Open thread: How do you write music reviews?

A reader recently wrote me asking for advice on how to write music reviews. Now, I feel that writing reviews is fairly subjective – I personally prefer to go straight for the jugular while my music blogging compadre OddOne often surrounds his reviews with witty anecdotal prose that’s often as entertaining as the music he’s reviewing.

Here’s the message I received – I’m hoping that those of you who review singles and albums on Shout can chip in with your suggestions on how to write reviews:

I appreciate you must have many messages to reply to, however I was hoping you could provide me with information on how to write music reviews. I enjoy listening to music a great deal and would love to air my opinions on all the latest singles.

I have so many thoughts on so many songs but I have trouble wording these thoughts in a creative way, and I was wondering if you could give me any tips on how to improve my writing technique.

Here are a few of my own thoughts:

  1. Size is not an issue. Look at the magazines – usually record reviews are incredibly short. On the internet, space is not an issue, so you’ve got the time to explain your opinions.
  2. Media makes everything better – I always head my review with a picture of the record cover or, failing that, the band. And I always – midway through or at the end of the review – embed the YouTube video of the song so people can listen for themselves.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be negative – If you don’t like the song, say so. We get flack here all the time from fans who disagree with our reviews, but we’re not writing to please the fans, we’re writing to share our opinions. We’d be sellouts if we liked everything that an artist released.
  4. Be able to back up your opinions – Double check your facts, for a start. It’s easy to make an assumption, only to be corrected by a smug git in the comments. Displaying a knowledge of the artist, their past releases and the genre in general all help to give credibility to what you’re writing.
  5. Be entertaining – Try to incorporate a few clever phrases or ideas to entertain your audience. Not at the expense of the review, obviously, but there are many funny ways to be disparaging about bad music. Read around other reviewers and see what they have to say.
  6. Comparisons are useful – I’ve read a lot over the years about artists hating to be pigeon-holed. The fact is, comparisons – to other artists, to other genres, even to other songs in an artist’s back catalog – are completely valid. They’re a way of showing you know what you’re talking about and reinforcing your opinions.

I’ve probably missed a ton of stuff, and I hope that some of you can fill in the obvious blanks! There are a ton of questions I’d like to ask as well – like album reviews – all at once or on a track by track basis? Let’s have a discussion around this topic, shall we?

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