Category :

Hot Topics in the Industry

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?”


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


Ancient Toltec Wisdom For the Modern Day Musician

The Value of Keyword Research for Artists

The Lazy Way To Sell Your Music Online

Is Music Business Automation The Next Step?

I Prefer The Foolish

Easy Tips For Getting Retweeted

Twitter -vs- Facebook - What's a better site for musicians?

Why You Need To Teach Music Lessons

Pragmatic Epiphanies

Implied Power

Artistic Terrorists

Top 15 most popular musicians on social media

How to Determine Artist Advances

The Trend

What is a 360 Deal?

The Essence Of Viral Stories

What Needs Does your Music Fill?

Was This Musician's Plan Ethical?

Significance of Branding as Recording Artists

You Learn To Be An Artist

How Artists Can Unlock Their Creative Potential

Do You REALLY Need a Record Deal?

Importance of Branding as Record Artists

What Every Musician Ought To Know About Publishing

Arrogance, Is It Crippling The Growth Of Indie Artists?

Hip Hop: Who are the highest earners & record holders?

5 Strategies That Guarantee Success

Fan Engagement for Independent Artists

How Creating a Set List is Exactly Like Creating a Mix Tape for Your Girlfriend

Using Your Fans to Get More Photos and Videos During Concerts

The Benefits of Crowdsourcing Your Music Production

To Self Publish Or Not Self Publish.... That Is The Question

How Are Musicians Using the iPad?

Spotiwhy? : Are Subscription Music Services a Sustainable Business Model?

7 Social Media Mistakes Musicians Should Avoid

The Science Behind Why People Share Music

Which Music Discovery Platform Has the Biggest Audience?

10 Essential Apps for the Touring Band

Can You Master the Guitar in 10 Days? Why Does Anyone Think You Can Master Facebook in 10 Days?

An Argument Against "Pay What You Want" Pricing

YouTube's Dirty Little Secret

Psy Makes $8 Million By Giving It Away

Crowdfunding: Things That Will Piss People Off

Should You Give Your Music Away For Free? Thank You Amanda Palmer.

Amanda Palmer's Mistake (and Why it Will Hurt Working Class Musicians)

Digital Sheet Music: The Times Are A' Changin

How To Skyrocket Your Twitter Promotion

Tips For Finding New Fans On Facebook

The Digital Music Battlefield

Music Licensing In The Digital Age

Will Music Streaming Services Save The Recording Industry

Why You Should Be Using Kickstarter

Signup Free