What Is Americana Music?


If someone asked you to define Americana music, would you be able to? Or, would you be at a loss for words? Like, when your grandmother asks you to explain how the Internet works, or where websites come from.

Americana is a broad musical label. It’s a contemporary genre that pulls from all types of American music styles; such as R&B, bluegrass, folk, and country. Independent from other styles, the genre includes musicians from all types of backgrounds, who are known to experiment frequently with new sounds. Americana isn’t always radio-friendly, because it’s difficult to fit the music into other “boxes” – but that doesn’t mean Americana musicians don’t find success.

Where Did Americana Music Originate From?

The concept of the Americana genre is fairly new; considering the dawn of music dates back to prehistoric times, this genre is in its infancy. The Americana Music Association was only formed in 1999. It took until 2009 for Americana to officially become a Grammy category, and it wasn’t until 2011 that Merriam-Webster added the term to the dictionary. The genre grew from musicians who wanted nothing more than to produce their music, without pressure to dominate the radio with sounds that suited one specific style.

How Has It Evolved?

For 20 years, Americana has been growing rapidly, taking inspiration from all types of music to make beautifully original tunes. Only a decade ago, it was barely recognized; The Avett Brothers played their Americana music in front of a mere 150 people in 2007. By 2014, they’d made it in front of a crowd of 85,000 fans. The genre has become well recognized not only by top music professionals, but also the general public. In fact, Americana is one of the best-selling genres of today, according to Billboard’s Top 20 album charts.

How Can You Spot It and Play It?

Americana music is difficult to spot, due to the many genres it pulls from. If you hear music that you can’t quite place into the mold of other musical genres, you may be listening to Americana.

You might hear elements of country, gospel, R&B, jazz music, and more all rolled into one. The simple fact is that Americana musicians focus on making music according to their passions and talents, instead of trying to emulate other mass-produced sounds.

If you’d like to play or compose Americana music, start by listening to other musicians in the genre. Follow your own intuition when writing your songs. Pull from various other established genres, to bring it all together in one cohesive Americana composition. Much of Americana music uses acoustic sounds, but some also use full electric bands. The sky’s the limit.

Who Are Key Americana Musicians?

Plenty of Americana musicians have made an impact on the genre, and the public. Have you heard of the popular band Mumford and Sons? This British band formed in 2007, and later went on to win several Grammys in 2012, and 2013.

Jason Isbell is another popular Americana artist who hit the top of several Billboard charts, including the number one position in the country chart. He won two Grammys in 2016; one for Best American Roots Song, and one for Best Americana Album.

Other notable influencers include Lucinda Williams, Carolina Chocolate Drops, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, The Civil Wars, and The Lumineers. All of these musicians/bands have gone on to be nominated for, or win, several types of awards – from Americana Music Honors & Awards to Grammy Awards – which goes to show that Americana is going strong. Despite being such a new form of music, musicians in the genre have just as much a chance to hit mainstream popularity as anyone else.

Americana music is a fantastic genre for music-lovers and musicians who enjoy exploring multiple genres. The basis of Americana lies in creating something fresh, that hasn’t been heard over and over again in mainstream music. Now that you know more about Americana, are you intrigued to explore the genre? Will you keep an ear out for it on the radio? Would you be interested in playing, or composing, Americana music?