I’m a consistent blog reader, and I try my best to keep in touch with what’s new and exciting in the industry, Chicago-land or otherwise – and what I’ve been noticing is that there are three types of music reviews. I’m doing this to show how I choose to critique your music – and to diagnose issues that I have with the ever increasing amateur writer out there. My ultimate goal, with independent music is critique using two points: 1. Present it to readers explaining what is good about it or what’s bad about it – regardless of genre or personal taste and 2. Give my opinion on why I do or do not like it. These things are important – cuz maybe I’m not into industrial funk – but I can tell my readers what it sounds like, and then offer up my opinion on what works on the album and what doesn’t work on the album – it’s a fine line, but I do my best to straddle it. Now, obviously there are different opinions to be had, I’m just trying to give you all an idea of what I do and why I choose to do it this way.
The track by track listing
This is a review that goes through an album track by individual track and expounds a sentence or two on the sound, but more often than not is just a summary of each song – ie; what it’s about, where it falls on the album, and sometimes, if the reviewer has done their homework – how each song fits the overall theme and/or mood of the artistic piece. This last portion has the distinction of sometimes seeking out meaning where it does not lie.
With an established artist, this can sometimes work well – giving people an idea of the songs they may want to buy or download before going out and spending the money on a full album; unfortunately though, to me, this type of review is incredibly boring. I don’t want a plot summary of the album, I want to know why I should listen to it – what is the appeal? Plus, for the independent artist – track listing is sometimes last on their mind – more important is showing off their sound, the presentation of their cultivated baby. So for me, this makes me want to describe them with a broad brush –which brings me to my next type:
The Repeat Review
Believe it or not, reviewers receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails a day from artists seeking some type of exposure. If the artist is smart, they’ll also send a quick descriptor of themselves/their album so the reviewer knows what they are getting into. The lazier critic will take these biographies and summaries, switch a few words out, and voila, there you go – it’s a home spun review from somebody too busy to listen, or too lazy to write. Of course there are a multitude of reasons this may happen, but a true independent music critic will give the music an unbiased listen – and report what they heard.
Well, this can save a lot of time – and we are all guilty of it at one point or another in our careers but it does a dis-service to the artist and to the reader. If I reprinted everything I’ve been sent – you would think every single band reviewed has played the biggest venues for the biggest crowds and they are like totally super awesome and I can’t believe you haven’t heard of them!!! Unfortunately, every band is not “embryonic and soulful on stage” and a lot of times it definitely doesn’t follow through on the album. The biography is nice – it gives me a base line to start with. For example, if it’s a DIY record – ok, I’m not going to expect it to sound like John Mayer’s new release – I’ll give it some leeway on the sound and I’ll concentrate on another selling point. Point is, bios are great – but they aren’t reviews.
Finally – The Broad Summary
My favorite type – and the kind I find most useful for critiquing independent music that’s never been heard before. See, lots of times the artists I review are not yet established – maybe they have a bio, maybe not – sometimes I just get a list of 3 songs on a burnt CD. I don’t usually get a ton of stuff to work with – so I concentrate on the sound – maybe the lyrics – possibly the recording technique – the musicianship/performance on the album. It gives me a multitude of options to sell the independent musician’s music for them; good or bad. It gives me an opportunity, as a writer, to push myself and come up with inventive descriptors and innovative techniques to give a reader the feel of the music – without even hearing it.
So, what do you all think? Am I right here? Wrong? Do you even care?