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).