Thoughts on genres

Created: Dec 16, 2023 | Updated: Jun 1, 2024 | A quality | Low importance

I think I'm starting to realize one of the major roadblocks I've encountered in my music career -- career meaning all the times in the past I've tried to write, record and perform music. There is a dichotomy between the types of music I generally listen to and the types of music that the Music Industrial Complex (for lack of a better term) makes it easy to produce. I listen to rock: classic rock, punk rock, alternative rock, indie rock, space rock; stuff with guitars, bass, drums and singing that generally follows a intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus song structure. Of course, I sometimes listen to hip-hop. I sometimes listen to "classical" (terrible term). I sometimes listen to jazz, or metal, or lofi or whatever. But my music tastes are squarely grounded in upbeat, melodic rock music.

Meanwhile, there's Ableton Live through to keyboard controllers, MIDI equipment, synthesizers, grooveboxes, drum machines and all manner of gear and plugins that music manufacturers want to sell us. Don't get me wrong, I love this stuff. I first got interested in making digital music with a copy of Reason Studio's (nee Propellerheads) Reason 1.0. The fact is, most of this -- stuff -- is geared (pun intended) towards making some kind of genre of electronic music. And most genres of electronic music are focused on interesting beats, rhythms, sound design, fx, etc. I don't find most genres of electronic music melodically or harmonically interesting. Much of it has a lot of hooks, but no melody at all to speak of. Which is not to say I don't listen to some electronic music, or indie music with electronic elements (Foster the People, OK Go, Twenty One Pilots).

Also, this isn't to say that you can't produce rock music with Ableton and a MIDI keyboard. Both of my music releases for Danger Third Rail were tracked in Ableton, in exactly that manner. I've never mic'd an amp to record a guitar, everything has been done with amp modeling plugins.

This dichotomy exists, though. I don't listen to enough purely electronic music to appreciate the subtleties or defining characteristics of the literally hundreds of genres it is made up of. I can't recognize when a song is employing a trope or deviating from one. And because of this, when I sit down and end up writing vaguely electronic music, it comes out sounding thin, simplistic and cliche.

On the other hand, recording rock music without a band, in your home recording studio slash kitchen, is hard y'all! I have to program digital drums, compose and record a guitar part, compose and record a counterpunctual guitar part, compose and record bass either through keyboard or bass guitar. And that's before considerations of melody/lyrics/vocals, arrangement, sound design, and mixing and mastering. I guess the real problem isn't that all of that work goes into producing a finished song, a finished product. The problem is that some amount of that behemoth is necessary to even "sketch out ideas". Nevermind recording and producing a rock song, it is difficult to work in this environment when you're trying to even compose one.

Some of this node is just thinking out loud, so excuse me if I whine and rant.

I guess the solution is to figure out new ways of composition that don't rely on all the production overhead. To figure out a way to get a "demo" out quickly that captures the song, to prove that it's written, and to worry about proper recording and production later. I even bought a handheld recorder at one point, that I still have, in order to be able to just play guitar out loud and have it record everything while I'm writing a song. I have thought of this before of course. Song writing and song recording are two different disciplines. But it goes back to the electronic music production, where that statement doesn't seem to be true at all. When does a DJ/electronic music producer compose a song outside of their DAW, besides maybe on the aforementioned groovebox/drum machine/sampler?

So when I want to "make music" (whatever that means), my first step is to open Ableton. The next step is to stare at it, mouth agape. And the step after that is to start dialing in the same tired hip hop cliche beat patterns and lame synth lines and end up with another imitation electronic music track.

In the past, I've thought the holy grail would be to somehow marry the genres, and I did that somewhat on both of my releases, heavily incorporating digital synthesizers into the arrangements of most of the tracks. Reading back what I just wrote, however, I'm starting to realize that this isn't a problem of artistic voice or direction. It's simply a problem of workflow.


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