What is a genre? (or more importantly, what isn't)

I found myself wandering through the unresolved genre tickets on Jira, and I had a thought… what does (or should) MusicBrainz consider a Genre?

it’s not defined in any of the MusicBrainz documentation either, not on the genre list, doc/genre, or the terminology page (which needs the new genre entity added anyways)

Wikipedia describes a music genre as:

…a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It is to be distinguished from musical form and musical style, although in practice these terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

Music can be divided into genres in varying ways, such as popular music and art music, or religious music and secular music. The artistic nature of music means that these classifications are often subjective and controversial, and some genres may overlap.

additionally, I have seen some “scenes” (as RYM seems to be calling them) and movements as MusicBrainz genres, but from what I’ve seen they all seem to have some stylistic differences from their parent genres, with such examples as new romantic, riot grrrl, and madchester

I don’t have an issue with MusicBrainz genres being a combination of genres, forms, scenes, and styles, which is kinda what I’ve seen so far, but I’m curious what others think~

(on the note of genres, no I’m not really sorry for adding about 30 new genre tickets in the past few days :wink:)


My usual questions when someone proposes a genre:

  1. Is there any info about it anywhere?
    For example, sometimes a band proposes as a genre a name they just made up for the music they make, but nobody else uses it and there’s no info about it anywhere - that’s a no from me.
  2. Do others consider it a genre?
    Is this listed as a genre in other databases which store genres, such as RateYourMusic, Allmusic, Discogs or Wikidata? A no here doesn’t automatically mean I reject it and a yes doesn’t automatically mean I add it, but it helps :slight_smile:
  3. Is it something that could be thought of as a more or less consistent whole?
    Does all music that belongs under this descriptor sound similar enough that you could at least say “this is a ‘X’ album” and people would have a general idea of what to expect? This is the reason why I haven’t added requested things like “covers”, or “soundtrack” (but I have added filmi which while still wide is more recognizable as a thing). It’s also the reason why I haven’t added choral and I’m fairly tempted to remove orchestral.

Things like scenes and movements are often genre-ish enough in my experience, since they usually involve a bunch of artists making music that bends a specific genre in fairly similar ways - as such, they seem to be fairly close to a subgenre (often) localized in time and space.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that the whole thing is relatively amateurish, and it involves a lot of judgements that might or might not be correct. For example, I still haven’t managed to decide whether we should have “ethnic” “genres” or not - RateYourMusic has them and I can totally see the use of them, but on one side it seems reductionist to claim something like Oromo Music - Music genre - Rate Your Music as a genre (“all the music this people ever made is the same” is the feeling I get and it makes me feel like a colonial administrator) while on the other side irish folk is probably no less reductionist.


I personally think regional or “ethnic” “genres”, as you call them are valid as genres, especially if we’ve got subgenres and influenced genres for them. it would also help those of us unfamiliar with international folk to find what we’re looking for

that said, the latter point could be fixed on the display side, by maybe showing where a genre is from in the listing on the Folk page (and others, of course)

however, it would probably be good to find a way to link gypsy jazz and gypsy punk more closely to each other than to say, ethio-jazz. this could be done via Romani folk music, as a subgenre of folk.

(edit: though I guess Ethio-jazz and Gypsy jazz would be about as close as Gypsy Jazz and Gypsy folk… lol)


I’d love more opinions on the “ethnic genres” issue, for what it’s worth :slight_smile: So anyone who reads this and has an opinion, please share it! :slight_smile:

Right now I’m neither here or there with whether regional genres become added on MusicBrainz. It’s not my area of expertise. I think a lot of the regional music genres I have tagged in my library are very much central to RYM, to make sure music specific to a region is accounted for on the site even if there’s no specific genres they have. I use my own tag hierarchy file for MusicBee based on RYM’s genre tree, so it makes sense for me there. It all comes down to how people tag their music IMO.

I think what might help this if these don’t get counted as genres on MusicBrainz is allowing annotations to be applied on tags, to allow some context as to why the tags exist on MusicBrainz and preventing people from trying to submit it as a genre, scene, etc. I’d imagine this’d have to be locked down to auto-editors and staff to prevent abuse of the system, though.