Why Review? What’s the point in writing a review: my take on the topic?

Every so often I get asked why I write reviews. Sometimes this is by fellow audience members at a concert who are interested in part as to why I write the reviews, but also in part because, although readers still read reviews, studies show they have little to no effect on whether they actually go see a performance. This last case is even truer in the classical music world where a performance is seldom repeated, so a review is really only after the performance and has no bearing on getting audience members to buy tickets – at least not to the specific performance reviewed.

Other times I get asked why I write reviews by fellow artists, or family members. Fellow artists may feel I am “selling out”, venturing into the dark side, and becoming part of the opposition by reviewing their performances. Family members think I’ve just lost my marbles spending far too much time mulling over what to say – and getting paid far too little for the effort I put into each review. While I would like to get paid more money for my efforts that is not the reason I write reviews. So, perhaps this article will help answer this question for anyone who has ever asked the question (or wanted to but not actually done so yet).

As far as the classical music industry is concerned a review does not get more audience members to a performance. I recently spent time in Vail Colorado reviewing the performance of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. Few, if any of my readers, are likely to be ticket purchasers for this season. However, there are a number of people who now know more about what is in store at the festival and may consider including Vail in their vacation plans next year. Also, the artists and the festival now have “sound bites” from my reviews which they can use for their future publicity. At least half of the performers I reviewed at the festival (or their agents) have contacted me since their performance with interest in getting me to hear other performances.

This concept of future publicity is particularly important in writing a CD review. When marketing a CD there are press releases prior to the CD release, when the CD is released and concert publicity which hopes to drive more CD sales. A good review of a CD (even just a short half sentence) can make an artist seam more appealing, provide a sense of worth, particularly to a potential audience that isn’t familiar with the artist. Considering there are literally dozens of world class violinists trying to make their living as solo performers, having a few “good words” to include with their press releases can make a huge difference in both audience attendance and sales of their CD at their performances.

In a much more personal vein, a find the review process to be very educational. I listen more intently at a concert (or to a CD) when I am to write a review. It is rather like having a crash course in the music; I have to focus (particularly in a concert situation) as I only get one shot to hear the music. So, I really examine what it is I am hearing, analyze the music as it is performed, which has greatly affected the way I compose music.

Having said all this, what sort of reviews do I write? If the artists need “good words” to use for publicity shouldn’t I just write a glowing review each time?

Well, no. Some of the people reading my reviews are fellow concert goers. If they saw the same concert I did and it wasn’t particularly thrilling, but I wrote a glowing review anything else I might say would also be suspect. The artists themselves are also aware when a reviewer is padding the performance – so good reviews (although they might still get used in general press releases if there isn’t anything else to be had) can actually hurt an artist in the classical music community. Using too many false reviews to inflate an artist’s status can bring into question just how good the artist really is. Again, when there are so many people trying to make a living in classical music, having the quality of your performances in question is not a good thing. So, my reviews need to be honest.

But don’t reviewers get too technical in their reviews? The common person doesn’t care about all the nitty-gritty details, do they?

Yes and no. I suppose some of my reviews do go into a bit more detail than the common person might care about, particularly since live performance reviews are of a given night and not an experience my readers will get to share. But, providing details, specific elements of the concert that I liked (or didn’t) does two things: It is evidence I was actually in attendance at the concert and not just writing a generic review, and it speaks specifically as to the why I felt something worked or didn’t. IF, as an audience member, I speak about a moment that didn’t work and I list the reason, the reason may very well be just what someone else is looking for in a performance.

Also, there is the concert for the performer. If I mention aspects of the performance that don’t work, the performers have the chance to review what they did and see if they might want to make changes. I seriously doubt if many of the world class performers are going to take what I say with too much concern – but, by providing the detail, they have the opportunity to examine and improve their performance. As a performer myself that is exactly what I want in a review – a second opinion as to what I can do to improve.

So, in the end, I write reviews to provide feedback to performers and fellow future audience members. I write reviews for self improvement too. I endeavor to always write the truth, but remind the performers my reviews are just my opinion. I do spend a great deal of time with each review as I feel the performers spent a great deal of time preparing for the performance, the least I can do is show them respect for their effort by putting in some effort of my own in the review. Personally, I think I write pretty good reviews. As yet I have not received any comments about my reviews being off base in my judgment of the performance. I do have numerous comments and personal emails from fellow audience members who have agreed with my statements.

I will continue to review as often as possible. Hopefully, someday, I may even get picked up by a major newspaper or syndicated (and get paid to write these reviews). Regardless, I hope I have answered the question as to why I write reviews.

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