review writing

I used to avoid writing music reviews. As a performing and recording musician myself, I had a fixed idea of the tone a music critic takes, and feared the day I would have to publicly say that someone’s work was awful. I imagined that I would then be ostracized from the community of musicians and wither away behind my typewriter (it’s the 1980s in this scenario) while nit-picking at other people’s attempts at what I really wanted to be doing.

So, I decided to never combine music and writing, even though they are the two things I have always – and will always – do, whether or not anybody pays me to do them. I suppose taking care of plants and animals are on that list as well, but I’ve never been paid for either of those things. In another life, I’m an endangered ecosystem steward with a side hustle training mental health support horses, but that’s a story for another time.

My attitude toward review writing changed when I worked for a small online music review site in Montreal called Cornershop Studios, which I found in the Craig’s List writing job listings during a slow gig season. I say I worked for them, though I wasn’t paid in dollars. Instead, I got free albums and the thrilling experience of passing a long line of waiting fans to enter a venue with one magic word – Press! – which always came out of my mouth an octave higher than I rehearsed.

The mandate of this review site was to describe excellent music experiences, not to critique them. There was no rating system and if we hated something, we passed it on to someone else. They were in the business of celebrating the act of listening to music, with only a word count and a next-morning deadline as parameters. I see now that they also paid me in the valuable combination of new listening experiences, creative freedom to respond to them, and a deadline. The result of this recipe of requirements was my first public creative writing.

Ten years later in 2020, I started writing album reviews again, this time for the Canadian new music publication Musicworks Magazine. With editor Jennie Punter’s savvy album review assignments, I have resumed the enjoyable practice of listening to new music and responding in writing. I spend much more time on these pieces than the 250 word length and appropriate fee requires, but kicking myself into a time-is-money mentality would feel like punishing a gardener for playing in the dirt . . . in the company of her mental health support horses. The point is, my mind revels in sounds and words and I will let her play until she gets quicker at this work in her own time.

Some of my reviews are on the Musicworks website – the link is below: the latest one about American violist, composer and improviser Jessica Pavone’s new album just went up. My next piece for Musicworks is a feature article in the spring issue! Stay tuned.