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Sunday, 7 June 2015

How to Write a Good Album Review

At risk of sounding immodest, I have the skills to be the G.O.A.T. when it comes to music criticism. Unfortunately I'm not gonna waste my time trying to be a music journalist, mostly because some asshole invented the internet, so there's no way to make even an iota of money writing about music anymore. Also, being a professional music critic means you have to spend most of your day trying to formulate an opinion on the completely unremarkable music your boss has mandated for review, which is a great way to quickly take all the fun and passion out of listening to music. Personally, I'm not about that life.

That being said, some of you poor souls are either delusional or self-depricating enough to believe you can be a professional music critic in the year 2015. If you're just starting out, writing a good review can seem like a daunting task, but it's actually kinda formulaic and super easy. However there are also a lot of opportunities for critics to stumble. If you want to write music reviews but don't know where to start, fear not! I've developed four tips to make writing good reviews easier. Here they are:

1. Keep your review between 250-550 words

Yo, real talk -- if your review is over 600 words, you're either rambling or talking out your ass. As a critic in 2015, you are no longer a gatekeeper of public opinion; you're a salesperson who's job is to tell us whether or not the album you're reviewing is worth listening to. We don't need a fucking dissertation -- provide us with some background info, talk about what you liked, talk about what you didn't like, conclude and BOOM, you're done. It goes without saying, but the length of your piece should be relative to the length of what you're reviewing. A two song single probably doesn't warrant a 500 word review, whereas a full length review shouldn't be under 300 words. In my opinion, mastering your word count is the most important skill when it comes to writing reviews.

2. Press kits are your friend 

Sounding like an expert is really easy when you're talking about your favourite bands/genres/producers/whatever, but if you wanna write reviews with any regularity you're eventually going to have to step out of your comfort zone and cover something you have no reference for. When this happens, get your hands on the album's press kit (or talk to a member of the band) and refer back to the information when writing your review. The press kit puts the album in perspective and will give you a blueprint when trying to pinpoint references to the band's influences/earlier work. However (!!!), don't rely too heavily on the press kit. Make your own opinions up, or you'll sound like a poser to the band's fans/fans of the genre you're talking about.

Lie to yourself all you want, hxc kids. This is good music.

3. Avoid cliches like the plague

"Wall of sound", "poppy melodies", "smooth vocal delivery". As somebody who's spent more than their fair share of time reading about music, nothing jumps out and says "please disregard anything I have to say" more than when a reviewer pulls out a lazy cliche. Don't be like every other asshole and tell me the metal album uses "buzzsaw" guitars; explain what the guitars sound like. Is the guitar tone similar to the tone of another band? Did the guitar playing evoke a specific emotion in you when you heard it? If the answer to those questions is "nah, but it sounds like a buzzsaw" then the guitar playing is unremarkable and there's no point in talking about it. Please, for everybody's sake -- don't be lazy, use your own words.

4. Keep it in perspective!

This is big for me, as I can't tell you how many times I've looked back on something I wrote in like 2011 and thought; "damn, I can't believe I said something so stupid!" Look, I know you're 19 years old and you think you know everything. I'm sure you genuinely believe the new Turnstile record is gonna save hardcore and that Taylor Swift is literally worse than polio, but the fact of the matter is, your opinions are incorrect. There's nothing wrong with really liking or disliking something, but when you take that opinion out of the personal realm and start making grandiose statements about the band's legacy or whatever, you're entering dangerous territory. The impact of an album is something to be retrospectively decided years after it's release, not boldly predicted in your review. Trust me, if you start making outrageous statements about legacy, you will regret them.
Those are the four biggest pointers I could think of when it comes to writing album reviews. They aren't Sharia Law, but if you use them as guidelines, you'll be living your dream of getting paid peanuts to essentially provide free promotion for a multi-billion dollar industry in no time! There are some other important pointers to mention like "know your audience" and "use AP/CP style" but I'm not your Journalism 1 prof so I'm not gonna bore you with that stuff. Stay safe, and good luck with reviewing!

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