How to write a good music review
Write like a pro!
In this digital age, anybody can be a critic. Blogs are generally free to start, Amazon want you to review your purchases and there’s an abundance of music websites who will happily take your work and publish it. As with any kind of market saturation, there is always going to be a gulf in class between those who can pull it off well, and have been doing so for many years, and those who mean well but haven’t quite nailed the art yet.
Never fear though, nobody is born a professional journalist and it takes time to perfect the art. This guide will provide you with valuable tips on writing music reviews and will also point out some traps that aspiring writers fall into:
1. Be as creative as you like. The best writers are the ones who are entertaining. Treat writing a review as something that is fun and not a chore, otherwise it will show!
2. Less is more. Nobody is going to read an essay-sized review. Try to keep it short and punchy; 150-200 words is a nice length. 300 words at the very most for album reviews, although live reviews can be longer depending on the event. Nobody is interested in reading a 500 word history - get to the point! My team of writers know that anything too long will be trimmed! Anyone with professional journalism training will tell you that keeping within a word limit is a skill in itself.
3. Don’t underestimate the power of language. What’s more effective? “Nice riff that’s really powerful and the vocals are good too” or “It hits you like a wall of noise with each element ricocheting inside your head; the cascading, thick layers of electric guitar and the visceral vocal attack combine spectacularly”
4. Avoid first person narration. It’s unprofessional and easy to avoid. Try phrases such as “It could be said that….” and “One might suggest…” instead of “I think that…”
5. Assume that your reader already knows a bit about music. Don’t over explain everything or assume your reader is stupid. They’ve come across your review because they were looking for it.
6. Spell check and proofread. If you’re unsure on something, ask a friend to read it through.
7. Do not talk about how much you love an artist. Bias is easy to spot and nobody cares what a fan boy thinks.
8. Don’t be too pretentious. Like it says above, language is powerful so be creative and have fun, but nobody is going to be impressed by how many big words you use.
9. Don’t forget to actually make your point! How many times have you read a review but been left none the wiser as to whether it’s actually good?
10. Read other people’s reviews. Make sure you don’t miss out on any details, but don’t go stealing their work because you will get found out!
11. A couple of comparisons are acceptable for lesser established artists, but avoid them completely when talking about well established artists.
12. Most importantly - have an original and definite style!
Here is a template for writing a good review.
[Intro – 50-70 words | Include a bit of background information, possibly who produced it, where they were at before this release and if the band are unknown – where they’re from and a couple of influences. This part of the review should mostly include facts.]
[Details – 70-120 words | The interesting bit – what’s on it? What does it sound like? How to is compare? Have they evolved or are they pretty much the same? Rate and slate as much as you like – remember: this is supposed to be entertaining. Use exaggerated comparisons, inventive analogies and metaphor to get your point across.]
[Conclusion – 50-100 words | Just wrap it up really. Never finish a review abruptly because it’s unprofessional. Instead, just to fade it out with some light comments about whether it’s worth listening to or not.]
And here is an example review:
Alexisonfire – Old Crows / Young Cardinals Review
Having already matured with their 2006 release ‘Crisis’, Alexisonfire have come back this year with their fourth full-length album ‘Old Crows/Young Cardinals’ – an absolute gem. ‘Crisis’ saw the Canadian five-piece transform their post-hardcore sound into something more refined and artistic and 2009 has only seen them develop further.
Fans loyal to early Alexisonfire may hate this progression away from their geeky past, but to keep them sweet there is still a bit of shouty punk in the mix with ‘Young Cardinals’. The two songs ‘Sons of Privilege’ and ‘Born and Raised’ sit together perfectly separated only by a split second of silence – ample time for you to punch the air just before you rock your arse off.
Lyrically the band have produced their most challenging record yet; they tackle themes such as economics and those who oppose same-sex marriage and with loads of catchy vocal hooks to sing along to. You can’t go wrong!