Songwriting Tips: How to choose a genre for music
I wanted to write this post especially for the person that’s starting a new band or project and is having trouble finding out what kind of music to write, due to listening to so many different types of music.
We’re going to go through a few tips today that are going to help you to hone in and find out what your music is going to sound like.
Tip #1: Choose a root genre
Usually even artists that mix genres have a root genre. Let me give you a few examples:
- Tame Impala is psychedelic rock mixed with R&B and electronic
- The Mars Volta is progressive rock mixed with psychedelic and Latin music
- Nine Inch Nails is rock mixed with electronic
- Anderson Paak is R&B mixed with hip-hop and jazz
As you can see, if you like more than one genre, that is actually a great thing. You can try to find a band/artist that mixes the two genres that you like most, see how they mix them, and then make your own version. You can have your root genre and then use the second genre for contrast in your songwriting.
Tip #2: Choose your dream artists to play with
Choosing your dream artist to play with can help you to get a concrete idea of what kind of music you can write. Think about who your top three dream artists to play with are. What kind of music do they play? What genres do they use?
Often times artists are part of a certain community based on genre so if your dream is to play a concert with John Mayer, your music is probably going to sound bluesy and not like death metal (though that would be hilarious). Alternatively if you are into both blues and death metal, you might be able to play with Opeth.
You’re going to want to think about what your music would have to be like to fit in a bill with your dream artist to play with. Do you see yourself playing with other artists that are like them and feel like it matches your style?
Tip #3: Choose your crowd
Instead of trying to find out what crazy genre you want to make music in, maybe you can just look at where you already spend most of your time when you go see live bands, because you clearly enjoy being in that place and being surrounded by that kind of music and those types of people. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be there.
Remember that the music you make will bring a certain type of person and they will become part of your tribe eventually. So you can take this opportunity to choose your crowd, or look at where you already enjoy going to and make music that fits where you already spend most of your time. You don’t always have to have a huge journey of self-discovery to figure out your sound. Sometimes the answer is literally right where you’re standing.
Tip #4: Write 5 songs
The reason writing five songs is going to help you find your music genre is because, even if every song is totally different and each one is a completely different genre, you’re going to start to notice patterns in your songwriting, and you’re going to start to see the kinds of things that you favor as a songwriter. Those can be a hint to tell you what kind of music you should be making and what kind of music comes most naturally to you.
The more songs that you write, the more you’ll start to see similarities and then you can start to see things that you do consistently (like using lots of powerchords vs. chord extensions, using odd time signatures, make simple danceable rhythms, etc) and base your songwriting around the genres that have that sound.
Tip #5: Let your instruments tell you your genre
If you’re a songwriter, most likely you don’t just sing but you also play an instrument, like maybe guitar or piano, and certain genres of music might favor the instruments that you play.
For example, rock is a genre that favors guitar so if you play guitar that might be one of the root genres that you can make music in. Then you can start to mix other genres of music with that. So look at the different types of genres that use the instruments that you play and then go with the one that fits your skills.
Now, if you only sing at the moment, consider picking up an instrument because it’s really hard to write songs if you only sing. You need something that’s going to provide a rhythm and a framework for you to sing over. Try picking up an instrument in the genre that you enjoy listening to most and that’s going to help guide you towards the genre that can become your root genre.
For anybody that doesn’t want to learn another instrument, you could also learn music production. Nowadays there are a lot of software instruments that you can use to make simple beats or backing tracks which can help you to write songs to sing over. Then, you can show them to your musicians so they can help you improve them.
Finally, you might not be a singer at all. Maybe you just play guitar, bass, drums, etc. In that case I recommend you learn to sing. You don’t have to have an amazing voice, but just enough for you to write some vocal melodies. Then you can give that to your singer or a guest singer for them to make it sound more developed.
I know that choosing a genre can feel very overwhelming because it’s like you’re choosing an identity and, in an artist sense, you are. That’s why you want to go with what feels right. My advice to you would be to not get hung up on fads and focus on the music genre that you see yourself happiest with long term.
Remember that you don’t have to close yourself off to other genres but you should choose a root genre because that’s going to help you stay grounded at the time of songwriting. Then you can mix things from other genres with that root.
Be patient with yourself and don’t try to force it. Remember that, whatever genre you go with, you’re going to be spending a lot of time there. The most important thing is that you choose whatever feels natural.