How To Be A Live Music Critic

  • You must smile smugly when informing the door staff that you are attending on behalf of your allotted publication.
  • You may use several sentences to comment or complain about external factors that led to you missing half or all of the first band’s set.
  • You may attempt to capture the zeitgeist wherever possible, by referring to wider societal, economic or meteorological factors.
  • You must understand the importance of the zeitgeist if you are a music critic.
  • You may refer to the bands’ stage attire or between-song banter if you are unable to accurately or coherently describe their music.
  • You may refer to the venue’s drink prices and the temperament of the bar staff only if you are still short of the word limit, even after describing stage attire and between-song banter.
  • You must not use more than half of your word limit to describe the bands’ music. This is a waste of valuable words, which could be better devoted to describing stage attire, between-song banter, drink prices and/or bar staff temperament.
  • You must make reference to other artists’ sound when describing any band, for comparisons are the lifeblood of the music critic.
  • You may describe a band’s sound as ‘(genre)-tinged’, ‘robust’, ‘edgy’ or ‘angular’, even though you know that these words are meaningless filler.
  • You may not research support bands on MySpace before the show.
  • You may insist that you did not research the support bands on MySpace before the show because you wanted to “be surprised”.
  • You may insist that you did not research the support bands on MySpace before the show because you wanted to “approach with an open mind”.
  • You must never concede that the real reason you did not research the support bands on MySpace before the show is because you are lazy.
  • You may get inappropriately drunk, scrawl meaningless notes which you can’t decipher the next day, forget most of what happened during the show and rely on friends’ accounts and sheer bullshit to scrape together your pitiful pile of words to meet the limit.
  • You must realise that the above description accurately captures the actions of most music critics.
  • You may drink no alcohol, take thoughtful notes, and live vicariously through the rest of the drinking crowd, purely to perpetuate the stereotype that all journalists are hard drinkers.
  • You may not have “just a couple” of drinks. This is completely unheard of.
  • You may slightly nod your head to the rhythm of the bass drum.
  • You may alternate between slightly nodding your head and slightly tapping your right foot to the rhythm of the bass drum.
  • You may not, at any point, gyrate your body or move your arms in response to the music.
  • You may only move your arms to imbibe your drink, or when writing notes while in the process of capturing your thoughts of pure brilliance.
  • You must have your notebook and pen at the ready whenever a band is playing, in order to capture your thoughts of pure brilliance at the exact moment they come to you.
  • You may use the above act for overtly advertising that you are a music critic.
  • You may tell members of the opposite sex that you are a music critic when they ask why you are taking notes.
  • You may lick your lips before responding to the above question, as the questioner will undoubtedly want to make out with you immediately after discovering that you are a music critic.
  • You must refer to any weekday night as a “school night”. While there is some contention as to whether Thursday and Sunday qualify as “school nights”, there are no exceptions to Friday or Saturday. 
  • You must have a smug smile on your face as you write the words “school night”, as if it’s some incredibly clever and original phrase.
  • You must treat every show you see as a music critic with the utmost sincerity, because watching three bands play music to people for a few hours is the most important thing in the world.
Comments? Below.
  1. Stuart says:

    Yep, pretty much nailed it. I particularly liked “You must have your notebook and pen at the ready whenever a band is playing, in order to capture your thoughts of pure brilliance at the exact moment they come to you.” and the ‘school night’ bit.

  2. Mike Brown says:

    You may not have “just a couple” of drinks. This is completely unheard of.

    Well that’s where I keep going wrong…

  3. BrisJamin says:

    Oh yes! Totally agree. If I could be so bold, I would add to the list (somethings you may be yet to encounter):

    You may forever think of yourself first as a critic for now, and forever. Your call centre job is just a bit “fluff” to “pay the bills”.

    You must impose your somewhat dubious music critiquing “career” on any and all unsuspecting “friend” on various social networking sites. For “cred”, you see?

    Oh… I have issues.

  4. BrisJamin’s got the right idea.

    What else did I miss?

  5. Dave Carter says:

    You may comment on the mood, age, appearance, subcultural leanings and activity of the crowd (particularly talking over the band) to pad where appropriate.

  6. Liam aka gumbuoy says:


    – Remember, the band is playing purely for your benefit, not anyone elses. It doesnt matter how good a time the crowd is having, if youre not having the best night of your life, the band has failed.

    – Any band that doesnt spot you in the crowd and immediately identify you as a critic and invite you backstage, doesnt take the industry seriously.

    – Your plus one is riding on your coattails. You are within your right to request sexual favours in return – the more expensive the ticket, the larger the base number you can get to.

  7. Liam aka gumbuoy says:

    – Send a band a link to your review. If they dont immediately forward your notice to every single one of their fans via email, facebook, myspace, twitter and hand written mail, they dont appreciate the incredible service you did them by half-listening to their first 2 songs before wandering off…

  8. Denis Semchenko says:

    -You may use the adjectives “seminal” and “groundbreaking” when reviewing a band known for only one song (eg The Saints)

  9. daz says:

    Ha, you know I was thinking of writing a very similar blog just today. Coincidence.

    I would add:

    * Awake in a cold sweat late one night to realise that an individual subjective appraisal (whether negative or positive) of the live event after the fact that it has occurred, doesn’t actually mean that much at all in the long run. Then come to the conclusion that Theodore Roosevelt was on to something when he wrote “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again”…and then go back to sleep again.

    Slightly pessimistic there, but hey, food for thought!

  10. Denis Semchenko says:


    -You may heap extra praise on the support act if the headliner sucks (eg Yeo & The Fresh Goods opening for Adam Green)

    -You may wear a hat

    -You may wear a checkered shirt

    -You may smile and say “I will” when a fan of a band/artist you’re covering suggests you “write ’em a good review” – in full knowledge you’re going to rip the said artist to shreds in your story

  11. Stephen says:

    – You must obsessively read the reviews of the rival street press. You tell everyone this is to “improve your own writing” but in reality, you’re looking for proof that you’ve one-upped them. You always announce this one-upping, but if they have one-upped you, you never mention it. Ever.

    I’m /still/ trying to work out how to coherently describe a band’s sound. I’ve heard food references are out, though.

  12. Shan says:

    Damn, I knew I was doing something wrong! Now I know I’m supposed to drink more than a couple, not take notes with my blackberry but actually scrawl nonsense with a pen in the dark, admit to being there to review rather than smiling and saying I’m there to do my laundry, not take any interest in researching the bands, not dance – ever, write shit about what people are wearing, complain about drink prices (because apparently I’ve bought so freakin’ many of them) and fuck my plus 1, irrespective of whether it’s family member or not. My goodness I’ve learned so much.

  13. Haha, ‘zeitgeist-affirming’. Thanks Shan.

  14. Anna says:

    “You must take all hatred from band’s you have slagged with complete professionalism and not justify/dicuss your critique with them. Your decision is final and your word, as one opinion amongst the oh-so-many, in a mass of many other 20-something year olds, is obviously the be-all-and-end-all law.”

    had a friend in a v well known Sydney band tell me that he reviewed for major mags for 5 years and gave others shit reviews to make his band look better!

    it’s all a sense of humour..

    – – hahaha….

  15. Nathan Bush says:

    – Any show with a professional lightshow, backup dancers or at a venue larger than The Zoo must be described as one “for the kids” or “for the oldies”.

  16. You must not, ever, try and make small-talk with the sound guy.

    Or dump on the band because of a few one-off things that might have happened with the live sound.

    Feedback happens.

    And if you ever come to a gig that has a horn section – at least try and make some musical comment that contains specifics about the type of sound. Don’t just go for cliche ‘wailing horns’, ‘james brown stylez’ – try and show that you have some understand of musical instruments beyond just guitar, bass, drums.

    For example:
    *terrible reviewer – there was a sax

    **crap reviewer – there was a tenor sax

    ***better reviewer – there was a tenor sax that played in the walls-of-sound style of John Coltrane.

    ****Jazz reviewer – there was a 1959 Selmer MkVI sax with original gold lacquer and a vintage Florida Otto Link mouthpiece that blended the ripping sheets-of-sound style of Coltrane, with the subtlety and exqusitiely warm tonality of Dexter Gordon (post amsterdam era), and the contemporary sensibilities of Chris Potter and Seamus Blake. Etc.

    Ok, so maybe I got a bit carried away, but you get my point.

    Do get stuck into anyone masquerading as a musician with a complete disregard for vocal pitch – you’re either in tune, or you’re not. There’s no grey area.

  17. Stuart says:

    – When a music reviewer is asked about a gig by friends 2-3 weeks after the event, they must open by saying “well, as I said in my review…”

  18. Philippe says:

    Brilliant stuff Andrew!

    Comments are awesome too.

  19. Alexandra says:

    Oh wow, I hope you haven’t read any of my reviews.

  20. Tal says:

    You may leave before the headliner finishes their set if you’ve taken on the review as a ‘favour’, to impress girls, or if it turns out the band is awful. I mean unless a member dies onstage you’re not missing anything important, are you? And if they did, you’re sure to hear about it before the review is due, right?

  21. Sam says:

    Def. agree on all comments relating to getting drunk. I’ve frequently woken up the morning after wondering if I’d even written the review let alone made the deadline.


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