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If You Only Pay Attention To What's Happening In Your Music Genre, You're Missing What's Happening

Genre-prisonMusical genres are divided for a lot of understandable reasons including the fact that complex societies like the U.S. are divided. But in a time of rapid change such as we're currently undergoing, essentially the digital edition of the late 1800s, the danger for musicians is not just in being left behind aesthetically. Not keeping up with business developments across genres is much more dangerous as revenue streams shift and/or dry up.

Are You Afflicted With Genre Bias?

I was thinking this would be a good topic for my last week at Hypebot. And then Don Harrison, aka Wicked D, wrote this:

"One of my biggest pet peeves is the abundance of useful artist development or marketing & promotion information that is lost or overlooked due to 'genre wars.' Artists are flooded with information via the internet; unfortunately, the majority of it goes right over their heads. Most are so focused on hating a particular pop star, hip hop artist, or country music performer, they totally miss the point of a good lesson."

That's been Harrison's experience writing about business for the metal scene and it's been mine writing at Hypebot for what seems to be predominantly a classic and indie rock audience.

For example, Harrison previously suggested that musicians in metal can learn from Lady Gaga and rap musicians. He received negative responses that rejected the idea out of hand without considering the actual topics being discussed.

I know if I write something that says "hip hop" in the title, I've immediately reduced my readership though I'll sometimes pick up bursts of new folks for that post. Same when I write about "country" or about "classical."

This situation is unfortunate though Mr. D and I part ways in one respect:

"Forget the musical genre, forget the image, forget the person, for that matter – just concentrate on the business practices."

It makes sense that he would say that for the point he was making but I think he might agree with my take on things if we discussed the matter.

You Can't Understand Business Lessons Out Of Context

The problem with ignoring the genre and focusing only on the business lesson is that you can't fully understand the lesson without understanding the context in which it's being applied.

For example, if you consider the hip hop mixtape scene in the early 2000s, there was a continuum that ranged from people slinging mixtapes mostly composed of straight up pirated music, like it was a recorded radio show, to tracks created by original raps over current hit beats that often commented on the originals to mixtapes that are composed of totally original material.

The middle ground is of interest here. Say you were a rock musician who didn't know anything about hip hop but decided at that time to release a mixtape with the instrumentals from hit songs along with your singing and guitar playing over top. Perhaps your lyrics commented on the originals and added something in their own right.

If you released this mixtape around 2005 you might have found that you were suddenly getting a level of legal attention that, for a time, hip hop mixtape creators didn't receive.

Why were obviously illegal mixtapes mostly left alone for a number of years? Because the major labels recognized their marketing potential and began feeding music directly to mixtape creators for marketing purposes. This became quite clear after mixtape creators started discussing the topic more openly in the wake of DJ Drama's initial bust.

That may strike you as an outlandish example. But what about this:

Artists from genres that feature single tracks as opposed to whole albums adapted much more rapidly to the age of downloads where filler tracks are no longer acceptable. Interestingly enough, both hip hop and electronic music replaced albums with extended mixes, shows and mixtapes while being totally comfortable with single sales.

Sure, a rock artist could mimic the products but would she or he know how to adapt them to his or her preferred genre if he or she doesn't know how they fit in the original genre?

Either way, you'd have to go beyond your own genre to decide.

It's Not Just About Learning From Other Genres

One last example, did you catch Garth Brooks discussing his new ecommerce outlet GhostTunes in very personal terms, beyond D2F to something even deeper? Once it launched could you see that he was simply mimicking D2F language while employing his very personal style of delivery?

That's a good example of someone not getting what's happening in other genres where D2F is much more normal and creating a parody of what DIY and indie artists have been developing. In fact, that often happens within genres as well but that's a topic for a separate post.


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) recently launched DanceLand and is relaunching Crowdfunding For Musicians. Contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.