What is House Music? 9 Top Examples & History

What is House Music

As the song goes “House music is a universal language spoken and understood by all” Chuck Roberts gave us a prayer that perfectly described house music and the culture that surrounds it. From humble beginnings to a worldwide phenomenon, house music is everywhere today.

What makes house music amazing and how did it become such an important musical genre? Here we’ll cover what is house music, its history, and give you some examples.

Definition: What Is House Music?

What Is House Music - Definition

House music is a musical genre birthed in Chicago in the 1980s. With roots in disco, the house uses a similar beat and song structure but combines it with electronic elements, samples, and synthesizers.

Over time the sound would transform and morph into a wide range of subgenres from deep to energetic. No matter what style of house music you enjoy, most of the songs have similar characteristics.

House Music Characteristics

What does house music sound like? House is an extremely broad musical genre and songs can have widely different tones and sounds. Whether it’s deep, funky, progressive, or electro, house music does have a few key characteristics that make it house.

Here are some of the most common characteristics you’ll find in a house music song.

4/4 Time Signature and Beat

Almost every house song that has ever been written will have a 4/4 time signature. A kickdrum will also be played on every beat. This gives the music its signature four-on-the-floor sound. Hi-hats and claps are normally played offbeat to add funk to the tune.

Dance Tempo

Most house music sticks to a danceable tempo between 120 and 130 beats per minute (BPM). Of course, there are exceptions. Chill house tunes may slow to 100 BPM while hard house and other aggressive genres can have BPMs that exceed 150.

Disco and Soul Influences

Birthed from Disco DJs, House owes much of its sound to disco musicians and producers in the 1970s. You’ll find countless house music records those sample melodies, basslines, and vocals from disco and soul tracks.

Lots and Lots of Samples

Sampling became incredibly popular with hip hop and house musicians in the 1980s. Samplers of the time were normally more affordable than purchasing instruments. This gave inner-city kids a chance to express themselves in a new and unique way.

Samples and loops are a perfect match for house music’s repetitive nature.

Synthesizer and Drum Machine Sounds

The synths and drums used in house music are greatly influenced by equipment designed in the 80s. The Roland TR-808 is the drum machine of choice for house music  Don’t forget to add an acid bassline from the Roland TB-303 or a melody from a Nord synth to perfect your house tune.

Repetitive Vocal and Hook Loops

While not every house song will have this feature, many producers will utilize a repetitive vocal hook in their production. This is prevalent in commercial house music more than it is in the underground styles.

A perfect example is “Around the World” by Daft Punk. During the track's run time, the duo repeat the hook “around the world” 144 times.

Buildups, Breakdowns, and Drops

Nothing can get a crowd dancing like a good build-up. The repetitive nature of house music can be used to slowly build tension in the song until the DJ releases it with a breakdown. The song will begin to build again until it’s ready for release, and the drop will finally hit, and the dancefloor will erupt.

DJing and Performance

Most house music performances are handled by a DJ instead of a band. DJs use a combination of records or digital music players to seamlessly blend songs. This technique is called beat matching and can be used to create new songs and sounds from the original works.

9 Examples of House Music

What does house music sound like? House has many subgenres for you to enjoy. From deep tunes to pop anthems, there is something for everyone to love about house music. Here are 9 of our favorite house music examples.

Your Love – Frankie Knuckles

Released in 1986, “Your Love” is one of the first house records to receive critical praise for the recording industry.

From the deep and sultry vocals to the mesmerizing beats, “Your Love” is a dancefloor anthem that has lasted through the ages and will continue to be extremely influential to future generations of inspiring DJs and music producers.

One More Time – Daft Punk

“One More Time” is a masterful French house production that went on to have worldwide crossover appeal. Off their second album, Discovery, Daft Punk transformed house music forever, and it finally began to get the attention it deserved on an international scale.

Move Your Body (The House Music Anthem)  – Marshall Jefferson

You can thank Marshall Jefferson for piano-house music. The piano riff and drums build and build until Jefferson drops one of the most iconic vocals of any house song to date. If I had one song to describe house music to someone, “Move your Body” would be my first choice.

Acid Tracks – Phuture

Acid house and tracks like “Acid Tracks” were extremely influential and responsible for the Summer of Love in the UK.

The combination of house beats, psychedelic synths, and techno created Acid House. This sound was embraced by Europe and helped birth the careers of some of the biggest DJs in the world, including Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, and Pete Tong.

Show Me Love – Robin S.

While house music stayed underground for its early years, some exceptions found pop and chart success. Robin S. broke through the charts in 1993 with “Show Me Love” and hit number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

You Don’t Know Me – Armand Van Helden

NYC native, Armand Van Helden produced this amazing mix of garage beats and vocals. Many house music producers in the late 90s focused on funk combined with more repetitive drums.

“You Don’t Know Me” has been a mainstay in DJs crates since the 90s and can be played by DJs in almost any genre. The song works perfectly during a sunset gig in Ibiza or a disco in NYC.

Who’s Afraid of Detroit – Claude VonStroke

The mid-2000s found many house music producers embracing a darker and deeper sound. Who’s afraid of Detroit is a perfect example of the minimal and deep sound of this era.

The song features a minimal sound that allows the beat and bassline to breathe. Once the melody comes arrives, it's time to dance to the confusing sounds. Claude Von Stroke perfectly captures the feeling of a deep dark underground club in “Who’s Afraid of Detroit.”

Don’t You Worry Child – Swedish House Mafia

The late 2000s saw house music change forever as the United States pop and music festival scene finally embraced house music. “Don’t You Worry Child” is a perfect example of this sound?

The piano background builds the song to a fever pitch, while the simple but effective vocals will give you chills while you wait for the song to drop. Once the beat hits, you’ll have a hard time embracing the song and dancing nonstop.

Levels – Avicii

By 2011, the world had accepted house music, and it quickly became one of the largest musical genres on the planet. The big room sound was now called “EDM,” and every festival was filled with massive stars like Avicii.

Levels and other songs like it are a perfect time capsule back to the explosion of the EDM sound in the 2010s.

5 Top House Musicians

Top House Musicians

Since the 80s, there have been thousands of house music DJs, producers, and musicians who have had a huge impact on the genre. Here are five musicians that birthed and transformed this musical genre.

Frankie Knuckles

Known as the Godfather of House Music, Frankie Knuckles is a pioneer. As a DJ, Frankie was instrumental in the early NYC scene and DJd with the legendary Larry Levan at The Continental Baths and the Gallery.

It wasn’t until the late 70s that he began to fine-tune his sound at The Warehouse in Chicago. Here he would combine rare disco cuts, European synth-inspired music, and other rare tracks for this members-only gay club.

The sound of the Warehouse club quickly caught on across Chicago and began to infiltrate clubs in NYC and Detroit as well. From there, house music was born, and it became the worldwide phenomenon we enjoy today.

Marshall Jefferson

If you’ve ever enjoyed a piano riff on the dancefloor, you can thank Marshall Jefferson. His 1986 single “Move Your Body” features a hypnotic piano riff combined with a repetitive vocal that will have you dancing all night long. After “Move Your Body,” many house music producers adopted piano chords to their tracks.

This Chicago native was a major influence on house music during its infancy in the late 1980s. Jefferson was also a major factor in kick-starting the European house scene during a UK tour with Frankie Knuckles in 1987. From there, acid house took Europe by storm thanks to Jefferson and Knuckles

Pete Tong

From the acid house craze in the 80s to the world’s most famous house music radio show host, house music would not have the same popularity without Pete Tong.

As a radio personality on BBC1, Pete Tong began hosting The Essential Selection. This live DJ broadcast hosted weekly DJ mix shows from DJs around the world and was highly praised for its originality and amazing broadcasts.

From there, The Essential Mix found worldwide success and helped DJs like Tiesto, Daft Punk, Sasha, and Paul Van Dyk achieve worldwide fame.

Daft Punk

Daft Punk pioneered the French House craze in the early 2000s. From there, they went on to become one of the most famous bands on the planet and have worked with a vast array of pop stars, including Kanye West, Missy Elliot, and The Weeknd.

Their debut album, Homework, was an instant success and changed the house music scene overnight. French house combined the funk of Chicago house, the repetitiveness and robotic sound of Detroit techno, and combined it with a pop vibe to create something truly unique.

While the famous duo released a new album as recently as 2013, the two announced that they would no longer be collaborating together. This was a big hit to the House scene but one that was inevitable for one of the groups that helped to define the genre.

David Guetta

Another French house alumni, David Guetta, brought house music out of the nightclub and into the mainstream in the late 2000s.

He found major crossover success chart-topping tunes including “Stay,” “Titanium,” and “Nothing but the Beat.” Guetta’s sound has anthem-level energy, big buildups, and captivating lyrics. If you’ve ever been to a music festival in the past 10 years, you’ve probably heard thousands of people chanting his songs.

As one of the most successful EDM producers, Guetta has brought house music to the masses.

The History of House Music

From humble beginnings in Chicago to packing stadiums worldwide, here is the history of house music.

Disco Never Died

While mainstream radio may have declared “

In major cities like NYC, Chicago, and Detroit, dance floors remained packed. In NYC, The Garage and The Loft replaced clubs like Studio 54. These new venues offered an all-night experience, freedom, and community. DJ like Larry Levan and David Mancuso began blending disco, soul, funk, pop, and techno records to their mostly gay crowds all night long.

It was at the Garage where Frankie Knuckles began his journey to become The Godfather of House Music.

The 1980s and Early Years

The history of the house can be traced to the Warehouse nightclub in Chicago. It was here that an aspiring DJ created a brand new sound.

This three-story factory was about to become the epicenter of something special.

Frankie Knuckles was no stranger to the DJ booth before he arrived at the Warehouse, but he perfected his sound there. Knuckles would create seamless danceable grooves by mixing two or three records. The combination of records would create a new and unique sound, and the crowds were instantly hooked.

The lucky attendees of The Warehouse were the first people in the world to experience this new sound and cultural movement.

Acid House and the UK Explosion

The summer of 1988 would change the UK forever. A group of friends discovered acid house in Ibiza in 1988 and decided to host their acid house nights. These nights quickly grew out of control, and the promoters began hosting huge illegal raves in warehouses and fields near London.

Some of the first acid house nights were hosted by Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway, and Pete Tong, both of who went on to have massive international success as DJs.

By 1989, UK producers were creating their songs and adding their twists to the music

House Music in the 90s

While house music was still and niche or underground genre in the 90s, it did see some popularity and success. Artists like Black Box, C&C Music Factory, Haddaway, Amber, and Crystal Waters all saw international success and kept dancefloors busy throughout the 90s.

The Birth of The Rave and New Genres

During the 90s and early 2000s, Raves dominated the underground scene. As the crowds grew bigger, the sound of house and techno began to morph as well. The musicians of this era branched out and began to create brand new genres that had their roots in house and techno but were fundamentally different.

Mainland Europe was dominated by trance, and DJs like Paul Van Dyk, Tiesto, and Armand Van Buren became worldwide phenomena. Breakbeats also became huge during this era, with Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, and The Chemical Brothers hitting billboard charts.

Drum & bass, garage, hardcore techno, gabber, electro, and other genres slowly began to gain underground followings as well during the 90s. Many of these genres would go onto pop and international success in the 200s and beyond.

French House Takes Over the World

Europe had been filling clubs for years with house music. In the 90s, house music regained popularity in the US with the birth of French houses in the late 90s. As Daft Punk took over the dancefloors, artists like Armand Van Helden, Stardust, Cassius, and more were crafting incredible dancefloor-friendly tunes for the masses.

Progressive House, Tech House, and Minimal House

While French house was filled with disco hooks and funk, many other DJs took a different route with their production in the 2000s.

A deeper sound with minimal melodies and sounds permeated many clubs around the world. DJs like Danny Tenaglia, Deep Dish, Sasha, and Digweed were at the forefront of this scene. Club attendees would attend 10-12 hour marathon sets featuring this style of music.

House Goes Big in the 2000s

While bands like Daft Punk saw success in the late 90s, house music would have to wait until the mid-2000s to gain worldwide popularity.

US promoters and music festivals began taking house music seriously and began booking international headliners like David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, and Avicii. This big-room sound became the EDM that we hear today.

By 2010, the house had gone mainstream, and pop musicians began to embrace the sound as well.

House Music Today

Today house music is just as popular as ever. House is an ever-changing genre. While they don’t get nearly as much radio time as they did back in the late 2000s and early 2010s, they certainly have left an impact on the music scene and continue to innovate within their sound. Sounds or artists might change year to year, house music keeps on chugging and will have its fans moving their bodies for decades to come.

What Is House Music? Final Thoughts

House music has kept the world dancing for almost 50 years. From its humble beginnings in Chicago to its meteoric rise of today, house music has touched the lives of countless people and has given a wide range of people their own community and soundtrack to move their bodies to.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

Similar Posts