Understanding the Difference Between Genre and Style

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Most of the time, we use the terms “genre” and “style” interchangeably. And most of the time, that’s not a problem.

But when we’re trying to figure out what makes a pro mix or production, it can make a pretty big difference.

As you start to understand the difference between genre and style, you’ll be able to better understand what makes up each and how to achieve them. More importantly, you’ll be able to develop your own style while working with a genre. Let’s start with a couple of definitions:

Genre is the classification of something (in this case, music) based on certain key characteristics. These characteristics are generally more broad and less defined. For example, rock is a genre that usually uses guitars, drums, bass, sometimes synths, and voice. It usually has a strong back beat. That’s about as specific as a genre can be.

Sub-genres are a bit more specific, like punk rock. This can be more specific, but still isn’t too much so.

Style are the detailed characteristics that are brought by the individuals creating the work. For example, Calvin Harris productions usually are lighter on the snare/back beat and more focused on the “four on the floor” kick. They also use less layered drums and more classic sounds. This is his style. It’s the way he uses instrumentation, production techniques, and musical ideas to fit within a genre.

This is an important distinction to make. Once you understand it, you can decipher between the two for productions you like. You can also expand your creativity within a certain genre.

And if you’re producing for someone else, you can help to give them what they want by developing their style and incorporating it within the genre.

Here’s an exercise to do that will help you with this:

Pick your favorite record right now. Listen to it and make two lists – genre and style. Decide what makes it fit within a genre, and also decide what is unique about it. Then try to incorporate those style points into your next production. Add your own in to get really creative!