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!