This Is Why Genres Are Stupid

In an ideal world, I think genres shouldn’t exist. Here’s why…

musical genres
image via Melodrive

First, genres are just boxes that we shouldn’t try to put music in, like I did with my earlier music.

But secondly, genres are not descriptive. In some cases, they confuse things more than help.

For example, saying a band is a “Folk” band doesn’t tell me anything. That could be Fleet Foxes or Bob Dylan or Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros.

All very different sounds.

“Rock” music could be Queen or Arcade Fire. “Rap” could be Kanye or John Reuben.

And what the heck is “Alternative”? That tells me nothing about the sonic properties of the music.

I know genres are helpful for finding music that could sound a certain way because they’re one-word categories that give people a very general idea of the music. I’ll give them that.

But when describing your music, don’t just say “Punk rock” or “Folk.”

Instead, I have another idea.

We musicians could say things like “Coldplay is a mini-me of U2” or “Allen Stone is when you combine the voice of Stevie Wonder, the soul of Bill Withers, and the perspective of a grownup millennial.”

Like, this is how I’d probably describe my upcoming album:

“It’s like if Coldplay and Bill Withers taught Ben Kweller how to make music and then 21 Pilots popped into the room, turned some knobs and flipped some switches.”

I think that gives people a much more descriptive idea of what they’re about to hear.

So I guess my point is, don’t think of your music as “this” or “that” genre.

Think outside the boxes. Use descriptions and words that give people a clear idea of what your music sounds like.


With Bandzoogle‘s drag-and-drop website builder and their built-in music player, you can just show people what your music sounds like rather than try to explain what label or genre you “fit” into.  And you can get 30 days free right here.

I use it for my website and it’s great.

Don’t Limit Your Creativity

I’ve been learning some things about the creative process recently. And it has to do with limitations. Or the lack of them.

creative process
image via The Virtual Instructor

Here’s my thought: only place boundaries on yourself for specific creative reasons, not to fit a certain genre or to be the artist others expect you to be.

I did that in my earlier music-making days — like with Thank God They’re Wrong, Four Sons, and Let’s Get On A Boat — and my music suffered for it.

I was a “folk” musician so I would only use “real” instruments (no keyboards, only pianos; no drum machines, only live drums; no electric guitar, only acoustic).

I think I was actually condescending about it.

I limited my options just to fit a pre-determined box of a genre, making music that people expected a folk artist to make. But genres change and evolve, so why try to fit the definition of today’s “folk” music?

Think about it — “pop music” literally means the popular music of the day. Popular music changes over time (I mean, The Beatles were pop in their day). And any change within a genre happens because of artists who don’t try to fit into any of the current boxes, artists who stretch the boundaries.

Basically, I don’t like genre labels.

So with the album I’m recording now, I have no boundaries and I’m recording everything I hear. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But at least I tried.

And it’s been so worth it. I think this is the best music I’ve made so far and, more importantly, it’s the most meaningful to me.

All this to say, don’t limit yourself unless it’s for a specific creative reason, to see what you can do with less.

Otherwise, let every idea out then sort through the good and the bad later.


A great app that has helped me organize my creative process is Evernote. I literally do all of my songwriting on it.

And you can use my referral link to get a free month of a Premium account (although the Free account is awesome too…I use it).

How To Write Songs That Think Outside The Box

There are millions of songwriters out there. So how can you make your songs stand out?

songwriting
photo via Lynda.com

Now, I am in no way claiming that any of my songs think outside the box.

But below are some methods I’ve picked up from other songwriters, and these seem to help with my songwriting.

Write From The Opposite Perspective

I wrote a song called “Step Right, Step Left,” in which it appeared I was scathing somebody else for not speaking their mind or communicating clearly.

“If you’re gonna step right, step right / If you’re gonna step left, step left / I can’t keep up with you, no”

But I realized the song was actually about me. I was scathing me from the point of view of someone else.

Try it — write a song from someone else’s perspective and see what happens.

Write About A Situation In Which You’ve Never Been

Writing about something you have no experience with can easily come off as fake, especially if your listener knows your backstory.

But it’s your job to make it relatable, both to the listener and to yourself.

For example, I can’t really write about a bad breakup because, well, I’ve had one girlfriend/wife in my life. But I can tap into the feeling of tension because (as any married person will tell you) disagreements happen.

So try writing about a foreign situation but find a way to make it relatable to you and the listener.

Become Another Character

Sometimes it’s fun to pretend to be someone else. I mean, actors do it for a living every day.

I’ve written a handful of songs (especially in my earlier days) where I’m singing from the perspective of a character.

I wrote a song called “Northbound Trail” where I’m apparently a slave escaping to the North.

I wrote a song called “Davy Jones” where I’m a third party witnessing Long John Silver challenge Captain Smollet.

I wrote song called “Son of Sin” from the POV of God.

Give it a shot. You might be surprised.

Use Your Second (Or Third) Choice Of Instrument

My first instrument is the acoustic guitar, but I also own a piano, a banjo, an electric guitar, and a ukulele. If I want a change of pace, I’ll go to one of those other instruments.

Doing this can lead to a totally different type of song. A few examples of that:

My point is, you can get a very different song depending on the type of instrument you use.


I love Evernote, the app/website I use for all of my songwriting. Get a free month of Evernote Premium right here.

How I Messed Up During Rehearsal For My Concert

I have a 1962 Harmony Stratotone electric guitar. And I found out — at the worst possible time — that it sounds terrible.

Harmony Stratotone 1962

This is a guitar that my dad found in the trash — it was in a foreclosed house his realty company had just bought. When I plugged it in to my amp, I was shocked that it actually worked.

I use the term “worked” lightly.

Last year, some friends and I played a bunch of shows to raise money for my wife’s and my adoption fund (we’ve since adopted!).

But during one of those shows, I play this electric guitar, plugged into a Fender amp.

We started playing my song “Lunch Money,” but after a few bars, it was obvious something was way out of tune.

Something was terribly off.

That’s when, in the middle of the chorus, I realized the problem was my trash-to-treasure guitar. Apparently, it was still trash.

I stopped the song, quickly switched to my acoustic guitar, and started the song over. If I couldn’t bear to listen to it, neither could the audience.

(Fortunately, it was in a bar where not many people were paying much attention).

But my mistake started much earlier than this concert. It started during rehearsal.

You see, if I had practiced the right way, I would’ve realized, “Oh, crap, this guitar’s intonation is awful and I should borrow someone else’s.”

I learned that I should practice exactly the way I plan to play the concert. This means I should use the exact instruments, the same stage setup, and a similar amount of energy that I will during the show.

(I’ve read how many artists even plan out what they’ll say in between songs — the friendly banter they’ll have with the crowd or what they’ll say about their merch table).

So this is the lesson to take from this story: always practice exactly how you will play the concert.

Or else.