Writing a music review is fun and can be very rewarding if you do it right. Obviously, this is not something that everyone can do and I don’t think everyone should, but if you love music and want to present your opinion in a thoughtful, analytical manner then some basic music review skills could be the difference between good reviews and bad reviews—or even no reviews at all.
Pitchfork is a fantastic source of high-quality music criticism but unfortunately, we’re not going to ink a deal where I can quit my day job to write for them.
Luckily for us, learning How to write a music review like Pitchfork is easier than reviewing photos with Adobe Lightroom.
Tips on how to write a music review
1. Listen to the music until you are sick of it
There are millions of songs in the world. As a writer, you might be asked to write a review of a song you aren’t familiar with. Take time and listen to the song. If possible, find the lyrics and sing along to get the mood of the song. As you listen to the music, take notes of the things that stand out. Listening to music on headphones is recommended as it is more effective.
2. Research the music
Before you write a music review, you’ll want to make sure that you are packed with as much information as possible about the music and the artist. This will make your writing process easy and help you write a factual review. Once you’ve listened to the music, take a step and research the artist. Find out about the interviews he/she has had about the music you are reviewing. This will also ensure that the language in music writing is proportional to your writing.
For example; if an artist says that they were inspired by their parents to write the music, it is crucial to include this in your review. If the reader already knew this and they miss it in the review, they might feel that it isn’t detailed enough.
3. Identify a focus for your review.
It is important that the writer of a review considers the type of review wanted by the publisher. The needs of music review publishers may differ. Make sure you get as much information from the publisher as possible and write precisely in line with the instructions.
At times, the publisher might ask you to write sensitive reviews like negative ones. Be as polite as possible when writing. Explain in detail why the music is not appropriate and at the end of the review ask the reader to take time, listen to the music, and decide for themselves.
4. Identify the genre
You can try to categorize it, but keep in mind that many artists do not wish to be categorized. Some tracks defy genre and transcend musical and lyrical limitations. A music journalist must identify the genre of the song they wish to review.
Some music is multi-genre, mastered by combining genre-specific traits into one all-encompassing sound. It would be unfair to confine such work to one musical genre. It’s an affront to the artist and their team who labor tirelessly behind the scenes to create a sublime masterpiece.
That doesn’t mean the genre isn’t important; in fact, it’s one of the most crucial factors to consider when reviewing a song.
Pop, indie, hip-hop, Country, Gospel, Soul, R&B, EDM, folk, Funk, Reggae, Latin, all sorts of Rock, Jazz, Classical, Afrobeat, Dubstep, Contemporary, Dance,… The list goes on.
While some tunes may be genre-defying, certain features in their details at least identify them somewhere. As a listener, you can tell a country song from one that substantially borrows from reggaeton, hip-hop, or R&B.
5. Note the specifics of the instrumentation
After listening to the track and categorizing it, you must pay close attention to the instrumentation employed in the song.
Although advanced electronic beatmakers have transformed the way music is mastered, produced, and mixed, most music still incorporates organic instruments and molds them to digital samplers and makers to create a completely integrated musical sound. Some tracks only use one or a few instruments, so it’s crucial that the instruments utilized in a song are clearly noted.
This gives the reader a better idea of what to expect before they even click on the track links.
Aside from classical compositions and/or instrumentals, most songs incorporate vocals that complement the instruments and create music that is rhythmically, harmonically, and melodically pleasing. A tune with delicate lyrics veiled by loud vocal hooks, for example, has an improvised authenticity.
And even some modern underground hip-hop avoids the extraordinary contrast from the gritty and serious tones of the preceding underground hip-hop style. A music critic should explain the track’s sweetness and catchiness, the gist, the vocals, and so on.
The essence of instrumentation comes through again because we have to differentiate the lone wolf from the pack. For instance, band music features a plethora of instruments such as guitars, drums, tambourines, cello, violin, trumpet, piano, and many other complex instruments.
6. Identify the Theme
When it comes to music, the theme is also extremely important, and it is your job as a reviewer to discern the themes being brought forward by the track, whether from the track’s title or from its accompanying video (for video reviews), as well as to determine the strength and potency of the message the artist is attempting to convey.
All music is about something, and even classical instrumentals have a theme that can be identified by the title and the instruments themselves, whether they are joyful, emotional, or melancholy. Essentially, this is indicated by how the melody ebbs and flows throughout the music.
Music video reviews must pay close attention to the visuals, cinematographic imagery, variety of locations on display, dancing, and choreography (if any), as well as whether or not the underlying concept, both in symbolism and storyline, is coming out expressively to highlight the song’s theme, among other things.
7. Incorporate specific music vocabulary
Music as an art has a particular vocabulary. The vocabularies are essential as they dictate to the reader the musical feel. When writing your review, ensure that you incorporate some of the music vocabulary. For example; instead of writing ‘the words in the song are systematic’ you can say ‘the lyrics of the song are systematic’. However, when doing this, keep things basic. Too many musical terms and the reader might find it difficult to comprehend.
8. Be descriptive in your writing
Use descriptive adjectives to describe the music. These adjectives should be relatable and simple to understand. Compound adjectives are the most suitable as they set the pace of the review. For example; foot-tapping is best-selling. Avoid using technical terms as the reader might lose interest in the review.
9. Check your grammar and spelling
Most readers can’t keep up with poor grammar. You must arrange your sentences in a way that they make sense and flow coherently. If you are not sure about your grammar, there are some tools like Grammarly that can help you identify grammatical mistakes. Such tools come in handy as they can also detect spelling errors and suggest the correct words.
10. Avoid the use of Slang
When writing a song review aim to avoid colloquialisms and slang, as this will alienate your readers and make your review hard to read. Instead of saying unlistenable, try saying you could not listen to the album for more than three songs in a row. This gives the reader an idea but pulls them away from juvenile expressions.
There’s nothing more disheartening for a musician than to have a review of their new album that’s unfavorable. When the review is based on poor writing, however, it’s even more unfair.
There is no definitive list of what to look for when reviewing a song, but there are a lot of things you do want to avoid. Everyone tends to have their own opinions on what makes a good review and, while these opinions may not line up with your own all the time, they should serve as a baseline for you.
What is included in a music review?
The title is basically what a reader sees before they start reading the review. It will determine whether the reader keeps on reading or not. For this matter, the title should be precise. It should be attractive and also packed with details. It should give the reader a reason to read the article.
Write the music review in block format
The block format will help you have a coherent introduction, body, and conclusion. This is important as the review should have a flow.
The introduction should basically contain the title of the music, the artist’s name, and a brief explanation of how the music came to be.
The body is made up of one, two, or three paragraphs. It is the stem of the music review as it contains detailed information about the music or the album. There is a lot that can be communicated in the body. This ranges from the composition of the music, style of presentation and things that stand out in the song. The body is where you give detailed information and a breakdown of the song.
Consider different elements
Music composition is a very important element when writing a review. One has to break down the music with regard to the instrumental and vocal performance. Under the instrumental, you can talk about the melody, drums, bass, and specific musical instruments like guitar, violin, and trumpet. Under the vocals, you can talk about the lyrics, style of vocals, vocal coordination, etc.
Apart from the composition of the song, there are other different things that you can write about. Some of these are the mood of the song, lyrics, and style of presentation.
The conclusion should be within the last paragraph. It simply summarizes the writer’s opinion and contains the reasons why the music is recommended.
Writing a music review is a process. One should be creative enough so that the reviews they write don’t sound the same. You might be asked by a publisher to write five reviews of the same music. In such a case, creativity is key. A writer’s creativity can be enhanced through the following ways:
– Do a lot of research
– Listen to different varieties of music
– Read a lot of reviews
– Have different styles of writing reviews
– Study music
It is also crucial that you read through your review a couple of times after writing it and later ask yourself if it feels good enough to go out to the world. You can ask an editor or proofreader to read it and give their opinions. It’s time to write your review. Grab your writing tools and get to work. Remember to follow the tips above. Good luck!