Erik McClure

Musical Genres


As a composer, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of musical criticism - some useful, most ridiculous. I have given out quite a bit of criticism myself, but after discovering that most people aren’t interested in brutally honest opinions, I have since avoided it. However, one thing that continues to come up over and over again is someone complaining about Genres.

“This is too fast to be trance.”

“This isn’t real Drum’n’Bass.”

Sometimes people will even slam entire swathes of subgenres, like Ishkur’s rant on Epic Trance (and by extension almost anything related to it), literally accusing it as betraying the entire idea of trance: “There must be a word to describe the pain one feels when witnessing (or hearing, rather) something once pure and brilliant completely sold down the river. Sometime in the mid-90s trance decided to drop the technique of slowly introducing complicated layers and building adequate tension over long stretches, replacing them with cutesy little insta-melodies … The average attention span, way too ritalin-freaked to pay attention to the slow, brooding trance in its original form, liked the anthemic singalong tone of the NEW McTrance, and that’s why all you trance crackers are reading this right now. Not because you grew a taste for this super awesome underground music … But because trance reformed its sound and delivery to suit [YOU].”

This is repeated for something like half the listed subgenres of trance, and in fact the entire trance genre in his “Guide” is just one giant extended rant about how Trance sucks now and it used to be awesome and now we’ve all ruined it forever.

This kind of stuck-up, bigoted, brain-melting stupidity has grated against my nerves for years, half because I just don’t like stupid stuck-up dipshits, but mostly because it is simply wrong.

Genres do not define music. Genres were invented so people could find music similar to songs that they liked. That’s all. There are no rules for any genre other than “it should sound kind of like other songs in said genre”, and even then it’s commonplace to have songs associated with multiple genres. Genres are a categorization system, and nothing else. Many people try and justify their opinions by saying that they’re criticizing the classification of the song instead of the song itself, and suggesting that it should be put in some kind of subgenre instead. When the inevitable subgenre usually fails to exist because the composer is being creative like their supposed to, they’ll suggest something asinine, like “put it in Miscellaneous, that’s what its there for.”

Really? Put this obviously heavily drum’n’bass influenced song in Miscellaneous with a bunch of off-the-wall experimental stuff instead of songs that, you know, actually sound like it, just because it doesn’t conform to a bunch of imaginary rules you pulled out of your ass to “qualify” the song for the genre? Well why don’t we just invent another subgenre? We’ve only got like a couple hundred of them now, 80% of which are basically the same damn thing. People try to defend their perceived sanctity of genres, but the problem is that its all bullshit. Let’s remind ourselves, why do genres exist?

Genres exist so people can find songs that sound similar to music they like. If you have a bajillion subgenres, no one’s going to be able to accurately classify every single song into its own little niche, and what’s more infuriating is that this misses the point completely. The vast majority of people do not have laser-guided musical tastes. They just listen to whatever the heck music they like. If they’re looking for a song, they don’t want to have to filter through hundreds of meaningless subgenres, because all they’re really looking for is something like, Trance, or maybe Melodic Trance, and that’s about as qualifying as you can get while still being useful. Consequently if your song is weird, you are better off picking the closest well-known genre of music that it sounds like and slapping it in there.

And yet, it still doesn’t stop. People start throwing on ridiculous prescriptive rules like, a trance song has to be mixable, and to be club friendly you have to have 1 minute of intro with no bass, or it has to be between 116-148 BPM, or you have to use these types of instruments, or you have to do X, or X, or X. Music is art, god damn it, what matters is what a song feels like. If it feels like trance even though its flying along at 166 BPM, and a lot of people who like trance also like that song, then it belongs in trance no matter how much you complain about it. Maybe stick it in “Energy Trance”, it kinda gets the idea across, but its still Trance, so who cares, and even then this point is usually moot, because these arguments always come up on websites with either a set list of genres, or one that operates on keywords. In the former case, you can’t qualify your genre with anything more than “trance” because the only thing they offer is “Trance” and “Techno”. In the latter case, you’ll have to tag it with Trance no matter what you do because otherwise no one will ever know your song exists.

Attacking a song because of its perceived genre is the dumbest, most useless criticism you can ever give, unless the artist explicitly states that they are trying for a very specific sound, and even then its rarely a genre and usually more of an abstract concept used across several subgenres, in which case you should be referring to the idea, not the genre. People need to understand that if I slap a “Trance” label on to my song, it doesn’t automatically mean I am trying to make whatever anglicized version of “Trance” they have deluded themselves into thinking encapsulates the entire genre (which is completely different from everyone else’s), it is simply there to help them find the damn song.


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