How to write a music review
For those who want to describe music in a way that goes beyond just “this song is really good”, music reviews are the way to go. If you’ve never written one before, fear not, for here are a few tips for beginners, from a fellow beginner.
It’s vital to have a listen for yourself and document your opinion before you read what anyone else has to say about the music. You can always look into what professional critics from Metacritic or Pitchfork have to say, but only after you’ve had your say. You only get one chance at a raw, honest opinion that’s totally you, so take it.
Keep a calendar anticipating new releases. If you follow your favorite bands on social media, they’ll often start teasing their new music before it comes out. Make a note for when something will be released, and give yourself some time to beforehand to prepare. There are many websites that also list dates of release for upcoming new music.
Prepare by researching the band. Listen to their previous work, so you have an idea of where they’re coming from. Familiarizing yourself with the band’s direction and progress will help you address questions like, how were their previous albums received? How will this next album compare? Be prepared to answer the all-important question: where is this artist going?
Listen to similar bands, and acquaint yourself with their overall music style, so that you can make comparisons and references. Cite an album with a similar sound, a singer with a similar sound, for listeners who haven’t heard of the band. If you happen to list someone they know and like, they’re much more likely to listen to the album you’re reviewing. Make comparisons: x band is a y band meets z band combination, x band sounds like y band but from the 80’s.
Research the band’s history. Scour the internet for relevant and interesting tidbits from concerts, interviews, etc. What personal information reveals something about their music? Many bands draw inspiration from the lives of their own members. Listeners will often relate to a story, whether it be about love, heartbreak or social justice. Where are they from? Listeners love a good setting, and they also like to rep their hometown, if at all possible.
Know your vocab. You’re inevitably not going to understand every single term relevant to your review, and that’s going to let you learn so much, as you write. Take care to learn about a genre’s history, related musical icons, styles, instruments, etc. Be sure to incorporate what you learn into your article so that your readers can learn as well, but make sure to add your own personal spin to the topic, and not just copy and paste.
Listen. Listen again, and again and again. Focus on the lyrics, the tune and the beat, in whatever order you’d like. The point is that listening to an album many times allows you to become more familiar with it. Your writing should never be just a first impression. Even if you get all of the spelling and grammar right, you’ve missed the point if you don’t believe in the content of your final draft.
Take your time. If you’re just starting out, there’s a 100% chance that you will not have the first say on a new album or song. Timeliness doesn’t matter if you put out an unfiltered, crude piece of writing that teaches no one anything. Listen, re-listen, and then write, and re-write.
Go beyond the song itself, and describe the feeling it gives you, the sensations it creates, emotions it provokes…
Don’t address every song on an album simply because you feel obligated to. If a song is too short or insignificant for you to note it in a review, then just don’t mention it.
Create a best/worst list of songs/albums that provides you with a concrete sort of ranking system. You can also measure your satisfaction in stars, a TL;DR blurb, and more.
Read the work of other music critics, because they will help you think of new ways to phrase your opinions. They’ll give you inspiration about who to listen to and review.
But at the end of the day, work on developing your own style. My first and last piece of advice is to keep everything yourself. Imitation won’t get you very far, but you will stand out and be revered for daring to disagree with what everyone else is saying or describe a song in a way no one has imagined.