This is a continuation from a tutorial last week where I wrote about the kinds of preparation that goes into writing an album review. Part two was supposed to be about my process and the some other processes I’ve observed other critics using in their review writing but I realized that explaining my writing process will be long winded enough so I decided to cut-down from there.
Prepare your review by writing an outline and a thesis.
Write a thesis statement of your opinion.
Condense your thoughts into a succinct, one-sentence thesis explaining your thoughts, the album’s strengths or weaknesses, or the context of the record. The thesis does not have to be your lead but should be apart of your introduction.
Create an outline of your review.
Strategize how the review will look through an outline. Doing this will help you jump into the writing process and keep your thoughts in order. No outline should be the same as the last. Here are three outlines I sometimes use interchangeably based on my opinion of the quality of the album:
- Sum up the record and it’s place within the context. Explain your reasoning and touch on the major arts of the album i.e. Tone, Theme, instrumentals, lyrics, features, song structure.
- Go into the tracks- standout stories/lyrics/controversy, beats/music, any criticisms. Weak tracks.
- Sum up the record or your opinion with an in-depth explanation of your reasoning. Reinforce your own tastes and stress that other people’s opinions are just as valid.
- Tracks that illustrate your gripes with album.
- Tracks you may have enjoyed.
- Propose what could’ve been done better with your own reasoning.
- Let the reader know it sucks and why right away.
- Find a critical voice demonstrating what good may have been in the record.
- Explain your views and opinions with reason.
Begin writing the review by constructing a narrative and an argument.
Introduce the artist and the context of the record by making a narrative.
Creating a narrative for an album is not easy and requires you have done your homework i.e. spending time reading up on the artist’s history, interviews and listening to their discography. Understanding the circumstances of the artist and the world around them during the creation of the album will help you develop and bolster your opinion with an informed impression of the artist’s narrative. If the reader believes you have the wrong idea about the artist than why should they continue reading? Having a legible and accurate story will help make the review be more readable while demonstrating your knowledge of the subject.
Propose your opinion and argue by demonstration.
This should be the largest chunk of review and will require the most work. A good way to begin is by checking your notes to remember what you thought of the album initially. A recording of your gut-instinct may help you decide what direction to take with the review or understand why your opinion may have changed. For example, some albums take several listens before you really start to enjoy and understand it. Telling your reader about how long it took for the album to grow on you and why it did will make the review more personal and give the reader an understanding of what to expect from the album.
a.) Creating the argument.
The most important part of writing a well-written argument is backing up your claims with examples. If you decide the lyrics are what makes an album powerful than quoting lyrics that moved you will help illustrate this point. Even if the lyrics are great and the reader knows that it’s great, an example should be given in order for you and the reader to understand why it’s great. Knowing why something is will give you deeper understanding of your own tastes as well as inform your reader of your personal biases or tastes.
b.) Write about the music in way that your reader can “hear” it.
Writing about music is one of the hardest skills to learn and is often the skill most neglected by music critics. As previously mentioned, examples are important to establishing a strong argument but not all examples can be done by quoting or paraphrasing. You want to review the music as well the message and lyrics (I know this may seem obvious but many “music” reviews don’t have anything about the music at all). Because most music reviews will be done via blog or print, literal examples of the music can’t be played for the reader. The goal of illustrating the music through words is to give the reader that “sound-bite” example without the sound. The reader must “hear” something through your writing in order for them to understand the argument you are proposing. This is challenging because everyone experiences music differently. Your goal as the writer should be finding the “gist” or meaning of your interpretation of the sound and not the actual sound itself. Many writers will try and be too literal, writing every detail verbatim and trying to explain every little sound. It’s too much. Nails scratching slowly across a chalkboard is a illustration that everyone will understand as a literal, horrible shrieking noise but because of the imagery it’s much more interesting and compelling than the verbatim and literal description, “horrible shrieking noise.”
Recap the album and your thoughts.
Our goal as a music critic is to act as curators to this niche of information for those without the time or means to do it themselves. Now that a critic can be anybody with a blog and a critic likely won’t have access to an album before their target audience, many people don’t need critics to tell them what is good or bad anymore before they go to the record store and buy a copy. People now can just go listen for themselves or even check social media and forums for people’s opinions the moment something is leaked or released. Editor’s will push you to write quickly and put your voice into the choir of opinions before the conversation isn’t relevant anymore. Your goal should be to add to that conversation some understanding and critical thinking. Your conclusion will help you measure yourself and whether or not you achieved that goal. Ask yourself this: Does the reader now know why you think the album is amazing or terrible? Does the reader know the context of the album and it’s creation? Does the reader know why you think something is wrong or why the beat sounds like a broken washing machine? Anyone can give their opinion but as critics we must wrap-our-heads-around that opinion.
That’s how I do it! I’m deciding on when to continue this chain or maybe start something new entirely. For now, I plan on writing about some other processes and why those don’t work for me.