Rise of the Nano-Genre

Rise of the Nano-Genre

We take a look at the categorisation of music, where it all started, and ask does it matter?

In the beginning it was simple.  There was just a handful of musical Genres, perhaps as few as 10.  Then came Sub-Genres, followed by Micro-Genres and now perhaps………the Nano-Genre.

Genres are seen as a useful way of understanding where artists fit in the musical universe.  At least that’s the view of Glenn McDonald, Data Alchemist extraordinaire at Spotify.  He designed everynoise.com as a means of mapping all the worlds musical Genres using data from Spotify.  And boy has the number grown.  In September 2014 everynoise.com listed 1,264 Genres.  By December 2020 it had risen to more than 5,000.

To make it easier for mere mortals like you and me to get our heads around this vast sonic sphere, music critics, artists and others tapped in to the notion of Sub-Genres and Micro-Genres.  To understand how this came about we need to go all the way back to the beginning. 

And by the beginning I mean somewhere between 300 and 400 years BC, when the philosopher Plato divided literature in to 3 categories.  This was subsequently seized upon as an excellent way of splitting literature, and later music, in ways that would appeal to specific tastes.  In that sense, the rise of Sub-Genres and Micro-Genres is as much to do with marketing as it is categorisation.          

A Sub-Genre can simply be seen as a subsidiary of a Genre.  For example, Heavy Metal can be seen as a subsidiary of Rock.  The next level down is Micro-Genre.  So, perhaps Industrial Metal is a Micro-Genre of Heavy Metal. 

Micro-Genres are very specific forms of music, which goes some way to explaining their appeal.  In a world in which online musical content in growing exponentially, it’s much easier if you can search an online platform for ‘Industrial Metal’ rather than listening to numerous Heavy Metal acts, just to find the style that specifically appeals to you.

That brings us to the concept of Nano-Genres.  It could easily be seen as just the next level down from Micro-Genres.  But it’s a term I use when describing categories developed by artists, critics and others who are attempting an acute form of marketing. 

Up to this point marketing has all been about categorising music in ways that make it easy for you to find the style of music you want to listen to. 

Nano-Genres though are made up of super-niche categories, so you’ve probably never heard of them.  Blackgaze, Glitchcore, Neue Deutsche Härte are examples of Nano-Genres.  These obscure category names are used to stimulate your curiosity, and pull you towards artists within them.      

Just because Nano-Genres are super-niche it doesn’t mean artists can’t be successful.  For example, there are around 50 active, notable, Neue Deutsche Härte (New German Hardness) bands, and one of those is Rammstein.  They sold more than 800,000 tickets for their 2019 European stadium tour. 

So, in the end, does it really matter if you categorise something as a Genre, Sub-Genre, Micro-Genre etc?  Probably not, unless you’re in marketing.

(December 2020)

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