It’s in our nature to try and organize the creative output of humanity. Categorizing music is part of this habit. We are driven to make sense of the world’s recordings, in part, by grouping them with other recordings that sound alike. When describing music to others, it’s common to relate a recording to a genre or subgenre to help explain how it sounds. And when you’re record shopping, you have likely noticed shops that organize first by genre and then by artist name. Applying genre labels is a universal way to talk about music.
We understand that there are known flaws to these labels. The definitions of music genres and styles are often fuzzy. They can be applied subjectively even if the style’s definition is well-established. Yet labeling music with a style can help guide a qualitative understanding that is otherwise difficult to communicate. And in grouping music releases together by style, we can extrapolate their collective qualities to show some interesting connections. Which is exactly what we’ve been working on in the last few months. We’re going to dig into some high-level data in this article, so if you’re just interested in exploring all of the genres and styles, skip to the full list here.
The Birds Eye View
Discogs has always been connected to music genres. When Kevin Lewandowski started the website in 2000, it was designated as a database for Electronic music only. Today, Discogs is on a mission to build the biggest and most comprehensive music database and marketplace. To satisfy the most comprehensive part of the mission, the floodgates have been opened and many more genres and styles have been added. There are now 15 genres, with 540 styles acting as sub-genres.
Interesting Observations about Discogs Genres and Styles
- The median amount of releases a style tag is connected to is 7,323.
- The most prevalent style is Pop Rock, with more than 640,000 releases tagged.
- The least used style tag is the newly added Cobla, a traditional music ensemble native to Catalonia, with just 14 tagged releases in the database. We’ve discussed this before, but non-Western releases are often underrepresented on Discogs. We’ve been translating submission guidelines and reaching out to new audiences to try and fill these gaps.
- The Electronic genre has the most styles under it at 119. Rock is close behind with 96, followed by Folk, World & Country at 90.
- The Children’s and Stage & Screen genres each have only 4 styles connected to them.
Here’s a breakdown of the relative distribution of genres on Discogs, based on how many times it has been used as a tag:
Nearly 50% of all Discogs releases are tagged as either Rock or Electronic. With just about 40% of all styles falling under the umbrella of these two genres, that is hardly surprising.
We can also gauge the relative popularity of genres by looking at which releases have been added to Discogs Collections and grouping them by tag. Here’s the relative share of genre popularity in 2019:
We can see that Rock has outsized popularity, with nearly 40% of all Collection additions in 2019 being tagged as a Rock release, despite a relative share of only 26% of releases in the Database. Combined with Electronic music, almost 60% of all releases added to Collections in 2019 are classified as Rock and/or Electronic.
How Styles are Added to Releases on Discogs
Releases are connected to styles and genres through the use of community-added tags. Any contributor is able to edit a release genre or style, hopefully encouraging collaboration and refinement of usage over time.
As acknowledged above, styles are often ambiguous. Music styles, though often rooted in history and fact, can also be applied subjectively since many style definitions are imprecise. I’ll quote Chief Discography / Data Officer u/Nik here in a forum post:
The genres should be thought of as massive generalizations, or convenient bucket names. They are for sure not scientifically precise. They are intended to be as large as possible, not as exact as possible. Having a limited number of top-level genres was important to the manageability of the data and ease of data entry.
Users can edit genre and style descriptions on Discogs, hopefully leading to a more well-rounded designation. If a style is being improperly attributed, a better description could help limit misuse.
With that in mind, we have not made major changes to how genres and styles are added to releases on Discogs. We have simply looked for ways to connect and show the existing data available. Maybe these pages will help you discover new music. Ideally, they will help refine the use of genre and style tags over time. At the very least, they are a good way to kill some time by looking at Discogs releases in a new way.
If you are interested in suggesting a music style be officially added to Discogs, please submit a request to this forum thread. Discogs has been conservative in adding new styles in the past, so no guarantees here, but we consider everything submitted to the forum.
Connecting the Data
Based on how releases are tagged by contributors to Discogs, we have compiled the following for each style and genre in the Database:
- Most collected releases
- The earliest releases
- Prominent musicians
- Releases by decade
- Top contributors
- Trending releases based on sales in the marketplace
- Related styles
- All releases in the database
- All items in the marketplace
- A contributor-added description
Now it’s time to get digging. Explore the full list of genre and style pages.