It seems like when any new single or album comes out, there’s an army of reviewers waiting to praise it to the heavens or tear it to tiny shreds, and most releases somehow get a mix of both. The tricky part is that nowadays, anyone can start up a blog or a mini-site and call themselves a reviewer, whether they even have experience in music or not.
Like anything, you have to be able to see which sites and reviewers you can trust, or at least the ones you know have a similar taste in music to yourself so that you can get a feel for what your own opinion might be. Here are the ins and outs of reviewers and their websites, and how to judge who you should be listening to.
The Key Types of Reviewers
When it comes to music in general, there are two kinds you’re going to see. Loosely, you can divide reviewers into ‘score’ or ‘no-score’ categories, although admittedly this is a bit simplified. Essentially, ‘score’ reviewers give a mark out of five or ten or maybe even a percentage at the start or end of their review, while ‘no-score’ reviewers don’t give any numbers at all but instead discuss the album or song at length.
There are definitely advantages of having the ‘score’ reviewers in a lot of places outside of music. It’s a popular standard for online casinos for instance, as players generally want information up front quickly without too much extra. Sites like Asiabet give scores, bullet points, checklists, and all the key info for each review in one single condensed box that’s easy to read. They cover multiple countries in the same way that music sites cover multiple genres, and thanks to the large amount of info, bullet points are often the hallmark of these reviewers as it helps keep things nice and neat. By having expert knowledge of areas such as gambling laws across different countries and gambling guides for various casino games they do the hard work so that consumers can focus on finding the best option for them.
In terms of music, sites like Pitchfork fall into this category, as while they do go through in-depth analysis of album releases, they also start with both a score out of ten and a small summary sentence for readers who aren’t interested in longer break downs.
On the other side, you have ‘no-score’ reviewers, who often feel that slapping a number on something is a bit arbitrary and defeats the point of the whole music scene as something artistic. These reviewers prefer to simply discuss the work and let readers make up their own minds, without pushing them first toward a conclusion.
For a great example of a ‘no-score’ site, you can read TwoStoryMelody’s recent review of David Beck’s latest single, which is almost as poetic and emotive as the verses themselves. These reviews are much more for the artistically inclined who have time to absorb the information slowly.
Know Your Reviewer
Experience and background matter a lot when you’re a music reviewer, and while everyone has to start out somewhere, you can instantly tell who has had experience in the genre and who hasn’t. Now we’re not saying that you’re going to find a CMT award winner out there writing reviews, and a lot more critics have become musicians than the other way around, but familiarity with the topic is plain to see.
The hints on this one are subtle a lot of the time. Firstly, look for reviewers who have a track record of covering similar work, ideally in the country genre. A lot of review writers work on basically whatever album they’re handed, no matter what genre, so someone who has dedicated themselves to the genre is a big plus.
Secondly, a reviewer who can readily pull in other artists and songs as a reference point has either done a lot of research or is simply familiar with those names, so another plus point. Reviewers who are less certain of the topic will be extra vague and flowery in their language to avoid making any hard comparisons that could backfire. Details, in this case, are important.
Lastly, always try and find a writer bio for the reviewer if you can. How a writer describes themself is often very telling of their roots and background, for example, if they have playing experience or whether they’ve been following the scene for 20 years or just two.
At the end of the day though, always remember that reviews should never be treated as fact, no matter who is writing them. Use them as a signpost but always make the final call yourself!