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 already have a wrap up on what genre is, and a deep dive into pop, so now it’s time to look at the world of rock.
What is rock music?
‘Rock’, or ‘rock and roll’ music, reportedly grew from the popularity of rhythm and blues and country music in the 1940s and 1950s, and also takes influences from jazz, classical, and other music genres.
Originally associated with youth revolt and transgression, the genre is known for energetic performances, catchy melodies, and often insightful lyrics.
By the late 1960s, a number of different rock music sub-genres had gained popularity, including blues rock, folk rock, country rock and jazz-rock fusion. In the second half of the 1970s, punk rock became more popular and produced a raw, energetic form of music associated with political and social critiques.
From the 1990s, alternative rock became a very popular form of rock music. These sub-genres include grunge, Britpop and indie rock.
Rock’s association with cultural and social movements, as well as its consistent evolution, has allowed the genre to remain relevant and popular.
Rock music is often associated with having a strong backbeat, usually in 4/4 rhythm (although some more modern sub-genres can have trickier time signatures), with the heavy beats being 2 and 4. As opposed to jazz, the drums and bass in rock usually lock in with each other and stick to a tight pattern.
Guitars are often the main voice in rock music, with overdriven power chords and shredding solos being very common. The instruments can often be electric, including electric guitars, basses, and keyboards. Vocals can often be aggressive, loud, and high pitched, to get above the instruments being played. You can almost always guarantee energy, power and volume in a rock song.
Different sub-genres of rock have different characteristics, too. For example, cllassic rock draws on the sounds of the 1950s and 1960s, typically featuring heavy electric guitars, drums, and vocals, and punk rock is characterised by its fast tempos, aggressive lyrics and distorted instruments. The wide variety of music that can fall under the genre of rock can make it hard to define - for example, some may consider The Beatles a rock band, even though their music is very different to musicians like Meat Loaf.
The roots of rock music can be identified in the late 1940s, as the prevailing genres of that era, namely country music and blues, underwent a transformation into a novel sound with the help of electric guitars and a consistent drum rhythm. Influential rock musicians from the 1950s, like Chuck Berry, drew extensively from traditional blues frameworks while showcasing a natural talent for entertainment. The 1950s also saw Elvis Presley’s rise to fame, being crowned by many as the ‘King of Rock and Roll’.
As rock music gained even more popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, new bands like Led Zeppelin took on a darker, heavier tone. Towards the end of the decade, bands such as Sex Pistols and the Clash stripped rock to its core ingredients such as loud guitars, attitudes and enraged singing as a response to ‘hippie’ bands such as Pink Floyd.
The ‘80s saw mainstream rock losing its commercial steam, but alternative bands like Nirvana and heavy rockers Limp Bizkit helped to revive the genre and become one of the most popular again.
If we look at the genre in 2024, it’s easy to suggest that it has lost its dominance. Traditional rock bands are no longer as common in the mainstream, and some believe it has moved back to being ‘underground’. However, sub-genres like pop-rock are still hugely successful.
Identifiable pop artists
With such a wide variety of musicians creating rock music, it can be hard to whittle them down. But, according to YouGov, the top 5 most popular classic rock music artists are (you'll notice a bit of crossover here):
Real life application
We asked our Music Consultant, Magnus, to about the real life applications of rock music for brands, with behavioural science in mind.
Rock music is a highly arousing style of music, generally with quick tempos, grungy textures and rugged sound qualities, so it can be tricky to implement into a brand’s music strategy. This is also its strength, though, as it can be used to tap into the Von Restorff effect. For example, one of our customers Charles Tyrwhitt is a Jermyn Street Tailor, but their music incorporates plenty of rock features.
Rock music has to be used with intent, like with Charles Tyrwhitt, as it can be quite a polarising genre that’s unlikely to work in some settings like cafes and restaurants.
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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.