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how can musical critics improve?

The Sandman 28 Aug 09 - 11:24 AM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 11:59 AM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 12:09 PM
Brian Peters 28 Aug 09 - 12:15 PM
dick greenhaus 28 Aug 09 - 12:16 PM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 12:21 PM
Jack Campin 28 Aug 09 - 12:32 PM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 12:32 PM
The Sandman 28 Aug 09 - 12:35 PM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 12:35 PM
Brian Peters 28 Aug 09 - 12:46 PM
The Sandman 28 Aug 09 - 12:53 PM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 12:54 PM
The Sandman 28 Aug 09 - 12:54 PM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 12:58 PM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 01:07 PM
Folknacious 28 Aug 09 - 01:37 PM
The Sandman 28 Aug 09 - 01:54 PM
The Sandman 28 Aug 09 - 02:01 PM
The Fooles Troupe 28 Aug 09 - 06:27 PM
GUEST,Russ 28 Aug 09 - 08:45 PM
The Sandman 29 Aug 09 - 06:15 AM
The Sandman 29 Aug 09 - 07:38 AM
Jack Campin 29 Aug 09 - 08:58 AM
Alan Day 29 Aug 09 - 09:43 AM
The Sandman 29 Aug 09 - 12:08 PM
MGM·Lion 29 Aug 09 - 02:31 PM
GUEST,Tunesmith 29 Aug 09 - 02:43 PM
Stringsinger 29 Aug 09 - 02:57 PM
Art Thieme 29 Aug 09 - 03:26 PM
dick greenhaus 29 Aug 09 - 05:43 PM
The Sandman 30 Aug 09 - 05:45 PM
The Sandman 01 Sep 09 - 06:41 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 01 Sep 09 - 08:42 AM
Howard Jones 01 Sep 09 - 08:43 AM
Dave Sutherland 01 Sep 09 - 08:52 AM
treewind 01 Sep 09 - 09:45 AM
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Subject: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 11:24 AM

ther are a number of professional musical critics on this forum,it might be helpful if they were to offer their thoughts on how Folk Music criticism can be kept at a high standard.
one suggestion ,from another thread,was that anyone who wished to write about music should be allowed to do so.
so what guidance can experienced Music Critics offer those whose wish is to write about Music but have no experience? What are the pitfalls to avoid.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 11:59 AM

Think about your favourite writers and why they are your favourite writers

Write a review, not liner notes. If you don't know what the difference is, you probably shouldn't be writing reviews.

There's rarely a good reason for ending a review with the words "Recommended", "Highly recommended" or "Album of the year". This is generally either superfluous, hyperbole, totally lacking in resonance to the reader or some combination of the year.

Don't bang on about the accompanying press release. No one else gives a toss about it.

The "gem" is a much-abused valuable, the "real gem" even more so, and the "hidden gem" perhaps most of all. If you are determined to compare albums/songs/anything at all to precious stones, please find a novel one.

Use MS spellcheck

...I could go on all day, but if music journalism (folk, rock, jazz, classical, you name it...) did all of the above, the world would be a much happier place.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:09 PM

"some combination of the year" ?!

shurely shome mishtake.

"some combination of the three", of course. I really ought to use spellcheck...


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:15 PM

Provide an accurate picture of the musical content - and if it's an unknown artist, perhaps refer to comparable musicians the reader might be more familiar with.

Don't provide an exhaustive list of track titles (Borinnngggg!)

Try to be dispassionate: if it's good say so, if it's poor, say so, without too much hyperbole (unless it really is fantastic or dreadful), and with reasons.

Know (or find out) something about the artist's previous career, for background and comparison.

Don't use the review to prove the cleverness of the reviewer.

Don't get such a bee in the bonnet about something incidental (cover design, liner notes, etc.) that comment on the actual music takes second place.

I probably fail on all counts several times per review, but no harm in having ideals.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:16 PM

Sign your reviews. A review by someone with whom you've had no experience is worthless.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:21 PM

Actually, I just noticed that this thread was asking how "musical critics" can improve. Does this refer to critics that happen to be musical? Or perhaps, even more radically, to people who present their criticism in musical form?

I like the idea of the latter, as I've always thought that artists themselves are art critics: strong musical statements are implicit criticisms of vapid ones. The fantastic improvising saxophonist John Butcher said something along similar lines in a recent interview in The Wire magazine: that his playing is the vehicle of a rejection of other forms.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:32 PM

By being paid?

There are very few critics making even pin money for doing it, and it's one of the first posts to go when a paper starts shedding staff.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:32 PM

"Sign your reviews. A review by someone with whom you've had no experience is worthless."

While I don't see the point of NOT signing a review, I disagree. A fantastically well written piece of music journalism is a fantastically well written piece of music journalism, irrespective of who wrote it or who/what it's about.

Of course, music criticism covers a lot more than just The Review.

I'd love to see music journalism tone down the emphasis on PRODUCT and COMMODITY and re-engage with the live circuit, the interview, the round-table-discussion. The live circuit in particular. I grew up on Melody Maker and NME, and I used to love the pages of live reviews that went on and on for several spreads. You could read a live review on Wednesday of a band you'd never heard of, then go and see them on Friday in some toilet of a pub, having found out about the gig in the Gig Guide. Ooh, I'm coming over all misty eyed...


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:35 PM

Brian ,thankyou.
Exhaustive list of tracks: boring, but surely its necessary to let the potential customer know whats on the recording,in my experience at gigs,I have noticed potential customers,looking at the recording to see if certain tracks[presumably ones they liked ]are on it.
1.dont make comments without qualifying them.e g, why you dislike something,why something is incongruous,why a modern song is poor.
2.dont review something you feel you are not qualified to judge,example,if you prefer traditional music,and care little for modern songs,refuse to do the review,let the editor pass it on to a songwriter,or somebody who is more likely to be objective about the genre.
3,try not to make factual errors.
4.try not to be verbose,the reviewer should be reviewing a record,not entering a competition to have his erudite efforts judged.
5.comments on the music are of primary importance.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:35 PM

"By being paid?

There are very few critics making even pin money for doing it, and it's one of the first posts to go when a paper starts shedding staff."

Yeah, I heard that the Independant now has shed majority of it's staff and now has something like 3 people manning its arts pages...

I have some scepticism however about whether money actually makes much difference. For instance, I think music criticism in the broadsheet newspapers is by and large terrible, and yet they pay 3 times what niche mags do.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:46 PM

"Exhaustive list of tracks: boring, but surely its necessary to let the potential customer know whats on the recording"

You can always say something like: "A CD based mostly around well-trodden traditional songs, but also including a couple of Muggins' own compositions and an ill-advised cover of Brian Eno's 'King's Lead Hat'." You only need to mention four or five titles that are either outstanding (good or bad) or that typify the album. If the punter wants that song they liked at the gig, there'll be a track list on the website.

I do usually hand things back if they're not my kind of stuff.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:53 PM

if you dislike someone personally,
refuse to do the review,your lack of objectivity will show.
if you are independence is in any other way compromised.,
example,[hypothetical] you were intending to do a collection of recordings of American chain gang songs,and you are offered to review another collectors field recordings,of American chain gangsongs, acknowledge your objectivity is compromised and refuse to review.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:54 PM

It is of course possible to be erudite and - shock horror - INVENTIVE when writing about music. There's an element of showing-of to the writings of Ben Watson, Ian Penman and Greil Marcus, to name three music critics who I think are the bees knees.

Personally I like juicy sentences. I think any writer owes it to herself to be interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking. I wish more writers tried to be more evocative in their writing: if you can communicate the energy of the work of art you're reviewing, even if it's bad energy, then you're doing the reader a great service. I'm happy to suffer a little pretentiousness for a little poetry. More mimeticism in music mags! Now!

Elvis Costello once wrote, dismissively, that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. What he failed to appreciate is that truly visionary architecture might well inspire someone to dance, or sing. It's a peculiarly desensitized and pigeonholing attitude for a musician to take. It's like synaesthesia never happened!


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:54 PM

I am sure you do Brian,my remarks were not specifically aimed at you,in fact not aimed at you at all.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 12:58 PM

"example,[hypothetical] you were intending to do a collection of recordings of American chain gang songs,and you are offered to review another collectors field recordings,of American chain gangsongs, acknowledge your objectivity is compromised and refuse to review."

'Course, you could always decide to do the review and not record the hypothetical album instead.

Or shelve it, put it off for a couple of years. 5 years? 10 years? Nah, better make it 20. Or would the knowledge that you were harbouring the intention of recording a collection of American chain gang reviews in 30 years time still be too much of an overbearing prejudice do you think?


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 01:07 PM

Another one for you: "sophomore release" to describe someone's 2nd album.


Yeuch!

If I was to refer to somebody's second album as their "Upper Sixth" release, everyone what wonder what I was going on about and I'd be rightly laughed at when I explained the tenuous conceit to them ("it's a connection to the number 2, you see...")


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Folknacious
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 01:37 PM

I expect you all know that Froots have their writer guidelines on line as part of their FAQ, since they were posted on another thread. They don't like "sophomore" either, any more than me!


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 01:54 PM

matt milton you have missed my point.
you matt milton[hypothetical]were intending or were half way through a series of field recordings,when you discover[shock horror]that a request to do a review arrives on your computer,and that you are requested to do a review of material,that another collector[a n other]has done ,he has interviewed the same people as you and finished the job before you.
so what you shouldnt do is do the review and slag it,integrity is required,
just say to the reviewer, ,my abilty to do an independent review has been compromised I can no longer do this review.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 02:01 PM

fRoots Writers & Reviewers Guidelines
Please contact us first before submitting anything. We do not accept responsibility for any unsolicited materials.
General Guidelines
We can only accept written material that is original to fRoots, and generally give preference to writers who are loyal to us as their outlet in the UK's specialist world music/ roots/ folk print media. Copyright for anything we publish remains with the writer or photographer, though we assume the right to grant permission for reprinting elsewhere. Any fees paid for such reprints go to the original writer.

fRoots' motto has always been "inspiration to enthusiasm". Within that, we have to strike a balance between informing new readers and interesting experienced ones.

Please avoid: unspecific geographical terms like "British folk", "African music", when you perhaps mean "English" or "Senegalese", for example; Sexist designations like "girls" or "ladies" unless for specific effect; obscure unexplained references to records, musicians, books, films etc. that the majority of the readership won't have a clue what you're on about; the over-used adjectives "stunning", "exciting" and "exotic" (the cliché zapper will get you!); that irritating American phrase "sophomore album" (it's their second, OK?). In particular, we are often criticised for over-praise. It should be remembered that we are writing and reviewing in the general music market place and not just in comparison with the fairly low average standards of production and presentation of certain areas of the "specialist" scene - i.e. go easy on the ultimate superlatives!

However, bear in mind that we do not use a star rating system on reviews. With that in mind - and also that it's useful to artists and their labels to be able to pull out an incisive, juicy quote for adverts and press releases - if you do really like an album, it would be appreciated if you could try to include one short, snappy summary quote, whilst avoiding the obvious dull clichés like "highly recommended," "long awaited", "potential album of the year" etc etc.
FROOTS REVIEWS are normally professionaly presented and of a high standard,but there is very little in the above that would be of use to an aspiring music critic,what might be of more use would be for an aspiring critic,would be to read some of the froots reviews,plus reviews by professional reviewers like Michael Grosvenor Myer, and also Roy Harris


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 06:27 PM

"how can musical critics improve?"

1) improve their OWN musical skills...

I don't understand Art, but I know what I like...
... but the fat one balances the three skinny ones...

:-p


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 08:45 PM

Excellent thread.

Review music from a genre that you are thoroughly familiar with.

Don't waste time telling us what the music means to you.

If you make evaluative statements, make their basis clear and explicit.

It the recording just isn't your cup of tea, don't waste your time reviewing it.

Avoid pointless negativity.

Russ (Permanent GUEST)


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 06:15 AM

here is an example from a review of what not to say.
I have not been enamoured of some previous review material of these musicians or this label.[ from a well known national magazine ]
1.the label[recording company] is not the subject of the review neither are the musicians previous review material,the comment is irrelevant.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 07:38 AM

do not claim that your review ,has appeared in another magazine,when it has not.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 08:58 AM

I have not been enamoured of some previous review material of these musicians or this label.[..]
the label[recording company] is not the subject of the review


Sometimes it should be. If a label gets some aspect of its business consistently wrong it's the reviewer's job to say so. If anybody ever asked me to review an Air Mail Music CD, I could hardly avoid pointing out their invariably inadequate documentation, and if it was Kalan Muzik I'd have to point out their frequent unplayably buggered disk media; both of them have virtues that far outweigh these negatives. And sometimes a label that consistently releases trash comes up with a gem. In that case the reviewer needs to note the fact or else they're doing a disservice to the exception.

do not claim that your review ,has appeared in another magazine,when it has not.

And if you have an intractable obsession, seek psychiatric help.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Alan Day
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 09:43 AM

I cannot understand why critics have to fault find when they review a CD or collection and then finish up with writing how enjoyable it was.If it was enjoyable and recommended for all to listen to, why not list the things that was liked about the CD and then the few dislikes.It is a much more honest approach and constructive for the musician (s) and the prospective purchaser of the CD, rather than a miserable slagging off without justification.
Al


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 12:08 PM

Jack .
The reviewer should be reviewing the recording,
not talking about other things that do not have a connection with the recording.
I will phrase it differently ,all factual material connected to the recording should be correct,plus any other facts connected to the review.
In this case the reviewer alludes to other recorded material[irrelevant]as is other recorded material on the label,the reviewer is not alluding to any business aspect of the label,he says
I have not been enamoured of some previous review material of these musicians or this label.[..]


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 02:31 PM

I think that could be a permissible intro ? if followed by a 'BUT'; but otherwise I agree with you, Dick, that it is an intro that is liable to provoke a hackle-raised SO WHAT?


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 02:43 PM

To be a good critic, it is essential that a critic reviews recordings of the artist with knowledge of that artist's previous work, and that the critic is very familiar with the genre in which the recording belongs. Many, many times I have read reviews where it is very obvious that the critic does not meet the criteria set out above.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 02:57 PM

The ultimate purpose of music criticism should be education. Alternatives in
evaluation should be pointed out. For example, does the music have a historical base?
Can it be contrasted by other forms? Do the goals of the performers or composers
meet their personal criteria? Is there new ground being broken artistically? Does the musical artist represent a trend or style and if so, what is it? What have been other
views articulated about the musical style or product? Why should one listen to it?
How is it significant in contemporary times?   

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 03:26 PM

They could improve about 100% by simply doing it the way I would do it. ;-)

Art


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 29 Aug 09 - 05:43 PM

I don't think that there's any objective set of criteria for being a folk music critic---the value of the criticism depends upon the tastes of the person reading the review much more than it does to the skill and background of the reviewer. Consider the recent Springsteen tribute to Pete Seeger. It's been praised highly by several (I suppose) knowledgable people; My review (and I suspect I'm somewhat knowledgable) would be on the order of "Amateurish. Awful. Misses the point."
    People who have spoken to me in the past can take my set of biases into account, as they can, say, Ron Olesko's which differ markedly. Either can provide guidance to a prospective purchaser, but only if that prospective purchaser is familiar with mine (or Ron's) past critiques.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 30 Aug 09 - 05:45 PM

refrsh


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Sep 09 - 06:41 AM

is there any guarantee that if Folk Music Critics were paid,that standards would be raised?.
it appears that those folk music critics[I am taking Dave Sutherland remarks as an example] who have columns in newspapers,have to satisfy a higher standard perhaps than those writing in local or internet or national folk magazines,is that because the editor has been a professional journalist.
we expect professional musicians to have a higher standard than amateurs,so is it logical to expect professional reviewers to present a higher standard than amateurs,is this the way to improve the standard of folk music criticism?,professionalism[ payment for reviewing] will it bring about a higher standard ?


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 01 Sep 09 - 08:42 AM

So, GSW, you should refuse to review a recording if "you dislike someone personally, ...". Should you also refuse to review if you LIKE someone personally?


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 01 Sep 09 - 08:43 AM

The crucial elements are understanding of the music they're reviewing, the ability to write, and a firm editor. Money in itself isn't a factor, although a professional journalist should at least be able to write.

If you want reviewers to be paid, you won't get many reviews - most folk journals don't have enough resources.

Folk magazines have a lot in common with folk clubs. Many are run on a shoestring by enthusiasts who may have little or no prior experience.   Reviewers are like floor singers, some are very good and others are not. In many cases editors are simply glad to get enough copy to fill the magazine, just as a club organiser is glad to get enough singers to fill the evening.

It must be frustrating for a professional to have so many aspects of their livelihood in the hands of well-meaning but not necessarily competent amateurs, but that's the nature of the folk scene.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: Dave Sutherland
Date: 01 Sep 09 - 08:52 AM

Thank you for that Dick but I have to say that the small, but welcome, remuneration that I receive is not the driving force (I did a smilar column for the "Sunday Sun" in the North East in the seventies for six years for which all I received was expenses for envelopes and stamps!)although it does discipline you to meet deadlines.
"Professional is as professional does" is more the motto and here I relate to "Tatters" the on line magazine with which I am associated where I stated in the other thread that the contributors do take an immense pride in their, unpaid, work to the extent that they would not wish their names to be connected with anything sloppy, immature or incorrect. This is continually mentioned by our quite sizeable readership.
To illustrate this, from a totally unprofessional instance, on Sunday I sent out the September edition and (probably due to the Forest v Derby result of the previous day as some have suggested) forgot to attach it to one of the lists of readers. When I checked my e-mails last night I found 50% of that list had contacted me asking where was their September edition!
If I could get the majority of those people who contacted me under one roof we could have a pretty good festival.


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Subject: RE: how can musical critics improve?
From: treewind
Date: 01 Sep 09 - 09:45 AM

About good reviews vs. bad reviews - if you can't write a reasonably good review then don't write one, and if a magazine can't find a reviewer who likes an album they shouldn't publish a review at all. Mind you I have seen the occasional one that totally trashed an album that was apparently laughably bad and pretentious - the review was funny and I'm sure deserved.

On another topic, for all their guidelines fRoots seem to have missed out an obvious one (or at least one of their reviewers did) : Listen to the album. We've had a CD consigned to "and the rest" with a write-up that was quite obviously done by a reviwer short of time, looking at the track list and guessing that familiar song titles meant unimaginative covers of previously recorded and well-known material.

You may laugh but it happens all the time. More than once a classical music critic has written up a performance that didn't happen.
E.g. Critic didn't even go to concert + last minute cancellation due to illness of soloist = embarrassment all round!

Track lists and liner notes: read and use for supporting information (and there may be some useful comments to be made about them) but printing them verbatim is far too cheap unless it's an online review where the extra space doesn't cost anything.

"I think any writer owes it to herself to be interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking."
Well, yes, as long at the result really is that and not just a lot of flowery showing off that has little relevance to the material being reviewed. "Perceptive" is a very good attribute for a reviewer, but we don't want flights of fancy destined for Private Eye's Pseud's Corner...

Anahata


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