<sigh> Record reviews can break your heart. As much as getting an objective perspective on your music can be helpful there are a lot of things that are said in record reviews that are flat out retarded. Often times we take them to heart and get really upset when really we should be taking a deep breath and realizing that you don’t need a degree in music to write a record review. The people that write 75% of record reviews need to fill space, show off their “wits”, and may hate your genre all together. This is not to say you should write off every criticism you get in a review but there are definitely some common criticisms that can be tossed away and others that need some translation. After the jump I will explain what you can gain from some common criticisms and what to make of them.
The first thing we should note is that record reviews are often not written by musicians. So some of the terms they use really mean something entirely different. Below are a few common criticisms and what you can learn from them.
- “The tempos are all the same” – This one is in reviews all of the time and 9 times out of 10 it is incorrect. What the reviewer means to say is that the songs have a similar feel. While you may know for a fact that your songs had different BPMs since you programmed them in, the inexperienced reviewer throws around this cliche like it is dollars in a strip club. What you can learn from it is that your songs are all probably sound similar in feel and that may be a flaw or it could be what you are going for. The wrong thing to do is trying to write at other tempos for the sake of it. The right thing to do is learn some new tricks so your songs have some variation in them. There have been many great records where all of the songs have been within 4 BPM of each other, but when your record is boring to the reviewer they will often use this tired old cliche, despite the fact that they probably love some records where the tempos are all the same.
- “The vocal is out of key” – While there are PLENTY of records this is true on, I have seen this one tossed around when it is not really the case. Often times the inexperienced reviewer will blame pitch when they just don’t like the singers voice. This can be maddening and lead to sever paranoia that you are going crazy. If you know that your vocals are in tune and you see this often times you are still sane and it is a reviewer who just doesn’t get it.
- “The recording is flat” – Here’s another one that is very popular. Reviews who like to stand on a soapbox and shout their opinions often have a lot to say. They also tend to have strong opinions about how a record should sound. It is rare that your production choices will please everyone and often times when this one is tossed around it means they would have liked to hear a different production on your record. People get obsessed with the sound of a particular record and want everyone to sound like that, not realizing how boring music would be if it were the case. If you achieved what you wanted from your recording I would not sweat this one. Often times people think a production should be more or less Auto-Tuned or with roomier drums and they will say this stock statement. This statement is often also about the performances on the record. If you have made a record that is a bit to computerized and lifeless this one will get used even though they will say “the mix is flat”, when they are really speaking of the performances.
- “The album is front loaded” – Song sequence opinions are one of the easiest ones to have. Record reviewers are a hard bunch to please and love commenting on how you should order your record. If you put your best songs first in order to make a good impression on the listener it will be called “front loaded”, if you scatter your songs there will be “duds in between”, if you put them at the end your record “starts off weak”. The fact of the matter is there is no pleasing a reviewer who needs to fill a 1000 word quota and needs something to complain about. They will often use the sequence to wax on and on. Do not sweat this critique too hard. Unless you make a record a reviewer loves there is no pleasing them in this department. Odds are if a reviewer is lukewarm or less on your record they are going to comment on the sequence and it is just filling space.
While there is plenty to learn from reviews these things are all a little wacky. Keep in mind there will be times that every record get into the hands of someone who doesn’t get your genre of music. Take criticism lightly when it comes from someone who isn’t reputable or doesn’t appreciate your genre. That said, it is very important to listen if you keep hearing the same things time and time again from respected figures.