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Everyone relates to music. Some people spend all of their money on gigs and festivals and count the seconds until a new song is released, while others just pop their headphones in for half an hour in the gym. But both these kinds of people, and everyone in between, take something away from the music.
Great songs are released every Friday, but the sheer volume (excuse the pun) is staggering. Most of it is easily accessible through streaming services, many of which curate new music playlists. The problem is that these aren’t always accurate. Just because you spent a couple of days listening to a guilty pleasure, that’s not necessarily indicative of your actual taste. So people turn to reviews to find new music.
There are countless music blogs out there, and almost without fail they play host to music reviews. Of course, you won’t always agree with everything a reviewer writes, but reading reviews on blogs you trust, or just taking a chance on something you read, can sometimes turn up hidden gems.
Writing a good review is harder than it sounds, though. No matter how much you love a song, that doesn’t mean you can instantly start writing about it. And it goes the same the other way round. You may listen to the most god-awful track of the year, but articulating exactly why it is so bad is harder than it appears.
‘Siri, Repeat This Song’
The first piece of advice is: don’t just listen once. Repeat listens will help you to create a deeper analysis of the music. If it’s just one song, there may be layers of production that aren’t instantly noticeable the first time round. If it’s an album, look for thematic or lyrical links between the tracks.
Beyond that, some songs are growers. If you just listen through once and don’t take time to fully analyse the content, you may miss some small piece of genius that can change your mind.
This also helps with the second piece of advice: be objective. Listening to a song you love over and over is easy, but it’s doubly important to relisten to what you’re reviewing if you don’t like it. It’s very easy to hate a song just because you don’t like the artist, but if you’re reviewing music, you need to forget your preconceptions and listen to what’s actually been recorded.
What’s It Really All About?
One of the most common complaints school children have is that they don’t see the practicality of the things they learn. Basic maths, sure, but finding a teacher who has explained, on demand, the day-to-day uses for Pythagoras’ Theorem is nigh on impossible. But analysing poems is a perfect example of English lessons having real-life use, because that’s a large part of reviewing music.
Many songs have very straightforward lyrics, which is fine:
“He was a boy,
She was a girl,
Can I make it any more obvious?”
The above lyrics are from Avril Lavigne’s breakout single, Sk8er Boi. The song goes on to chronicle a missed opportunity in plain terms, but lots of songs are not quite as straightforward. Whole careers have been spent analysing the meaning behind lyrics, and while admittedly a large amount of the more cryptic songs tend to be about drugs, that isn’t always the case.
Find the lyrics online and have a read. Slight nuances might turn up because you misheard a line. What is the artist saying? How does your background knowledge of them affect what the lyrical content might be? Is it related to a past event or worrying about the future?
Who Even Are You?
With such a multitude of music writing available online, you need to figure out who it is you’re writing for. From that, you can work out why your readers would want to read your review. What is it that you can offer the readers? Maybe you know the artist personally, so you have a unique insight into how and why the song was written, or perhaps you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre.
Equally, you may be a talented musician yourself, which has its own benefits. Each review should explain the feel of a song and try and explain how the instruments work together, but if you have the technical knowledge to go further, use it!
If you’re a bit stuck, have a read through music reviews you have enjoyed and trusted; try and figure out what exactly it was that you liked about them. This also has the added benefit of helping you decide what kind of content the blogs you plan to pitch to want to see.
Once It’s All Done
So you’ve written your first draft, you’re probably eager to see it published online as soon as possible, but first, you need to edit. This should happen whenever you write anything, no first draft is perfect, and even minimal editing can help to massively improve your writing.
Once you have a finished review you’re happy with, the next thing to do is find somewhere to post it. If you have your own blog, you just need to upload it and you’re done. On the other hand, if that’s not your first choice, then you’ll need to pitch.
Lots of blogs will have specific requirements and instructions in regards to submissions – make sure your review fits the criteria. Other blogs, and particularly newspapers, may be less clear, so the best thing to do is trawl their websites, looking for their music editors.
Don’t be disappointed if no-one wants to take your first, second or even tenth review, there’s lots of competition out there, but practice really does make perfect. The other thing that can help make perfect is lessons; learning from others takes out a lot of the false starts you may otherwise run into. ACM’s Music and Business route covers journalism and is taught by industry professionals who definitely know the difference between a good review and a bad one!
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help kick-start your music career, why not come along to one of ACM’s Open Days.