Do you like music? Do you like writing? Do you want to combine the two, but have no idea where to start? That’s where I come in … with my ‘Blaggers Guide to Music Journalism’. Following the advice contained within this article you can convince people you actually know what you’re talking about. God knows how I’ve managed to do it … but I have, so it seems that I’m somehow qualified to tell you how to do it too.
- Listen to the record, in its entirety. Sounds like a really obvious statement, but so many people don’t appreciate the ability to hear a whole album, perhaps penning the review as they listen in order to meet a deadline. I’m not going to lie, I’ve done this: and you’ve been able to tell, when reading my review. You need to listen to the album with an open mind, and then listen to it again with a critical ear. This will prevent you from making rash decisions and deciding you’re going to write a review slating Taylor Swift’s 1989, simply because you think she’s really annoying.
- In the planning stage of your review, make a table that looks a little bit like this. It helps to organise your thoughts so that you can structure your review in a cohesive manner e.g. talk about the strengths and then the weaknesses, rather than saying “this song is good this one is bad this one is good and then there are some more bad ones”. Sorry to stick with the theme of Taylor Swift, but it exemplifies my point quite well:
|Style||Classic, slick chorus – club remix practically waiting to happen||Bad Blood||Petty feud with Katy Perry in audible form – immature|
|Out of the Woods||Interesting instrumental components. VW element? Evocative of Foxes||Shake It Off||Really irritating; overplayed on radio stations and accusations of racial stereotyping|
|All You Had To Do Was Stay||Relatability; thematically similar to JoJo or Rihanna, less annoying||I Wish You Would||Lacklustre, sameish|
|Blank Space||Unmanufactured, simplistic but beautiful lyricism – maturity as an artist||This Love||Filler track|
|Wildest Dreams||Continues theme of maturity; sexual tones and noises, husky||I Know Places||Slow starting – tempted to skip|
|How You Get The Girl||Bedroom mirror routine waiting to happen|
|Clean||Slow and thoughtful reflection|
- Explain a bit about the artist in the introduction to your review. Is this their debut? Have they released this record really soon after their last one – and could you use that to talk about it sounding rushed? Have they had a successful tour? Has anything happened on a personal level – such as a death or a relationship feud – that’s inspired the album thematically? Give your reader a bit of interesting background information. Note I said a bit and interesting – don’t just copy and paste Wikipedia, and make sure it’s engaging or people will stop reading. One or two sentences should do – and make sure your facts are right, too. It’s awkward if you’ve rushed a piece and copied the wrong information in, especially if your article is being published somewhere where you can’t log in and make amends to your own piece!
- Put forward a BALANCED argument as to why you think the album is good, bad or average. Use your table to talk about the good and the bad and make a value judgement as to where the album falls on the spectrum of “I would buy 10 copies of this!!!” right down to “I would rather rip off my own ears than hear this again”.
- When describing the sound of the songs use creative language; don’t just pick out the musical components e.g. “the singer’s voice is loud and clear”, use feasible metaphors to unpick the album e.g. “the vocal is as clean as a freshly laundered bed sheet”. Use extended metaphors e.g. the entire album is a pizza and you have some songs that are meaty, some that are really spicy and not to everyone’s taste and then the bland vegetable tracks
- Feel free to be funny provided its tasteful
- Close the album review with a summative comment about why you like/didn’t like the album, perhaps commenting on whether it’s an improvement on their last record or if an artist has tried something new and perhaps the risk has paid off. This will consolidate in your readers mind whether they want to go away and listen, maybe even buy, the album you’re discussing
- Talk about the support band. Did they set the scene for the main act? Are you going to go away and check out their music?
- Talk about the venue, and what it was able to bring to the gig e.g. if it’s a big venue did it highlight how far a band has progressed in a short space of time? If it was a small venue did the intimacy enhance the show?
- Report funny stuff that happened – e.g. what did the main singer do when someone threw a bra at him? How did the band ad lib when the frontman forgot the words? The banter between songs is enjoyable as an audience member, and if reported in the right way, can be just as funny to someone reading your review
- Pick out a few songs from the setlist that were good, and a few that were poor or vice versa. You don’t have to work chronologically through the setlist because chances are you’ll end up repeating yourself, or not having much to say about the filler songs.
- Be creative in how you describe the songs and the response they elicited from the audience.
- Make a summative comment at the end: is this the start of a new era for the band? Are you going to wake up covered in bruises the next day? Would you rather have been at home watching TV?
- Pay more attention to the support acts than the main act in your review. Whatever you say about them should SUPPORT your argument as to how the night was overall
- Give us the history of the building the gig was in unless its relevant. It’s not a history lesson
- Don’t point out the obvious “lots of people sang along” that’s really boring and doesn’t add anything to your review
- Waffle on about how good looking the lead singer is / give a “what they were wearing” run down, complete with “where to buy”. If we wanted to read a fashion magazine or gush about how beautiful Matt Healy is, we’d a) buy a fashion magazine or b) go on Tumblr
- Be inconsistent with formatting. If you’re writing for your own blog, then decide on a house style and stick to it e.g. album names in italics artist names in bold and ‘songs in single quotation marks’. If you write for a site then check their house style and follow it throughout your piece. It makes editors jobs a lot easier and means your piece will probably go live a lot sooner, if no one has to change the formatting.
- Use phrases like “to be honest” or “in my opinion”. A) The whole piece is your opinion, we don’t need to be reminded of that fact and B) we would assume you were being honest throughout; otherwise we’re wasting our time.
Hopefully you’ve learnt a thing or two, or at the very least I’ve given you some inspiration. Nothing left for it, whack your tunes on, get listening and get writing!