#435: How to Write a Music Review

GETTING MORE TALE #435: How to Write a Music Review

So you want to throw your voice into the din, and write album reviews?  Good for you!  Allow me to offer some suggestions to help yours stand out.

First and foremost:  Know your subject.  That doesn’t mean you have to do a whole bunch of research.  It means you should listen to the music and pay attention to the parts you want to talk about.  Don’t say, “This song is really catchy” before you realize you can’t remember how it goes the next day.  Listen and let it speak.  It’s always tempting to blast a new release and say, “It’s awesome!” or “It sucks!”  Just browse Amazon for hundreds of reviews like that.  Don’t say something is “awesome” or “sucks” unless you are sure that’s how you feel about it, and can back it up in your review.

Research isn’t necessary, but you do have to make sure your review is factually correct.  If you don’t, the trolls will come out.  For example don’t say “Steve Perry is singing better than ever on the latest Journey album,” because that’s not him!  Make sure you get those things straight – who plays on the album, who wrote the songs.  All this can be easily determined via Wikipedia which is usually accurate enough for a review.  It takes a few extra minutes, but helps ensure you won’t sound like an idiot.  When all this information is out there and available for free, there’s no excuse for inaccuracy.

Another great tip:   Be passionate.   It’s music after all.  How does it make you feel?  Put that feeling (positive or negative) into your review.  If readers can pick up on your passion, it’ll help keep them engaged.  You don’t want a dry, boring review that people skip to the end to read the rating.

One reviewers’ strategy that I recommend:  Read other reviews.  Lots and lots of them.  See what you like, and do not like, about other writers’ styles.  What can you do better?  Use this to inform your own style.  Perhaps, like me, you like a review that is thorough.  On the other hand perhaps you prefer to cut to the chase.  Either technique is valid and perhaps you will choose to mix the two.  To me, the most rewarding part of reading other reviews is picking up on words and phrases that I might not have used otherwise.  There are only so many ways that I have in my verbal arsenal to describe “awesome” riffs, “killer” lead vocals, “pounding” drums, “bone-shaking” bass, or “scorching” lead guitars.  Add more words and phrases to your bag by paying attention to other writers.  And by all means, don’t be afraid to use a thesaurus!  I use them all the time, to remind myself of words I like but just can’t think of when I need them!

Once you’ve written a few reviews, I think it’s important to shake it up.  Keep your readers interested by changing up your style a bit.  Don’t do every single review as track-by-track.  Don’t use the same format every time.  Don’t allow yourself to get bored with your own writing.  If you’re bored, will your readers follow suit?

What about length?  Length does not matter.  If you have a lot to say, then say it.  Writing reviews online is completely different from doing it for print publications.  There are no word limits, and there are no censors.  Short is fine too.  Some of the best reviews I’ve ever read were just one sentence.  “Shit Sandwich” – everybody remembers that two-word review from This is Spinal Tap.    Of course the review “Shit Sandwich”, classic as it is, does violate an earlier rule:  “Don’t just say an album sucks.”  Sometimes you can get away with it, if you’re an established reviewer, because readers can refer back to your past more detailed work and see what you had to say about the band before.  This is a thin line – the fine line between clever and stupid….

How about photos and videos?  They are helpful to augment a review.  The help break it up visually and add more information.  But even though a picture can speak 1000 words, make sure your words are up to par.  The words must come first.  Everything else is just icing.  (Don’t use too much icing, either!)

Ultimately, the best advice is the simplest:  Enjoy what you do.  Write music reviews simply because that’s what you want to do.   If you spend all day talking about and thinking about music anyway, chances are you’ve already written a bunch of great reviews in your head.  Now you just need to get them out on paper.

Get out there and do it – there’s nobody to stop you!

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48 comments

  1. Mike, this is a very helpful and practical ‘how to’ article, not mention generous of spirit!
    I’d just add one little caveat about images and videos: if your readers are using phones, tablets, public/shared wifi, etc., graphic-heavy posts and pages can be slow or crash altogether, which is discouraging.
    If I were ever tempted to write a music review, this would be my go-to how to. :)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. All solid advice, Mike. Could I offer a couple more dot points?

    The first might sound a bit odd. If you are not an experienced writer, read your piece out loud. If you stumble or get confused, it probably needs re-writing.

    Second, and this is challenging but incredibly useful, ask someone to read and criticise your writing. I’ve visited blogs where I don’t get beyond a paragraph because it is just too hard to read.

    And the third of my two points is, make sure you have something to say. There are zillions of words out there. Why should someone spend time reading yours?

    And finally, write write write.

    Hope that all is OK to add, Mike. It’s a great idea for a post and I hope others join in the discussion too.

    Cheers.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Great advice, Mike.

    Personally, I have two different “styles” that I employ. For my ‘Hindsight’ series, I put a lot of info into how the album/song came into my life, where I was musically and in terms of life etc. Those tend to be my longer pieces. I believe that if you’re passionate about music enough to want to write about it, that it has a strong emotional impact on you. Songs or albums are tied in with eras of your life, with events and emotions that tinge the music. So I want to include that, to provide context. There are times when it feels self-indulgent, but it *is* my blog and I can write what I like. Hopefully those that read it don’t get too bored of it. The other style is the ‘Compendium’ series which I omit the background and personal information (or limit it, certainly) and focus on mini-reviewing the albums and songs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John! Yes I too omit/limit the background stuff when it’s not necessary. Sometimes you need it…you couldn’t review “Chinese Democracy” for example without some kind of intro and background. I also find when I do an album review series, I want to add more connective tissue to the reviews.

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        1. If I can interject here, I think you know you’re done when the booze is gone, there are wild animals in your living room, you can’t feel your legs and you’re naked and covered in sweat in the middle of your harem, and the neighbours have called the police. Again.

          THEN it’s probably time to hang up your skates until tomorrow.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. But seriously… (sit down, Mr. Collins), you make a lot of excellent point. The KMA is coming up on 9 years old (!) and over all that time I have tried many different ways of writing it, posting it, you name it. I don’t follow many of your rules these days, still just writing WAHOO! most of the time. But when i am reading other peoples’ reviews, a lot of the points you hit hold very true.

    If I can add one more: spell-check. And be your own grammar police!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES again spell check is built-in to everything these days so there is no excuse for that! Well said Aaron.

      I think I’m gonna have to do a Part 2 with this. So many great perspectives here. I love posting this stuff and getting the feedback.

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        1. Haha that’s awesome.

          I did that on a Modest Mouse review on time, said something like “If I wanted Pavement, I’d just listen to Pavement!” and Deke checked in to make sure I was feeling OK. Hahaha.

          And then of course someone else said, about Pavement, that “if they wanted The Jam they would just listen to The Jam.” And so on.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Great points! I think if your review warrants longform, go for it, but make sure you have something to say. Don’t go on and on for the sake of it. I will read both long and short posts as long as they are interesting.

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