So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted any Sour Grapes Winery reviews—live’s been heckuh hectic and time’s simply been my enemy. However, in that time I’ve had a chance to look over what I’ve written in the past, and I want to pass on to any other aspiring musicians/artists/etc who are thinking about going into reviewing:
Don’t. It’s very, very difficult to review your own field without coming off as pretentious, being useless to the online community, and inviting a massive amount of criticism on what you create.
That being said, if you really are passionate about sharing your familiarity and love of an art form with others, then be aware that reviewing will be incredibly and particularly tricky for you. I want to point out two areas in which you really need to be careful—areas in which I’ve made several mistakes in the past.
First—be careful with what you choose to review. If you’re into reviewing a medium because you sincerely love that medium and want to spread that love to others, then stick to reviewing things you actually enjoy (i.e., you would rate highly). Though it might come off to others that you’re simply a nice reviewer that has nothing poor to say. That impression is far better than the alternative, because when you start writing poor reviews, you’re tempted to (a) trust your own opinion as gospel, or (b) come off to a huge segment of the population as a pretentious jerk.
The thing with reviewing, especially reviewing in a short time span, is that a lot of your opinion is based on your subjective tastes. When you don’t have weeks or months to go over a piece of art several times, researching its background and familiarizing yourself with all of the artistic styles it incorporates and builds upon, you can lose a whole lot of the purpose of the artistic work. In essence, instead of judging a piece of art based on what the artist wanted it to be, you judge it based upon what you expect it to be. When those two perspectives don’t align, you can end up being incredibly unfair to the artist.
I don’t mean to suggest that you should never say anything negative about a piece of art, given you can provide a justification for your judgment, but rather that you should avoid writing and publishing about artistic works about which you have an overall negative impression. In those reviews, you can feel a false sense of authority in figuring out exactly what you dislike that your perspective of the work as a whole is irrevocably slanted. If you stick to writing about things that you actually want your listeners to hear and enjoy, you remove the risk of negative bias and excessive criticism.
Second: write to inform, not to impress. Something that’s been said by many people (but I’ve most recently heard from Larry Osborne) is pertinent here:
Brilliance is not the ability to express complex ideas in a way that only brilliant people can understand them. It is the ability to express complex ideas in a way that anyone can understand them.
If your goal—as I stated above—is to encourage appreciation and increase understanding of your art form, then you are by definition writing for people who do not know the same nomenclature and art slang that you do. Thus, if you write reviews using (or inventing) terms that simply make people say, “Wow, that guy seems pretty smart”, you have failed as a reviewer. You have used your platform to vaunt your own image and ego rather than aid the public to love and appreciate quality art. Unless you’re writing for a specialist e-zine or blog that only targets people in the circle of expertise, reliance on technical jargon signifies the need to improve your expressive skills.
For people who are dedicated to making the most of the form, reviewing is an incredible opportunity—and as an artist of a particular form, you have an advantage in being able to see specifically what makes a work stand out that others might not distinguish. However, unless you choose your works wisely and write to your audience, you’ll come off as self-aggrandizing, make enemies in your own field, and be completely unhelpful at the same time.
Thus, unless you’re truly driven to writing reviews in your own field…don’t.