only important to “older folks”, radio programmers and the Recording Academy (the people who run The Grammys®). I am hopeful that the traditional definitions of music fall away and we create new ways of acknowledging the work done by musicians and to give us the ability to express what we hear with the need to describe its style or musical origin. Genre can be a conversation reserved for musicologists and old fashioned music retailers. They say that music has been ahead of society in terms of its ability to create a vision of the future. Maybe with us no longer constricted by antique terminology, sound, texture and musical combinations never before tried will flourish everywhere on our daily contextual playlists...

Emmy® Award-winning composer, record company executive, copyright expert, dad, dog owner and CrossFit newbie