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Is "Singer-Songwriter" a Genre?






Is “Singer-Songwriter” a Genre?

By Robin Yukiko  April 1st 2013

My dad told me once that jazz was the pop music of the 30s and 40s. “Pop” meaning “popular”. (I can hear the sigh of dawning comprehension!) Eventually many of these songs became “standards”, a term which jazz cats and baby boomers know. (Note: not all jazz was popular and not all popular music was jazz.)

The “popular” style shifted, and now pop has a very specific sound: upbeat and fun, usually about a fluffy topic, geared toward a young audience. It remains the stuff of Top 40s, but it’s definitely its own genre.

Something similar happened with “indie” music. It started out innocently enough; independent bands were doing it themselves, didn’t have the polished studio sound--and even rebelled against it a little. They started shouting “Hey!” a lot. Now, whether or not they have a label, bands can sound “indie”.

I started noticing more and more that music websites were adding “singer-songwriter” as a category. At first, I thought, “How convenient! A category just for me! Now I don’t have to say quirky alternative piano pop!” But then everyone I knew who wrote songs and accompanied themselves started using this term to describe their music.

I began to wonder, “Does this term actually describe my music?”

No.

Like “musician”, “Singer-songwriter” describes what I do (I sing and write songs). But other people have their own associations with that term. They think James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, or Jewel, coffee houses, and living in a van. Not the associations I want to make.

There is no stopping it. Whether or not you agree, “singer-songwriter” is becoming a genre. (Side note: you can also use “Adult Alternative” but, again, it describes your audience more than your style [thank you, Alan Monasch for this insight].)

“Singer-songwriter” can imply a lot of things:

You play an instrument

You write voice/lyric driven music

Your lyrics are often more poetic/abstract, genuine, and personal

You perform solo or with interchangeable band members

Are all these things true? Is that what your music boils down to?

Just because you sing and write your own songs doesn’t mean you will necessarily fit into this genre. So if you don’t want to leave it up to someone’s interpretation, you need to come up with a clear, brief, and realistic way to describe yourself. Ask your friends and peers who/what they think of when they hear your music. And use that knowledge to capture the fans who are interested in your niche.




Robin Yukiko is a Berklee College of Music grad, singer-songwriter, pianist, and music educator in San Francisco. She performs regularly and hosts the SF Singer-Songwriters’ Workshop at the Musicians Union Local 6. Robin is currently producing her second album and enjoying nerdly pursuits. Join Robin’s mailing list at www.robinyukiko.com/contact.



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