Writing Music Reviews 101: The Basics

Apr 8, 2002 (Updated Apr 30, 2002)

The Bottom Line Intimidated by the music category? Think that what you have to say about a cd isn't important? Wonder what you should include in your review?

Does this sound like you? I don't submit reviews in the music category because....

My writing just isn't good enough.

I'm not a professional. I don't play an instrument.

The people who do write in these categories write so well, I'm intimidated.

Somebody else can say it better than me.

Writing a music review is actually very easy. Why do you think *I* do it???!!!

Step right up. I'm about to make your fears melt away like Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia Ice Cream. What I'm about to tell you is no trade secret. For most of the music titles on this site, you can take my advice, apply it, and get at least a helpful rating.

Let's begin, shall we?!

Pick a cd that you feel strongly about - either you hate it or you love it. Why? Because it's so much easier to support your arguments either way when you feel passionate about a product (and that's any product).

The Commandments of Music Reviews

Thou Shall approach your review like you were marketing (for or against) the cd.

If it's "your job" your apt to take things a little more personally.

[1]Are you feeling guilty? Bummed out about sin? Wanting desperately to believe but feeling so far from God? Or are the personal details of your spiritual life none of my business, and you’re simply looking for an honest, simple, quality slab of Christian rock? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then Gotee Records has the album for you!

Thou Shall tell us a bit about the artist.

Remember, just because you like the group or have every single thing they've ever published doesn't mean that everyone else does too.

[2]To describe Tool in a paragraph or two is just about impossible. They are, for the most part, a progressive metal band. The four members, Maynard (vocals), Danny Carey (drums), Adam Jones (guitar), and Justin Chancellor (bass) are extremely talented musicians, and as a unit, they are incredibly tight, to the point where if I'm in a band like Slipknot, I just throw my hands up and give up because I can never be that good. (Well, actually, Slipknot couldn't ever be as good as Disturbed or even Beavis Band, but I digress.)

[3]Badly Drawn Boy is one of those artists I stumbled across accidentally. I found a promo from his first release The Hour of Bewilderbeast, and I was hooked. He stands out as a sort of an indie-folk-rock dude from England. One of those guys that would fit in being played almost anywhere interesting and independent, be it a little café, shop, etc…

Thou Shall give us an overview/general statement about the practical value of this cd.

I hesitated on whether to include this in the commandments or not but I feel pretty strongly that we have a large audience who like to know up front, if this is worth plunking their money down for. I call it The End and some times, I put it at the beginning :).

[4]This mid-priced double live album is fairly decent value for money, particularly for the floating music lover as yet unfamiliar with the joys of Oasis. From 1995 to 1997, Oasis were hands down the biggest band in Britain, thanks to their unique brand of boisterous, Pistols-indebted rock ‘n’ roll. Thereafter, their productivity faltered; just one album (Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants) in four years, and a lukewarm one at that. Still, this perky blast through their career to date is mildly entertaining. ‘Familiar To Millions’ features 16 Oasis songs and two covers, all performed during the sold-out Wembley Stadium gigs in July 2001.

[5]Now with the group’s fourth release, Iron Flag , the Wu made a concerted effort to return to the gritty, intense raps and production that made the Wu-Tang Clan a household name, and it definitely shows. Though not the instant classic of Enter the Wu-Tang, it definitely has the same feel. With this album, the Wu plants their “Iron Flag” securely in Hip Hop’s firmament to let fans know, “we ain’t going nowhere.”

Thou Shall tell us how you feel about this particular cd.

Music is about emotion. Look to your heart when reviewing your cd. Did it stir any emotion in you? And be specific with which songs. Some people will generalize their emotions for the entire cd without giving specific examples. It helps your audience much more if you be specific just in case they're thinking about seeking out a song to *ahem* sample/download.

[6]And I most certainly must mention, part of the reason this disc will forever remain a part of MY play list, the song Magnolia Street. Piano, violin, and some of the most sincere words I have heard sung in quite a while. Maybe it’s because it brought to mind one of the clearest visions I have ever had of being in love or maybe it is because it is simply a look at absolute love? Whatever it is, along with Wise To the Ways, it made the most impact on me of the songs on the disc.

[7]My most favorite song, strangely enough, differs a little from the mostly down-trodden theme of the rest of the CD. Drive You Home is about being in a relationship with someone who obligingly puts up with a lot of crap from you. (Gee, I can relate to this one too. Sometimes I really, really wonder what keeps my man hanging on to me so tight). This song is slow and sweet, and really touches me. The first time I understood this song (like the 3rd time I listened to it, I paid attention) it brought tears to my eyes because it was so close to home.

[8]The other favorite song would have to be the slow, lush melancoly blues of Crazy Baby. If you've ever held hands, or sat over a suffering friend, only to realize this person is seriously ill, emotionally bereft, and maybe demanding more than you are prepared to deal with, then Osborne's impassioned plea and bent note lament may strike a chord in your personal experiences sector.

Thou Shall recommend other cd's by the artist or other artists if you know of any.

[9]New to U2? There are a few essential albums for any beginner. First and foremost, pick up The Joshua Tree. Follow that up with War and Achtung, Baby in any order. After that, I think it’s a free for all. Check out All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Rattle and Hum, Boy and Zooropa. There is little you can do wrong when buying a U2 album aside from picking up some of the live offerings.

Other -OPTIONAL- Things You Can do
The following are a couple of tidbits you can do but which I do not feel is necessary to write an informative, music review.

Do not go into it aiming to write a book. If you want to write a thesis, I've got a couple of good PhD school's I can recommend to you. Remember, the key is to keep your audience interested and consumers have a short attention span!

Do not feel like you need to list each track and say something about it. I mean, you can, but it's very unnecessary.

Do mention other artists in your comparison to the artist your reviewing. It helps people put into context the cd AND for marketing purposes, may convince your audience to plunk down those almighty dollars!

[10]I also have a strong suspicion that fans of Christina, Britney, Mandy, and Jessica will find themselves taking a harder look at these young ladies if they allow Branch into their collection. Michelle's The Spirit Room is a gateway drug to much deeper music for pop fans everywhere. Michelle could easily lead many music fans toward guitar strummers like Shawn Colvin, Beth Orton, Sarah Harmer and Jewel. I think it's safe to say that people take comfort in vocal comparisons, and Michelle has me at a loss. At times, Michelle sounds so very much like Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt vocally and also in the way that she delivers her lyrics, but further comparisons elude me.

Do ramble a bit. A paragraph or two helps bring forth your personality and that will usually draw people in and keep them reading.

[11]I'm not going to sit here and revel in the life of Kurt Cobain. I'm not going to ramble about his influence and the influence of Nirvana on society and America's Youth of the 1990's. This is a music review, not a thesus on the impact of culture by a man who commited suicide and his broken lifestyle and how it relates to us all now 10 some years or so after the release of their first album and 8 years or so ago since the untimely suicide of Kurt Cobain. If you want scads of information on Kurt Cobain, his annoying wife Courtney Love, and their life and the lives of early 90's youth, read a book on it. There are tons out there that all state the same opinions on Cobain and Nirvana. After the first couple of ones written, they all pretty much started repeating themselves and sounding like the last "shattered grundge" culture book. In the end, Kurt Cobain's life was made out to be a large market to the public. Ironic, isn't it.

The End
I promise, it's not really difficult, especially once you set your mind to it. I hope that these tips motivate you to get started on your very first music review!

The Gospel According to Jennifer

The Return of Tool Is One That Was Long Overdue

About A Boy...a Beautifully Drawn Boy


Wave it Proudly: The Wu-Tang Clan Raises the Iron Flag

My Music Lesson and A Crash Course In Roses

Drive me home

Osborne Sings The Body Electric

Achtung, Baby: Proof Positive That U2 Rocks

- Branch bears fruit -

Nirvana at their best, entertaining.

NEXT: Writing Music Reviews 102: How to review cd singles

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