How many musical genres should you record in?

How many musical genres should you record in?

Sometimes it seems like there are a million different musical genres out there in the world. Especially when you start parsing out all the subgenres. And every songwriter or recording artists has a genre, right? Sure, but that doesn’t mean that every artist has just one genre. It’s not always easy to identify the genre.

Jason Blume recently wrote an article for BMI News that asks the question, “What Genre Are You Really Writing?” That, for me, is an ever-present and really good question. I often have trouble deciding what genre to put my songs under. Sometimes it’s easy, but often it’s really not. If you’ve been to my personal website,, and checked out my Songs section, you can see that I’ve got a lot of different genres listed there. Blume gives some tips for how to identify your genre in that article, so it might be worth reading if you have the same trouble deciding that I do. But for me, that article stirred up an even more vexing question: how many genres should I be writing in?

Multiple colored shirt sleeves
Just which songwriting color will you wear today?

I think this really relates to the issues I brought up in my Jack of all trades, master of none post from a few days ago. It seems like it’s just a manifestation of the same conundrum. I love music from many different genres, and when I listen to songs in those various genres, I’m compelled to write my own songs in that same style. It can actually be kind of maddening in a way. One day I’ll hear a tearing-it-up rockabilly tune, and I feel like I have to go see if I can write one as good. The next day I’ll hear Skip James wailing on “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” and immediately I want to sit down and write a delta blues tune. Same’s true for hard rock, folk, classic country, surf guitar instrumental, doo-wop, and on and on it goes.

Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” originally recorded in the early 1930s. That’s one amazing record.

So the question is, am I hurting my chances of success by making it nearly impossible for potential fans–or potential music supervisors looking to place music in a show or commercial–to get a bead on what type of music they can expect from me? If you’re a fan of rockabilly, you might hear my song “Hambone Soup” and head over to my website hoping to hear more like it. But when you get there, you’ll find that’s currently my only posted rockabilly song. I’ve got a bunch more–easily enough for an album–but I just haven’t been able to find the time to record more of them. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t been able to find the focus to record more. Why? Because I got sidetracked by wanting to record a different song in a different genre. So you go looking for more rockabilly, and you find some hard rock and other stuff instead.

What does that do to a potential fan? I know without a doubt that there are hardcore rockabilly purists that might love “Hambone Soup” but will never listen to me again once they find out that I play other types of music too. I know I will lose the support of those purists because I myself am not a purist. So, is that something I should worry about, or not?

If we consider music supervisors, maybe it works the other way. Maybe somebody hears “Hambone Soup” and thinks, “Rockabilly’s just what I need, but not that particular song. I’ll go see what else this guy’s got in that genre.” When that supervisor gets to my site and sees there is no more rockabilly, but there is a variety of other genres represented, does he or she see that as a good thing, or a bad thing? I would hope that it’s seen as a good thing–if they like my writing and know they can find a variety of styles there, maybe they’ll view me as a valuable resource to cover a number of potential needs. Or…maybe not.

I haven’t figured out the right answer yet in either case. I guess the first step would be to get fans or supers interested in hearing my music in the first place. I haven’t even cleared that hurdle yet, so maybe I’m worrying too far down the road. Still, the question kind of nags me. I want people to enjoy my music and to find a comfortable place in my catalog, and there’s a constant worry that by providing all of those different styles, I’m making it nearly impossible for anyone to understand what it is I do exactly, and to latch onto a comfortable and predictable stream of output from me. But I can’t help it. I just haven’t been able to find a single musical niche and stick to writing and recording in that style.

I’m going to try to find the answers to these questions somehow. When I start getting some clarity on the issue–if I can get some clarity–I’ll report what I find here on this website. And then, based on what I find out, perhaps I can either bring focus to my catalog or continue with the present diversity. But in the end, I can’t actually say for sure whether or not finding the answer will make any difference for me personally. I tend to believe that once a jack of all trades, always a jack of all trades. I can’t honestly conceive of a future where I pick one genre and stick to it. But maybe there’s a compromise. Maybe I can continue to write in a variety of genres. After all, what comes out when inspiration strikes is what comes out. But I could get more disciplined about what I choose to record. Maybe I should just buckle down and focus on getting that rockabilly album done. Or maybe I should zero in on my 10 or so delta blues styled songs and get those recorded. In other words, I could still write with diversity, but record in a more focused manner. That’s something to think about.

I’d love to hear whether you have had this same argument with yourself, and if so, whether you’ve solved it or still struggle with it. And if, as a fan, you have any opinion on what you want to see and hear when you dig more deeply into the catalog of an artist who has recorded a song you like, please share your insight. The same goes for you if you’re a music supervisor. What do you want hear when you dig deeper? What’s important to you when you’re finding out more about an artist?

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