Review You

There’s a really interesting discussion going on over at Jim Carroll’s Irish Times blog, On the Record. Titled ‘Why writing about Irish bands can be bad for your health’, it started with Jim questioning why Irish bands, in his opinion, are a ‘thin-skinned lot’ who take reviewers’/critics’ opinions far too personally.

As you’d expect, this stirred up quite a lot of debate – with the majority of people bemoaning the fact that bands can’t seem to deal with bad reviews; some spoke from the reviewer’s point of view while others tried to play devil’s advocate. A typical argument, you might say! I’d recommend checking it out if you have any interest in reviewing or the relationship between bands and journalists.

From my own point of view, the subject isn’t totally clear-cut. Although writing a review is a ‘job’, it’s essentially one person’s subjective viewpoint on a piece of ‘work’ that another person has created, and that is always going to be a contentious issue. It brings up questions of what ‘right’ reviewers or critics have to give negative opinions about music created by other people – especially if reviewers aren’t musicians themselves, or are new to the game and perhaps don’t have a huge amount of musical or writing knowledge.

And with most people these days reading reviews online that have been written quite often by inexperienced writers, there’s more chance of finding a badly written review (and boy have I read some stinkers). But true ‘critics’, I would argue, are those with many years of experience whose knowledge is informed by years of writing and listening, and so they have a talent or a knack for reviewing, listening to an album and being able to critique it correctly.  However to a band, I would imagine that any review at all, whether written by a ‘newbie’ or well-established writer, means something – it means that people are reading about them, and if they are reading something negative there is a fear that the band will get a ‘bad name’.

The act of critiquing something is not new, and as long as there has been the printed word there has been a forum for people to give their opinion about everything from current events to artistic pursuits.  Writing and creating music are both creative jobs and in that sense musicians and writers are alike – they are creating something. Reviews force musicians to realise that other people are listening to their music too and that other people are judging their music. They also help promote bands, and give them a ‘space’ in their local or national music scene. So I would argue that reviews are extremely important – but only when they’re done well. By that I don’t mean only when they’re written in a positive light – of course not. What I mean is that the reviewer gives the record a chance, and doesn’t let preconceived ideas or ill-feelings towards the band or musician cloud their judgement. Personally, I don’t enjoy writing reviews – I put my hand up and say that I find them quite difficult. Give me a 3,000 word feature to write any day of the week! But anything that challenges a writer is a good thing, and so I continue to write them and try to do a better review each time I write one.

But if reviewers are fair to bands, then the bands must be fair too – no one likes being criticised, and that’s a given. But launching hate-campaigns on blogs or posting silly, rash comments on forums is no way to respond to a bad review. If you think you’ve been hard done by – email the reviewer. Maybe your band isn’t as hot as you think. And if you get a bad review, it really isn’t the end of the world. And if you’re a reviewer – as someone said on the On The Record blog, if you couldn’t say it to the band’s face, then don’t bother writing it. And do your best to do justice to the band when you write the review – we can’t all be experts on every band but we can do our research.

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6 thoughts on “Review You

  1. Hmmm, that’s a few music writers that I’ve heard say they don’t like writing reviews in the last few days.
    I think one of the best things about a well-written review is the debate it can spark off in the online world.
    Commenting on online pieces has given life to an instant dialogue (for better or worse…often the latter) that allows everyone and anyone to natter on about the album in question.
    The key with reviewers is that one needs to have an incredibly thick skin at times (like the reviewed bands, I suppose) and be able to articulate one’s arguments quickly and convincingly which is , in itself, a kind of art as well.
    Pet peev: Bands that get a bad review and then assume the journalist is a failed musician. Blarrrrrrgh, what a cop out.

  2. It’s not that I hate writing reviews – I just think they’re probably the most difficult part of music journalism.
    Of course, they’re not as difficult as a lot of the news writing I’ve had to do (death knocks and all that, shudder – sure you know yourself!) but I think for myself it’s because I don’t want to have people able to pick holes in what I’ve written.

    I’m conscious that it’s just MY opinion, and who the hell am I (someone who is not even a musician) to analyse a musician’s work?
    But then again, reviewing is a form of analysing and critiquing, and I do think I’m well-qualified for that. I have faith in my ability to write and to ‘know’ if an album is ‘bad’ or not, and be able to explain why.
    But I don’t think the reviewer’s opinion is the be-all and end-all, in most cases.

    It is great to be able to comment on what others have written, but the flip side to the internet is that *anyone* these days can write something and call themselves a ‘music journalist’ without any training etc.
    And call me a traditionalist, but I think you have to LEARN how to write. And you need a good editor or sub-editor to teach/show you what you’re doing wrong. Most online zines etc don’t have that, so people don’t really ever grow as writers.

  3. my advantage/disadvantage is that my current dayjob IS as a sub ed and has been for quite some time. i am therefore in a strange netherworld of freelance writing in my own time and then having the hubris to edit myself and think i have done a good job! sad really. but i do ask everyone that reads my crap to tell me what is wrong or right with it. my girlfriend is particularly forthcoming….:0

  4. I hear ya – all of the music writing I do is outside of work for the most part. I work as a news journalist so like yourself it’s one distinct part of the media and while subbing/news writing is journalism it requires different skills to write about music.

    Going from news writing to music writing can be a bit of a pain in the brain as news writing is so bloody clinical, and far less creative.
    So I feel like my writing style has changed because of that. But because of my training etc I know the tenets of writing and can apply them to what I write; just as you would know about writing and grammar/syntax/headlines etc.

    So maybe we don’t need to be guided as much in our writing…whereas people with NO training/experience whatsoever often make easy/common mistakes that could be rectified if someone explained them out to them.

    Then again I am a complete grammar/spelling nerd at the worst of times so maybe I’m more sensitive to that than most! 😉

  5. totally agree with you there on that second-last paragraph….and the last actually. i don’t know what guidance i need in my writing but i know i don’t make any cash from music-writing so i’m clearly not being head-hunted by anyone for my skillzzz!ah well ;(

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