The music industry is a sea of different sounds all playing to different musical tastes. The concept of genre is an important point of distinction between different forms of music, although artists have increasingly been mixing genres, making it difficult to differentiate among them at times. Among those that have become somewhat ambiguous over time is the singer-songwriter genre.
In addition to the fact that many people are not sure as to whether it is an actual genre, or a classification, the term can take on several different meanings, resulting in confusion. However, there are a number of fundamental differences which set it apart.
To begin with, the singer-songwriter genre was identified in the 1960s and flourished into the 1970s. It is believed to have been coined in North America but has been attached to pop stars in European countries such as France and Britain.
A number of music history authorities indicate that it arose from the folk-acoustic traditional form, which was popular in the 1950s and gave rise to rock music. Based on this association, singer-songwriters are defined as musical artists who not only write the words for their songs, but also compose the melodies, musical arrangement and ultimately perform their own songs. This is in contrast to earlier Tin Pan Alley songwriters who only created material for other performers.
Evident with many early singer-songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, the instruments of choice for practitioners of the genre were the acoustic guitar and piano. That of course does not mean that other instruments were never used; for example, in a band setting but, the two play an integral role, often during the writing process as well as in live performances. Later singer-songwriters that have carried on the tradition include Tracy Chapman and Sheryl Crow, who are associated with playing the guitar.
The content produced by singer-songwriters is often of a very intimate, real-world nature. Many songs in the genre are built on personal experiences or life situations, resulting in singer-songwriters often connecting with audiences on a more relatable level.
Although not as popular as before, the singer-songwriter genre still has its place in popular music. With history having a way of repeating itself, it’s left to see whether it will rule the music scene once more.