As music becomes more diverse and easily accessible, the lines are being blurred between genres, and quite frankly, who even cares?
If you look at the way music has been distributed and promoted in the past, you can tell that it was targeted at a specific type of demographic. Guns & Roses were for the long-haired and tight jeans-wearing metalheads, Nickelback was for the cargo-pants equipped, “I think wrestling is real” type, and MF Doom was for the backpackers; the vinyl collectors; the types that shunned mainstream hip-hop and REALLY loved Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Almost every record that has ever been made was catered to a specific audience because the labels knew that they could recuperate. But as we are moving into this new generation of music consumption filled with abstract music and algorithms, the genre is appearing lifeless and is no longer something that can be used to push an artist in a specific direction. The artists of today have evolved, and so have the listeners.
If you look at the average kid with an internet connection and itching for music, they’re looking something that makes them FEEL something. People are a lot more aware of the sensory benefits of sound today, like the tingling, sleep aid of ASMR or how you simply can’t feel weak while listening to 21 Savage’s “Gun Smoke”, and now consumers are seeking this. A great example of this is the Lofi Beats to Chill/Study/Relax to phase on Youtube, where channels like ChilledCow are uploading continuous streams of melancholic, almost-binaural beats designed to help students focus and mellow out a little bit. See, people aren’t seeking this because of preferential love for lo-fi hip-hop or sad music in general, but because it taps into moods and feelings they’re wanting to reach in a particular moment.
Something you can also see is that the corporate side of music is catching onto this, and is designing their algorithms to cater to the new generation that chooses music based on feelings, not genres. If you look at your Spotify ‘Browse’ page, you’ll see that there’s a series of tabs that lead to music catered for specific moods. There are categories like “Focus”, “Workout”, “Sleep” and more that are created for those seeking music for different emotional situations, and eventually, that’ll lead into algorithms-crafted daily mixes that shuffle through your previous history of listening. Even on Youtube and Soundcloud, there are playlists that are linked to phrases like “Sad” or “Gloom”. And by making your service react this way, you attract a vast amount of casual viewers who are looking for contrasting vibes.
From an artist standpoint, this is one of the best things that could of happening in the shifting landscape of music, where everything is accessible, yet diluted. See, by playing by the genre game, you’re still limiting your reach. Even in hip-hop, which is the biggest genre in the world right now, you’re still crossing out the country-cowboy in the south or the metal-head in the pit as possible fans of your craft. But the thing about emotions is that everybody feels them! Cowboy’s get sad, Metalheads get happy, and by basing your music around moods, your potential reach is everybody in the goddamn world. This is why we’ve seen artists like Xxxtentaction shift between emo, hip-hop, metal and Latin, or Post Malone fuse pop, hip-hop, and country. These artists aren’t doing this to show diversity in style, but tap into different feelings and attract different people. This is most likely why they were both in the top 10 of the most streamed artists in 2018.
So in conclusion, what does this really mean for the future of music? Well, it’s seeming as if it will blur the lines between music being a source of entertainment and a necessity for feelings and moods. As the mood categories continue to pop up and algorithms become smarter, music will become something that is like an assistant through life, with sounds to accompany everything you think and feel. We’ll most likely see more artists create playlists like Drake’s More Life, where it cycles through styles situated for different points in someone’s life, and we’ll most likely see people make music by mood, not genre. I personally don’t see how this could be a bad thing for anyone in the equation, as it allows artists to reach more people, corporations to learn more about their consumers, and audiences to have access to the music they want to hear. The future of the industry is feelings, and to me, it feels as if it’s coming soon.