As a huge fan of music, someone who is constantly on the watch for new things to hear, discover, or find, I’m in many ways intimately aware of the issues of taxonomies. For many people it can be somehow off putting or crass to categorize or filter down a musician’s artistic endeavor into a single label – and yet the constant tagging and categorization actually creates a dual benefit for the music fan.
First, it aids with discovery. You stumble upon Band A, and really enjoy their music. Where do you go from there? If you’re navigating the world of music today, it’s not enough to say “Well Band A is Hip Hop, so any other Hip Hop group will do” – even the casual fan will see the issue with this. By finding a deeper sub-genre, you can target exactly what it is about the music that makes it meaningful to you, and branch out from there. Eventually, you’ll probably jump over to other sub-genres, and your world expands.
But it’s also good for learning as well – not about the bands as a category, but about the culture all around the style. Sub-genres generally come from specific periods in time, specific locations, and usually for specific cultural/historical reasons. The time was right, and the sound emerged. By beginning to compile a corpus of work in specific sub-genres, you begin to understand the movement itself. Soon you see how bands relate to each other, talk, influence, or steal from each other, and another entire world emerges.
If curious, the required information I have to have before I’ll put an album in my library is: Arists, Album Title, Track Titles, Year of Initial Release, Album Art, and Genre. Honestly, with these few tags, I really feel you can get a sense of a band from the information itself – no listening required (although yes, that’s the whole point. Don’t let the data get in the way of enjoying!)
The problem comes, I think, when the creators are already aware of these categories, these genres, and set out to fit their work within them explicitly. This happens all the time in culture – music, TV, movies, whatever. – people set out, get put into a category, and then feel that they must stay there. As Information Architects, or Experience Designers, we must know the limits of the taxonomies we set in place – do they allow for growth? or are they constraining? Most importantly, when do they need to change?