How to Learn a New Music Genre?

Edgar Vazquez working with a client | Recording ConnectionWhen you first begin to really listen to music, chances are you were drawn to one particular musical style. Whether it was hip hop, EDM, or country and western music, there was something about that type of music that really spoke to you. Maybe your love of metal, hip hop, EDM, or pop music is what first drew you to audio engineering or music production.

If you want to be a successful music producer, however, eventually you’ll need to expand beyond rock and roll, alternative, or whatever your preferred genre of popular music is. By expanding your skills, if not your tastes, to different forms of music, you make yourself more available to a wider audience – and more potential clients.

Rick Rubin is a great example of how expanding your sphere of influence can be used to great effect. He started his music career playing in a punk band but earned his producer stripes by teaming with Russell Simmons and launching The Beastie Boys into the hip hop stratosphere.

His work with Slayer and The Cult produced some of their best work and he went on to produce for Danzig, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and even comedian Andrew “Dice” Clay. With his American Recordings label, he relaunched the career of country music legend Johnny Cash. He’s won Grammys with Cash, the Dixie Chicks, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Adele.

Even though his roots were in punk rock music, his ability to move between and within different music traditions solidified his spot as one of the top producers of the 20th century and beyond. While you may not reach such lofty heights, you can certainly make a nice career out of working with a variety of American musical genres.

Top Tips for Learning About Music Genres

In today’s musical landscape, it’s normal for audio engineers, and especially music producers, to work with a multitude of different types of music. You could go from Cumbia to Zydeco to hardcore to classical music in the same week. Some music can have multitudes of subgenres (EDM is a good example), each with its own sound, beat, and tempo.

And with the way tastes in music swing back and forth and the highly experimental ways music can be created with digital audio workstations, an audio engineer or music producer needs to be able to shift with every influence, including American, African, and European backgrounds.

That’s why building a solid foundation is so important. Learn how stringed instruments work together with percussion, when to bring the vocals out, and how it’s all received by the human ear and perceived by human beings. Learn the foundations the right way and it will be much easier to absorb specific genres’ basic forms, production styles, and cultural relevance and to improvise and create new styles and forms going forward.

Learning different music genres well will empower you to make better decisions and build lasting, productive relationships with the artists you record. So where to begin? It might be easier to start with a particular genre – let’s go with folk music. Just like you build an overall foundation with music production, you’ll do the same with this music.

Google is Your Friend

This is going to sound a lot like homework, but what job doesn’t have a few moments of humdrum – albeit important – moments? Reading about its origins, the cultural nuances between Latin American folk, those to the North, and those across the pond, and dipping into the various subgenres can create an altogether new sound that will put you in the right mindset.

Don’t go too far down a genre rabbit hole just yet. Remember, you need to be able to adapt to each musician. Take to YouTube (or streaming service of choice) and listen to five or so bands and find similar instrumentations, vocalizations, and arrangements.

What seems to dominate the sound? What’s the emotion this genre elicits? Is the production clean or does it bleed? Is there an overall aesthetic shared between the bands? Of the songs that seemed to gain the most widespread appeal, both historically and recently, what were the prevailing factors?

This will give you an idea of where the genre came from and where it’s going. Is the artist you’re working with doubling down on that specific sound or are they incorporating classical elements or leaning towards more mainstream, popified sounds? When working with them, if you know what to focus on, it shouldn’t take long to see which way they want to go—and with the right preparation, you’ll be prepared to meet them on any path they’re on.

In The Beginning…

In many cases, there’s already a roadmap for you to follow. The band will want to have their own sound of course, but it doesn’t hurt to know what will work and what won’t. Investigate the most famous artists or bands of the genre and see how they got to the top of the mountain.

What influenced them, what did they take or leave behind from that influence, and how did they first encounter them? Did other bands use this specific artist as inspiration and how did they make it their own? What is their creative flow chart?

Then talk to the band and find out why they settled on folk music (hip hop, hard rock, indie) in the first place. How does folk music speak to them, why are they dedicating their time to become folk heroes instead of a heavy-handed rock band? Finding their why will help you figure out the how.

As the producer on the project, these questions will help you build a deep understanding of where they’re coming from and how receptive they are to certain suggestions. Letting them talk about their purpose, their drive, and their mindset—and truly listening—is an ideal way to build a relationship and gain their trust.

This process works for any genre, from fanciful art music to gritty garage rock. Remember, you don’t have to necessarily like their music, but you should know how to make it better within the genre. All of the best producers know how to make the trippy sound tight and the chaotic sound coherent.

And even if you don’t use everything you’ve learned on your fact-finding mission today, it will serve you well in the future. Even within different genres? Of course! Whoever would have thought country and hip hop would have so many musical rendezvous as they have post-2020? And who would have thought Trent Reznor and Johnny Cash would have made such an awesome collaboration?

Answer: Someone who had a deep understanding of both rock and country and knew how to bring it together i.e, Rick Rubin. He had the musical know-how and confidence to dive in and make it work. That someone could be you. Let Recording Connection show you how.

Learn from Music Pros

Recording Connection feels the best way to learn is by doing. Instead of a classroom, we put you inside a working recording studio with a mentor who has already made a career in the recording industry. Learn how music is made today from the inside of the business.

Our mentors have worked with some of the biggest names in music. They also work with regional acts and local acts working their way up the ladder. It is an ideal way to learn how to work within different genres of music but also how to work with different personalities.

And while so much of music comes from innate creativity, there’s also a lot of grinding, a lot of rolling up your sleeves, and getting to work. Recording Connection gives you the opportunity to get your hands dirty in a fully immersive environment. Are you ready to amplify your life? Get started here.

Get your music production certification and build your music production and audio engineering skills by learning with an industry professional near you.