Music Blogging 101 - How To Write A Gig Review

by - Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Although it may seem like a lifetime ago, back in July 2014, I graduated from The University of Huddersfield with a first-class honours degree in Music Journalism. Music was in fact my first passion as a blogger - I started www.safetyinsound.com way back in 2009 and use it to this day to review gigs, recommend albums and interview some of my favourite bands. Running Safety In Sound has meant I've  been lucky enough to attend numerous gigs and festivals as press, securing placements with the likes of NME, Beacons festival and Time Out.


While I still love writing about music, my day job has meant that I'm spending more and more time in fashion land. While I love where my career is at right now, I wanted to start a little blog series that would hopefully help other aspiring music journalists and bloggers, sharing some of the tips and tricks I've picked up through my degree and freelancing. Bear in mind that this series is in no way prescriptive - becoming a great music is all about finding your own voice, but these are definitely some things to bear in mind when starting out.

Lesson number one:

How To Write A Gig Review

So you're started your blog, e-zine or perhaps just a personal diary, and are looking to write up that amazing gig you just went to as a submission. But how to start? Here are my top ten tips -

BEFORE THE GIG


Research the band
Sounds like a no-brainer, but not every gig you end up at will be by a band you are hugely familiar with. If you're intending to review, make sure to listen to at least their latest record (the one they're most likely to play), and their top 5 or so greatest hits - Spotify will be your best ally during this process. Recognising a few tracks will make it much easier to pick out moments to review later. 

Plan a timely arrival
Most mid-to-large scale bands will have at least one support band who will play before them - at rock or pop/punk shows, this number can increase to as many as four acts. When reviewing a gig, be sure to show up early enough to the gig to catch as many of these bands as possible. Even if you have no initial intention of reviewing them or have never heard of them, it's the best way to spot up and coming talent or bulk out a review that is a little short on word count. Often, I've found that the support band can be a much bigger attraction that the main band - forever regretting missing Arctic Monkeys support Reverend & The Makers.

Take note of circumstances
Another one that sounds a little odd, but the circumstances of a gig can severely influence the way the evening pans out. Is it the first gig back after a singer was sick? Last night of the tour with a celebratory atmosphere? A hometown crowd? Knowing these things beforehand will allow you to scope out reasons for the things you see later - context is really important when writing something that will stand out among all the other reviews from past gigs and festivals.

DURING THE GIG


Position yourself accordingly
We all know the temptation to run straight to the barrier when we're about to watch a band we love, but if you're planning on reviewing, it may actually be best to take a step back. At a standing concert, anywhere around the sound desk is normally best - close enough to see and hear everything, but far enough back to watch the crowd and see how they are reacting. Which leads to my next point...

Watch the crowd
The difference between being a reviewer and a participant at a gig is that you have to be critical about what is happening around you. This often means watching the crowd as much as you are watching the band. Listen to their screams - which songs are getting the best reaction? Which moments are making the audience move? If it's not that sort of gig, look out for individual characters - the young kid who gets dragged onstage for the encore, the die-hard singing ever lyric, even conversations you overhear before the music starts. All of these things are your once-in-a-lifetime moments, the things that won't have happened anywhere else on tour.

Take down any key lyrics and songs
Some people find it distracting to take notes during the gig, but if you are reviewing seriously or professionally, I would strongly recommend that you take a pen and paper along with you, or at least have a notes app handy on your phone. This doesn't mean you have to write full sentences - unless a genius one comes to you - just jot down key lyrics, titles of songs that drew a particular cheer or anything else that springs to mind. Comparisons to other bands or sounds are fine, but keep them to a minimum, as they can often come off sounding a little negative. At this point, it will all be fairly random, but don't worry - as long as you get down as much as you feel is necessary to help recall the gig, you can tidy it all up later.

AFTER THE GIG  


Tidy your notes
If you were too involved in the gig to take proper notes, it's often best to use the journey home to write some up before anything slips. I always try to tackle a gig review the morning after, just to make sure I fit in as much detail as possible. If you're writing the review for a specific publication, pay attention to word counts or specific style guide arrangements - I'll be writing more about this in a future post. 

Study the setlist
As you pick through your notes, you'll probably find that you've noted down specific songs or moments that specifically moved you, or incited some sort of reaction. These are the songs you'll want to focus on, but remember - this isn't a history lesson. Instead of describing songs track-by-track as they were played, group them together in more interesting ways. For example, if a band are using a gig to debut brand-new tracks, you may want to compare which ones you liked best, or make a contrast between an old favourite and a rarity. If you can't remember specific song names, try looking them up on setlist.fm - a great resource that is often updated with full setlists immediately after a gig.

Talk about the music (but not too much)
One of the wisest things I was told while at University is thus: 'music is ultimately quite boring - it's people that are interesting'. While it's great to describe how a track sounds, the internet means that people can probably go listen and find out for themselves. Your job is to focus on the event itself, the way the band performed, and how the evening came together - it's much more interesting to read about. Think one part music to two-parts occurrences and observations, and you should have the balance right. 

Promoting and pitching your gig review
When you're happy with your review, don't forget to share it! Be sure to tag the relevant band on Facebook and Twitter - if they like your review, it'll go a great way towards building your PR relations and may mean future opportunities to work with the band (again, more info in an upcoming post!). Of course, only do this is your review was pleasant! I very rarely completely trash a band in a review unless I have a specific constructive point for doing so - it's much better to focus on the positives. If a performance is so 'meh' you genuinely don't believe you have anything to write, go back to your notes and consider a different approach, or consider chatting to your editor before refusing to write anything.

So there we go, I hope that helped! Feel free to take a look at www.safetyinsound.com for some examples of my album and gig reviews.

Stay tuned - next week we'll be tackling 'How To Interview A Band'!

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