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Music Genres Explained

Music Genres Explained

Written by

James Picken


September 21, 2023



Whichever is your favourite, genres make the music world go round. Let's take a look at them.

There’s a whole world of music out there (the medal for the most obvious statement goes to us). It’s estimated that there are anywhere between 97 and 230 million songs in the world, although we’re sure you understand, this is an impossible stat to measure. 

Us humans like order. We like to put things into boxes so they make sense to us. And we like to use these boxes to help us form an identity ourselves. That’s why music genres are so important. 

We’re going to take a deep dive into different music genres, including their history, how they can be identified, and how we would typically apply them in industries like retail and hospitality, backed up by behavioural science. But first, we need to look at what genre actually is. 

What are music genres?

Music genres are categories that help us to identify a specific piece of music. The music in them follows a particular pattern or a shared sound, and it’s how songs get classified. Some of the most common ways to categorise music genres are by musical elements (e.g rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, texture, form, or style), by instruments (e.g guitar, piano, drums, violin, saxophone, or synthesizers) by themes (e.g love, protest, party, religion, or politics) or by cultural origins (e.g country, region, ethnicity, language, or history).

Music has been divided into many different genres throughout history, following a range of criteria. Streaming service Spotify has around 1,300 music genres, helping to break down millions of songs with a range of sounds, patterns and structures. 

Examples of music genres

This might seem obvious, with genres like Hip-Hop, Pop, Rock and Jazz being introduced to us at such a young age. The most popular genres are:

  1. Pop
  2. Hip-Hop
  3. Electronic Dance Music (EDM)
  4. Rock
  5. R&B
  6. Latin
  7. K-Pop
  8. Country
  9. Classical
  10. Metal 

But have you heard of genres like Black Sludge, Math Rock, Vaporwave and No Wave? These are just some of the more obscure genres from Spotify. These are likely to be subgenres - a subordinate within a genre. It is a subcategory of a musical genre that has its core characteristics, but also has its own set of characteristics that clearly set it apart within the genre. For example, Black Sludge is a subgenre of doom metal that incorporates elements of black metal and sludge metal.

What purpose do they serve?

The purposes of music genres are pretty much endless. 

First and foremost, they help us to organise a huge amount of music so it’s easier for us to locate and identify it. It helps us identify the genre of a song we like, and listen to more like it. On the other hand, if you hear a song in a genre you hate, you can avoid that. 

This categorisation goes beyond the individual. It helps record stores to have some structure in what they sell. It helps music award shows like The Grammys to represent nominees and winners from across the industry. 

It helps radio stations to know what they should play. It helps streaming platforms know what to recommend to you. 

Music genres are also incredibly useful for artists - when they’ve identified the genre of music they want to make, it massively informs their branding. If you’re a heavy metal artist, you’re likely to have a very different image than if you were a classical musician. 

Genres are also hugely important to culture. Being a big fan of a specific genre of music can help us feel involved in something bigger than ourselves. It can influence the way we dress, the way we speak, the people we’re friends with. They can bond fans and listeners, and facilitate shared experiences.

Have they changed over time?

Although the key characteristics of the genres stay the same, it's inevitable that they have shifted and changed throughout history in terms of their popularity.

One of the reasons the world of genres has changed is technology, whether it's advances in the way music can be recorded, musical equipment or the effects musicians can use. Just take the development of equipment like synthesizers giving rise to EDM in the 1990s and 2000s, the invention of the electric guitar in the 1930s changing the Rock and Roll world, or even apps like Tik Tok gaining huge popularity in recent years and consequently driving certain genres to become viral.

Another influence on music genres is the political environment surrounding them. For example the Civil Rights movement gave rise to genres like Soul and Hip-Hop, right through to the 21st century where things like social justice and climate change are crucial in modern genres like Grime.

Going back to the idea that music genres are important to culture and identity, they can also change with social trends. Whether you think of the hippie movement in the 1960s and 1970s, the disco era of the 1970s, the grunge scene in the 1990s or even emo culture in the early 2000s, they're all backed up by music genres gaining popularity at the time.

Genres - a deep dive

It would be impossible for us to deep dive into every music genre, but we’ll update here with a few of our favourites. 


What you want, baby we got it... our music library contains every style and genre that you could imagine. 100-odd mood, genre and behaviour-based playlists ready to use in your business. Get in touch here.

Music Genres Explained

James Picken

Creative Director at Startle. It's my job to produce and execute our music output, making sure everything is sounding, feeling and performing just right for our customers. When I'm not doing this, you can find me either walking my dog, remixing 90s divas on Logic Pro X, returning overdue library books or throwing weights about in the gym.

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