Special Post – What Are “Reviews”?

Picture

Author: Leon Blair

​I hate using that word “review”. It’s a word that’s so hard to define these days. At its core, when someone gives a review they’re just giving their opinion on something, but I’m not quite sure “opinion” is the extent of what a review is, at least in the music world. Actually, the word “review” is our main topic for discussion today.

Like I said, what a “review” means is so hard to define, and there are certainly many ways with which one could classify it. As such, I’m not trying to state what a review is or should be, I’m just stating what it is and what it should be for me. For starters, reviews seem to be pieces either written or communicated verbally that do more than just say “I like this” or “I don’t like this”. A review for me has always been about explaining why you do or don’t like something. Whether in a singular sentence, paragraph, page, or essay, an explanation is what I think of when I think of a review.


However, I’m not even sure that that’s the extent of what a review is, or at least what it has become. We live in an age where we have the freedom and the power to create online platforms in which we express our own views (sort of like what I’m doing now). It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as if it doesn’t come without its burdens as well. Through Twitter, Facebook, other blogs and other social media platforms, it’s easier for us, the listeners to not only find music we like, but also share it with people who may like that same type of music. Once again, that’s great, but there’s also an ugly side to it that’s often ignored.

When I am about to say may sound controversial, but just indulge me for a second. When people who share similar opinions continuously interact with each other, it seems that it can (sometimes) result in an environment that fosters constant agreement rather than having an open mind and having a rational discussion. To take a quote I found online (with an unknown author), “Online forums aren’t town halls where free and spirited debate takes place. They’re musty corners in which the like-minded gather”. Take superfans for an example. Jason Scott of PopDust wrote an excellent article this last summer relating to this topic, and through it, he expressed the dangers of what can come with these fandoms. One of the biggest (and most present) dangers is a tendency to attack opposing viewpoints. Now, you may remember I talked quite a fair bit about keeping an open mind in my last special post. Really, I want to expand on that. Especially since this isn’t about fandoms. It’s about all of us.

First, I will say how this affects all of us. Then I will hone in on a specific group of people who this affects more heavily than normal. With that being said, I read somewhere that it is impossible to keep an open mind to something when you constantly surround yourself with people who share the same opinion as you (okay, so I read it on Twitter…). That is completely true in my opinion. Perhaps this is just me speaking from personal experience, but I have been in this situation where I constantly communicated with people who shared similar or even exact opinions as I did. Sure, we had fun as we bashed the artists we didn’t like and reveled in the acts we did, but there was always an emptiness to it. It was as if I was missing out on something else or even felt afraid to speak up when I felt differently about something. I am not saying this is how everyone operates however. I understand that people are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves what to think, but maybe you might find something to ponder with what I said as well. If not, that’s also fine. I will now start to move forward to people who this affects quite regularly.

Looking at the various social media platforms offered to us, it seems that none of them really allow for mature, intelligent discussions, at least none at length. That’s why some people like myself choose to create these wonderful little places where we can express our views. We call them blogs.

Now, at this point, our focus will shift back to the concept of “reviews”. Remember, I stated that I thought a review was an explanation of why one likes or dislikes something, and really, it seems to be so many different things to other bloggers. When looking at country bloggers (really, the only genre that I’m comfortable talking about at length), it seems as if the concept more or less holds somewhat true. I am an independent country blogger, meaning that while I cover a fair bit of the mainstream, I also like to cover artists in the realm of independent country. Whether that be Texas, Americana, or otherwise, I try to cover it. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that more often that not, you’re more likely to see more positive reviews for independent country artists than you are mainstream. Now, as someone who thinks that a decent chunk of the mainstream is still rather sub-par, I can agree somewhat. It’s not the mainstream that I want to dwell on however, it’s the independent side.

Tell me, how many independent country reviews have you read that have been anything less than great or glowing? My guess is, not a lot. Now, this begs the question, why don’t you see many less than stellar or even negative independent country reviews?

Part of it is most likely time. After all, the world of independent country is seemingly endless when unfortunately time isn’t. Why bother spending time covering something that nobody will care about seeing as how they most likely don’t know the artist, especially when you cover someone who’s more worth your time? It’s fair, but is it really a waste of time? Before we answer this, let’s take a look at something else.

One of the most popular insults thrown around for when someone dislikes something is the term, “hater”. Now, I see value in every opinion, and with that said I’m sure there are sometimes valid reasons for why people would choose to throw that term around. Forgive me though, since I find it be an absolutely asinine, vile word. No matter what you or I think about a piece of music, no, a piece of art, how can a “hater” be an appropriate term? For me, I talk about music because I love it, not because I hate it. If anything, music is the number one thing I’m passionate about in this entire planet. I can’t possibly talk out of hatred when it comes to music, even if I don’t like the song, album, or artist in question that I’m talking about in a given review.

So why does that term get thrown around? Well, there are multiple reasons, and once again, I’m only going to state what I think are the key ones. When looking specifically at negative reviews written by critics, a “fun”, popular method of dealing with bad songs is to go on the ever popular “rant”. You may have seen one or several. The author goes on a complete diatribe against the artist or the song (or both), and incorporates “humor” to get the point across that they aren’t a fan. Moreover, you see some critics who operate on a style that involves them being harsher than they need to be towards an artist, mostly because that artist knows better. In other words, failing to give even the slightest amount of credit. Now, that is perfectly fine, and I will state right upfront that while I may not agree with these methods, I can’t fault someone for using a style that works for them.

As you can tell by now, I don’t like rants because they ARE hateful and they DO inspire hatred, and that’s something that should never be a part of the review process, at least for me. That being said, is every single of piece of music in existence great? Well, it’s certainly all up to opinion, but for me, absolutely not. There is room for stating why you think something isn’t good, but there’s also room to express that in a respectful manner.

That brings me to my next point. I’ve already established the foundation for my definition of what a review is. First, it’s an opinion, and second, it’s an explanation of that opinion. Let’s take it a step further, shall we? Let’s walk away from looking at strictly negative reviews and focus on reviews as a whole. When explaining your thoughts within a review, no matter what stance you take, I believe that both sides have to be present. If you enjoy something, state why you like it, but state something that could be improved upon as well in order to give a possible course of direction for an artist. If you dislike something, explain why, but also state what you did like in order to once again provide a possible course of direction for the artist. To me, it can never be about just one side. Sure, I talked about a lot about negative reviews just recently, but it applies to positive reviews as well. After all, reviews can’t just be paragraph after paragraph of endless praise. No album, song, or artist is perfect, and to pretend like anyone is and that absolutely nothing can be improved is preposterous in my view.

​Going back to our question about a lack of negative independent country reviews, I believe that we are now ready to answer that question. Time is still a factor, but as to whether writing a “negative” independent country review is a waste of time? I’d say no. When you’re offering constructive feedback, how it can be a waste of time?

You may think, well who are bloggers to think that their opinions are so much more special than anyone else’s? Hey, it’s a fair criticism, and I can understand why people might think of a blogger as elitist. Think about this though, what does it take to really express a thought about music? Yes, I know I’m writing an entire essay on this subject, but let’s at least look at the foundation, shall we? At the very least, we all can tell what music we do and don’t like, and we can probably explain why we like or dislike it as well if asked. That’s the whole point, it’s not elitist. Really, what a blogger does is connect with first of all, themselves (after all, each review is merely an individual opinion), but they might also connect with someone else who shares the same thoughts. You, the readers are just as important in voicing your opinion as we bloggers are. Who am I? A guy writing for a blog. I’m no better than you are.

That’s the overall point I’m driving at folks. Reviews shouldn’t be about just endless praise or endless ridicule. They should about embracing both sides and truly explaining why you do or don’t like something.

THAT is what I am trying to establish here as a writer for Country Music Minds, and THAT is why I care so much about all opinions. For readers, I appreciate you saying things like “great review!” or, “I totally agree!”, but never be afraid to call me out on something or even disagree with me. Remember, we’re the same at our core.

If you are an artist who reads this piece and also contacts me, fine. But know that I will always give my honest opinion, and no matter how much I love or dislike something, I will never endlessly praise or bash your work. I will also not back down from reviewing something if I don’t like the material present. I will be fair and respectful. I will give all of the credit where I can. At least I’ll try, after all, can we ever promise anything more than to at least try? I’m not saying you have to take my advice or anyone else’s for that matter. Again, we’re just people. However, maybe you’ll find something value within our words as well. You never know. 

Perhaps you feel a different way about reviews, and bloggers. That is perfectly fine. Keep in mind, I realize this is heavily opinionated, but that’s why I also want to hear what you have to say. Whether you disagree or agree, I would love to hear your thoughts. As always, I hope you found something of value in this piece, and I thank you for reading.


8 thoughts on “Special Post – What Are “Reviews”?

  1. As a blogger, or as like to categorize myself: “A Dude Who Writes About Stuff I Like”, I see your point. However, what I do is a bit different.
    I don’t categorize anything I write as a “review”, but rather a “spotlight”. Why? Because I only spotlight albums. And the only albums I spotlight have, in my opinion, one skipworthy song or less. Yeah, that’s a high bar, but I don’t do many posts per year.
    I’m also not genre-centric. I just listen to music and when I find something that really moves me, I write about it. I don’t touch mainstream. People have heard that and can make their own opinions. I try to spotlight stuff that is not mainstream.
    The way I do my blog, there would be no sense in bashing an artist. I understand what you’re saying about providing feedback, both positive and negative, if you’re truly doing a review. I appreciate that. But that’s not what I do.
    One of the most talked about and positively reviewed albums on the indie/country/Southern Rock scene this year has been Blackberry Smoke’s latest. I was excited to hear it when it came out because I’m a fan. It did nothing for me. Therefore I didn’t write about it. I still think it’s a good album, just not spotlight worthy for me.
    I like the Eric Church and Miranda Lambert and Metallica albums, but I’m not going to write about them. Everybody knows about them.
    Hope that made sense on why I don’t do negative.

    Like

    1. Hey man, that’s fine. Like I said, I’m not trying to say how everyone should go about operating their blog. I understand your method, and it’s a great one at that. Only the best of the best get a mention – it’s a cool concept.
      Personally, I need a balance of stuff, but again, I’m not saying what the right or wrong way to go about running a blog is (heck, if you ask me there ISN’T any right or wrong way).

      Like

      1. Oh, you’re right, there is no right or wrong way to do it. I’ve just had a conversations with someone else who runs a blog that portends that unless you do negative as well as positive reviews then you might as well not do any. Just putting out my case again about why I don’t do negative.
        If I were actually “reviewing” a larger number of albums, then yes, I would think it would be proper to do both. But I don’t. Hell, I don’t have time to LISTEN to the stuff I don’t like, much less write about it.
        But where I really agree with what you said, if only briefly, is that people seem to fawn over most independent stuff where there is rarely a negative review of it while they will go scorched earth on mainstream stuff. I mean, I pretty much only write about non-mainstream stuff. There is plenty of crap out there as well. In fact, most of the stuff that gets written about positively, my general reaction is “meh”.

        Like

  2. I tend to label my reviews “recommendations” since they are largely positive. I don’t really write about music I dislike because I simply wouldn’t have the patience. I’m appreciative that others can/do, but that’s not what I want to do.

    Like

  3. Yeah, the great thing about this is that everyone has their own unique style. There’s no right or wrong way to go about this. Personally, my style is more in line with TheCheapSeats’. I’m more comfortable just talking about music I like in an informal way rather than being a “reviewer” who hands out scores and such. And I realized a long time ago that I’m never going to have time to listen to more than a tiny fraction of all the music in the world, so I’m only really interested in music that (in my estimation) has a chance to be great. Life’s too short to listen to, much less write about, music that I know isn’t for me.
    That being said, I have enormous respect for people who have more of a reviewing style and take on everything, it’s just not for me personally.

    Like

    1. Well to be fair, you don’t know you’re not going to like something until you actually hear it.
      That being said, I think the number one thing I want to stress above all else is that ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you. I’ve seen some of you chime in with your thoughts and I thank you for that. It’s totally understandable why people do and don’t want to do things in reviews. I’m not right, you’re not wrong. I’m not wrong, you’re not right.
      You see, that’s the cool thing about writing. We can make it whatever we want it to be! I tried Michael’s way, and I found it didn’t work for me after awhile. Doesn’t mean it’s a flawed system though. Heck, he’s been running his blog for a couple years now and been doing excellent work!
      Even amongst country blogs, I can name you some that do similar things, but I can’t name you two blogs that are doing the exact same thing and speaking in the same way. There’s a beauty in diversity. Heck, maybe that’s worth a post on its own…

      Like

      1. “Well to be fair, you don’t know you’re not going to like something until you actually hear it.”
        Oh, absolutely. It’s important to go out of your comfort zone and try new things. I couldn’t agree more.
        My last comment may have been worded inelegantly, so here’s what I meant by my ignoring “music that I know isn’t for me” remark. As much as I would like to, I can’t listen to everything, so I have to use information provided by other people (i.e. reviews and word-of-mouth), as well as my own intuition, to decide what to listen to and what to avoid.
        For example, you just gave Kane Brown’s album a 4/10. I trust your judgement, and combined with what I suspect Kane Brown’s music sounds like, I have decided that listening to his album is not likely the best use of my time. I would rather “spend” that time on Lydia Loveless’ album instead. Now, you might say, why not listen to both Kane Brown and Lydia Loveless? But then I could use the time I spent listening to Kane Brown on Austin Lucas instead. Why not all three? Because then I could try Radiohead. Or Stonewall Jackson. Or Patti Smith. Or Karen Jonas. Or Tompall Glaser. And on and on and on.
        Do you see where I’m going with this? There’s just never really a scenario in which I’m compelled to listen to Kane Brown. If I do choose to listen to Kane Brown, I’m going to be missing out on the opportunity listen to something which is much more likely to be my cup of tea. And I’m never going to run out of music that is highly regarded.
        Now, is it possible that I’m making a mistake, and it turns out I would love Kane Brown’s album? Sure. But if it’s a Wednesday night and I have time to listen to one new album, is Kane Brown a better bet than BJ Barham?
        I obviously don’t have the right to criticize Kane Brown’s music if I haven’t heard it. And to be clear, there’s obviously nothing wrong with listening to, reviewing (someone has to), or enjoying Kane Brown’s album. If your goal is to be a critic and extensively cover country music in 2016 (a noble and admirable endeavor), writing about Kane Brown makes all the sense in the world. But as someone who’s more of just a regular music fan, that’s how my music selection process works, and why I wind up not listening to Kane Brown. Hopefully that all makes sense.

        Like

    2. Hey, it makes absolutely perfect sense man, and I’m glad you brought it up. I can’t say I disagree with any of it.
      I think it all relates back to the concept of doing what’s best for you. For example, you can only decide what music to listen to. I can’t reach through this computer screen and tell you to listen to any album I want you to. And you’re not wrong for making those decisions. Not in the slightest.
      You see, I tried writing only about music I loved for awhile, and eventually it just felt like I was being redundant in my reviews, so FOR ME, I knew I personally had to switch it up. That was my choice. I’m not saying I walked in expecting to hate Kane’s album and give it the bashing it “deserves”. Heck, you never want to assume that about any artist or album. However, I figured that I would try and at least give the kid a chance. Lo and behold, there were moments I genuinely liked and that actually interest me in Kane as an artist. Was it wrong of me to go in with some pre – conceived expectations? Yeah, but hell, I’m a human!
      And that’s what we’re back to – the imperfections of it all. There’s no way to go at this the right way or wrong way. If it feels right to you that’s what matters. Again, your argument is extremely strong here, and it really all boils down to who you want to be as a writer. For someone like me who’s trying to cover all of the current music out there, I enjoy my way. However, for someone like you who’s constantly digging up buried treasures (thanks for that by the way), your way is better. You know what though? I love the differing sides of this argument. I mean, yeah, it is just music and it is just writing, but these conversations prove there’s something valuable here.
      I have to say I love this conversation and it’s definitely inspiring some posts from me.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s