The Job of Music Reviews
Jerry Lucky Commentary October 2012
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2012 All Rights Reserved
You’ll notice I use the term “job” of music reviews, although I’m not sure everyone would see
it as a job. The idea that you buy CDs or that someone sends you CDs for a review seems
pretty easy. And on the surface I would have to agree. It isn’t until the process takes on a life
of its own that the “fun” part of the process can get a bit thin.
There’s no question the best part of reviewing music is getting to listen to so much new stuff. Interestingly it’s the same aspect, listening to so much new music that can take away the enjoyment replacing it with pressure to do the work. Knowing that I need to write three reviews in amongst all the other weekly chores that need doing creates a kind of pressure all its own. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting a “woe-is-me” scenario, far from it. I like doing this. I look forward to it. But it’s because I know others are looking at these pages that I harbor a sense of responsibility to the task at hand.
I read a lot of reviews; on line and in print. Some of these reviews I find helpful, some not so much. Sometimes they make me laugh and sometimes they make me angry. That they generally provoke a response is good, I think. Some writers are quite gifted in their “turn of phrase” particularly those in the British media. I generally avoid reading reviews of discs I have yet to write about. I don’t want someone else’s views to influence my views of a disc. Typically I might go back after I write something to sort of, compare notes.
In the past I’ve written about how I view a difference between a “critic” and a “reviewer”, of which I place myself in the latter, so there’s no need to rehash all that here. Some view the title of music-critic as more authoritative while others may simply be prone to self-aggrandizing. Simply put in my view a reviewer attempts to tell the reader what’s on the disc while a critic is more likely to write about what’s missing. In even more simpler terms a reviewer aids in the discovery of new music while a critic warns against what they don’t like. Now, over time I think these two roles have come to be used quite loosely and even interchangeably.
As a reviewer then, I take my role quite seriously. I spend quite some time agonizing over my choice of words or phrases to make sure that the reader will leave with a good sense of what the music is all about. It’s not only having to listen to a disc three or four times in different environments to get a real sense of how the music plays in my head and heart, but also am I adequately expressing those thoughts and feelings for the reader to share my experience. I generally write the review while listening to the disc yet again; editing the review later in the day, then leave it overnight for the final edit the next morning. I’m quite sure that sometimes I’m more successful than others.
I take the task seriously knowing that others will be reading my words with the thought of purchasing someone else’s work. I remind myself that I don’t do reviews just to make me or the artist feel good. If in the process that happens, that’s great but that isn’t the intent. This is sometimes a challenging aspect of the process since you are dealing with many artists one-on-one. There is always the need to distance one’s self from the personal side.
Then there’s the discs that come my way that don’t always fit the philosophical tone of my website (yes there is one). Again my view is that just because a certain type of music isn’t my cup of tea is no reason to disparage the artist’s efforts. So again I will perhaps write a shorter review, with an effort to convey succinctly what the music is all about. That’s not to say everything I receive gets written about. Sometimes, try as I might there is no real fit.
For me offering a review of the music is half view-point and half promotion. Some will see that as a “sellout” or compromise, but naturally I would disagree. My role is not to sell more discs but simply to make potential purchasers aware of what’s available. In an age of audio samples, writing words about music for people to read may soon become a lost art, a relic of the past. Why read about the music when you can actually click a link and listen to the music? To that end it is important that when I hear music that I enjoy, I share that. We all have writers that we feel a kinship with, writers whose words we trust and I hope that there are a few who visit this site who feel the same about the words I use. At least that’s what I…hope.