Figuring Out Genres

Until last week, I was a member of NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International), an international organization for songwriters both budding and professional. Within the organization are local chapters across the world who meet every week and share songs. I was a member so I could go to the monthly meetings and share my songs with the folks in the chapter.

When you’re an NSAI member you can upload your songs to be critiqued by professional songwriters. It was a feature I thought of taking advantage of, until I went to submit a song.

In the drop-down menu for the genre of the song you’re submitting, I had, if I remember correctly, the following genres to choose from:

Country

Pop

R&B

Christian

Inspirational

Rock

Other

I shouldn’t have expected “electronic” to be one of the choices (we’re talking about an organization based in Nashville, after all), but still, I found those genres given to be very limiting. None of those genres were my song at ALL.

Only “other,” which could mean anything. Burundi beat. Ambient pop. Americana. Experimental. I could go on all day naming genres and subgenres.

Like I wrote in my previous post, when it comes to songwriting, I don’t think about genres. I have always written for myself, so the melodies I come up with are the ones I know work for my voice rather than little Suzie listening to the radio wanting to sing with her favorite artist. And I’ve always been drawn to electronic music, specifically synth pop, but only in recent years have I combined it with my piano skills.

That I can do the piano girl thing AND produce electronic music that combines my voice and piano is a combination that makes my music hard to describe to others. I say “electronic” and people seem to think either EDM or techno, neither of which I do at all. Even my mom described my music as that “techno stuff.” What I do is not necessarily electronic music to make you dance like this and it’s definitely not techno (see the opening sequences of Blade for a good example of techno). (warning: there is blood in that scene, just listen to the song!)

The music I create is more complicated than that.

One thing’s for sure: I don’t just press a button and have a song within five seconds. There’s actual song craft that goes into writing my songs. Chord progressions, melodies, etc, I think about it all the time. But other songwriters I’ve encountered don’t see that. I’ll never forget another songwriter who almost turned me off of even joining NSAI because of how close-minded she was. She was there to promote a local music artist festival and I asked her about whether someone like me who does electronic music could be allowed to take part.

She responded with a big no and explained that the festival organizers couldn’t allow any electronic music because, in her opinion, it didn’t take any talent to do it and the festival was about song craft and artists with actual talent. I tried telling her that doing electronic music does involve song craft and talent and in some ways, I work harder than others to create what I do, but she didn’t see it that way.

“A person up there playing guitar and someone else doing electronic loops is not the same thing. It doesn’t take the same talent.”

Actually I think it’s even harder. Sure anyone can make loops happen but making them flow within a song and having them fit with what you’re doing AND, for me at least, singing and playing piano at the same time, takes a LOT of work. I will practice a song on the Launchpad and piano before I play it for others. I need to make sure it flows. I have an orchestra at my fingertips AND I’m singing live too. It’s work.

I almost walked out of the meeting right there. But I stuck around for the meeting just to be nice. However, I didn’t come back for almost a year and a half. I really didn’t want to be around people who would disparage other forms of music without knowing anything about it. The first meeting I attended as a member, I was afraid I’d see her there, but I guess she was just there for that one meeting to promote that festival. She wasn’t at any of the meetings I attended as a member. All the better.

While I haven’t encountered the vitriol that others have had when it comes to what I do, it did make me nod in agreement when I watched a recent BBC documentary on British synth pop. I loved what Andy McCluskey from Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark said here. (listen until 1:11)

I do have to think about what exactly my genre is though. Sure it’s under the umbrella of “electronic” music, but within that genre, there are SO MANY subgenres that it’s enough to make your head spin.

I think I’ve figured it out though.

Dream pop.

Wikipedia defines it as “a subgenre of alternative rock and neo-psychedelia that developed in the 1980s. The style is typified by a preoccupation with sonic texture and atmosphere as much as melody. It often overlaps with the related genre of shoegazing, and the two genre terms have at times been used interchangeably.

The AllMusic Guide to Electronica (2003) defined dream pop as ‘an atmospheric subgenre of alternative rock that relies on sonic textures as much as melody.’ Common characteristics are breathy vocals, the use of guitar effects, and a densely produced sound. The music tends to focus on textures and moods rather than propulsive rock riffs. Lyrics are often introspective or existential in nature.”

Sounds like me!

Add in a dash of French pop and some experimental and piano and there you go, that’s me!

Still no one clear-cut genre, but I think that dream pop encompasses the idea of what I do.

And that’s enough for me! 🙂