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The ethical side of reviewing music
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Author:  Metal_Detector [ Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:12 pm ]
Post subject:  The ethical side of reviewing music

As a young reviewer who's just starting to get promos directly from bands asking to review their music, the biggest thing I'm afraid of is not sticking to the ethics of providing an honest opinion in the least diluted form. What I fear is the inevitable happening of receiving some pathetic, small band's awful, awful release and being forced to tear them apart for it. It's kind of awkward, you know? You're in direct contact with these people, you've conversed with them, and then you publish a caustic synopsis of their music. I know I wouldn't lie or exaggerate about a release's quality simply for getting free stuff or because I'm going easy on them, but I probably would feel pretty bad about it and might try to soften the blow by not providing the stinging hate speech I'd fling at, say, Queensryche or Stratovarius. Luckily, I haven't faced such a problem yet (since most of the stuff I've gotten has been mediocre at worst).

I know I may seem silly or weak as a writer by bringing up this issue, and frankly, I feel a little embarrassed having admitted it, but I'd truly like others' opinions on this. Have you faced this issue or at least pondered it? How do you deal with it?

Author:  BastardHead [ Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

When I get small band's stuff that I end up reviewing, I have a habit of posting a link on that band's Facebook wall to ensure they see it. When it's negative, I tweak and get super nervous about posting it. My Executioner review pretty much put me in fits. And my Diamond Plate review? Pffft, observant readers may realize there's a three month delay between posting it on my blog and on here. I was terrified they'd read it and get pissed at me since I kinda know the guys.

Basically I'm a big pussy about it, but I DO give bad reviews if the music warrants it.

Author:  Metal_Detector [ Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

BastardHead wrote:
Basically I'm a big pussy about it, but I DO give bad reviews if the music warrants it.


Cool, that's kind of the same way I feel about it. I'm just glad someone else is like that. :P

Author:  lord_ghengis [ Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

I get what you're saying, I'm not sure if I'd consider it an ethical issue, but yeah, when a really terrible band sends you a very polite request it is hard to really rip into them. I myself am pretty easily swayed by friendliness, so I tend to resort to more constructive criticism and the search for potential, instead of mockery and humour, then I boost the score by 15-20%, because I am such a nice bloke apparently. However, these days I'm more likely to just decline requests by shitty raw BM bands.

Author:  BastardHead [ Tue Jun 19, 2012 10:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

lord_ghengis wrote:
I myself am pretty easily swayed by friendliness, so I tend to resort to more constructive criticism and the search for potential, instead of mockery and humour, then I boost the score by 15-20%, because I am such a nice bloke apparently.


Yeah this. Mortal Fungus actually emailed me asking if there was a mistake in the score since I kept calling them unoriginal and not all that exciting but still ended up with a decent score. Now, they didn't send me their stuff or request it to me specifically, but I would have been even nicer had I known they'd read it. Then again that was years ago and I'm a bit less political now. If it sucks, sorry guys, I didn't like it.

Author:  SortaShooter [ Tue Jun 19, 2012 10:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

If someone is sending you their stuff, they have basically three reasons: promotion, getting a useful critique and just to know that someone is listening, period. If you don't like their music, they probably won't be putting a sticker with your quote on the shrinkwrap, but you can still serve the other two purposes. I just try to identify things that they can improve upon and something (if anything) that they already do well to sprinkle a modicum of praise upon, and then I give an honest evaluation in terms that are polite but unambiguous. Most bands will appreciate your honesty and your time, and those that don't, well, they aren't your problem anyway.

Author:  androdion [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 10:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

SortaShooter wrote:
If someone is sending you their stuff, they have basically three reasons: promotion, getting a useful critique and just to know that someone is listening, period. If you don't like their music, they probably won't be putting a sticker with your quote on the shrinkwrap, but you can still serve the other two purposes. I just try to identify things that they can improve upon and something (if anything) that they already do well to sprinkle a modicum of praise upon, and then I give an honest evaluation in terms that are polite but unambiguous. Most bands will appreciate your honesty and your time, and those that don't, well, they aren't your problem anyway.

I sign below this.

If a band is composed of serious musicians who want to constantly improve then they'd better be ready to take criticism with a light-hearted attitude. If they give you shit because of a bad review after you took your personal time to listen to and analyse their music, and even more if you said specifically the reasons behind the negative stance and what they can do to make you change your opinion, then I'd say they don't deserve the time you're spending with them. Musicians have to learn how to deal with negative reactions to their music because it's not all gold and glory. If they can't deal with that then they don't deserve the time you give them, that's all.

Author:  John_Sunlight [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 11:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

What would make you a silly and weak writer would be if you were incapable of explaining why you don't like some music or feel it is artistically inferior without using stinging hate speech. Observe any professional critic, or some of the better reviewers here (Nightgaunt, cheeses_priced) and note that they can say perfectly well why something is bad without in any way coming off as caustic or mean spirited. I suspect that internet videogame reviewers have given you an unprofessional idea of what negative reviewing can and/or should be like.

Author:  Metal_Detector [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 11:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

John_Sunlight wrote:
What would make you a silly and weak writer would be if you were incapable of explaining why you don't like some music or feel it is artistically inferior without using stinging hate speech.


Haha, I could see how that sounds stupid. I was using that more of an example of going more 'soft' on bands of a lesser echelon than a literal suggestion. You make a good point, though. I should probably cool it down the next time I cover something I truly abhor.

Author:  oneyoudontknow [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 1:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Metal_Detector wrote:
What I fear is the inevitable happening of receiving some pathetic, small band's awful, awful release and being forced to tear them apart for it. It's kind of awkward, you know?

That is why I do not accept a lot of promo requests anymore. I want the label to send me the stuff as MP3s, I decide whether I will write on it, and hope to get something in return once the review has been done. I also tend to by stuff ... and deal with the promo stuff in this manner; you need dedication when it comes to this stuff.

Some labels are quite cool, though, and let me pick from their catalog.

Author:  CrimsonFloyd [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 1:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

I tell bands/ musicians who ask me to review their stuff that if I agree to review it I have to be 100% percent honest. This way they can back out if they're only hunting for positive reviews. I have had someone get mad a me for giving them a 7/10, which isn't a bad score, so ultimately there's not a lot you can do about it. Some people don't like having their art criticized, but it's part of the profession they choose to participate in.

Author:  Metal_Detector [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 1:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

CrimsonFloyd wrote:
I tell bands/ musicians who ask me to review their stuff that if I agree to review it I have to be 100% percent honest. This way they can back out if they're only hunting for positive reviews. I have had someone get mad a me for giving them a 7/10, which isn't a bad score, so ultimately there's not a lot you can do about it. Some people don't like having their art criticized, but it's part of the profession they choose to participate in.


Wow, a 7/10? I would be pretty happy if I was an up and coming musician and got a 7/10. That's just pathetic. I guess some just don't appreciate that people are actually listening to their music and taking the time to critique it...

Author:  androdion [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 3:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

That was my point exactly, musicians must learn how to take negative criticism as much as positive. Especially those who are starting or want to become professional musicians. Those are the ones who should be more open-minded to criticism, even more if you take into account that even professional musicians get a lot of heat. So why would less known musicians be any different?

Author:  lord_ghengis [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 5:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Yeah, I've never had any bands actively complain about low scores, although I do tend to warn bands if I can't see myself giving higher than like 30%, so they can choose to not have the review if they wish. Complaining over a 70% is ridiculous, although I guess that's like all the kids who come on here and say that we should nuke negative reviews of their favourite albums because they only have an average 80% or whatever.

Author:  dystopia4 [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

I wouldn't feel that horrible unless they gave me a physical copy. I mean I have felt like maybe a bit of a dick when I give a band lower than 60 but whatever. I gave someone a negative review lately, and he actually thanked me for giving him honest constructive criticism. When the review is requested I do tend to talk about potential the band might have (especially if its a demo) and be sure to mention the good parts no matter how minor they are (I still point out the problems of course), instead of just bashing them into oblivion.

Author:  DodensGrav [ Wed Jun 20, 2012 10:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

I only review music that I like. If a band or label sends me a promo that I don't like, I simply don't review it. Then again, I never request to receive music, so everything that I receive is voluntary, so I can't be expected to oblige with a review. When a band asks me to review something, I take a listen first to see if there's even a chance that I would like it before I give them the nod that sending me some material would not be a waste of their time, money, and energy.

Author:  CrimsonFloyd [ Thu Jun 21, 2012 1:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Metal_Detector wrote:
CrimsonFloyd wrote:
I tell bands/ musicians who ask me to review their stuff that if I agree to review it I have to be 100% percent honest. This way they can back out if they're only hunting for positive reviews. I have had someone get mad a me for giving them a 7/10, which isn't a bad score, so ultimately there's not a lot you can do about it. Some people don't like having their art criticized, but it's part of the profession they choose to participate in.


Wow, a 7/10? I would be pretty happy if I was an up and coming musician and got a 7/10. That's just pathetic. I guess some just don't appreciate that people are actually listening to their music and taking the time to critique it...


Well to be fair it was a musician who was established in a band and was releasing his first solo work. But still, his reaction struck me as an utter inability to accept that not everyone will love everything you do.

Author:  BTEP [ Thu Jun 21, 2012 3:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

As a primarily Black Metal musician myself I say being honest is more important than being nice. Often times if I'm truely proud of something I've achieved recording wise and it got a bad review I can't really feel bad about that I'm still proud of what I've done and I use any critizism or negativity to make myself better or come back later and prove them wrong. Speaking from a BM musician perspective isn't it ultimatly common as hell to be hated by most people/musicians anyway, it's not very cool or grim to cry about it.

My kid recently got denied a slot in his schools talant show and he was upset, his mom wanted me to take him out for ice cream and I said no. I explained to him that being a musician is a tough gig the haters will almost always be more vocals that the people who like you and if you want to persue this you'll have to accept other people opinions and just work harder and be the best you can.

Author:  Empyreal [ Thu Jun 21, 2012 5:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

If it's a small, struggling band who just can't seem to do anything good, there's no reason to be mean about it even if you have to give it a 20% or something. Just state your honest opinion without being sarcastic or rude to the band and that is all you can do - no need to sugarcoat your opinion, but generally I find that snark and exaggeration don't have a place when dealing with smaller and less known bands. Save that for the major label crap that can afford it.

Author:  MalignantThrone [ Thu Jun 21, 2012 5:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

The most experience I've had with this was a mediocre power/"gothic" metal band asking for a review and I gave them a 40%. A while later the guitarist sent me an email apologizing to me because I didn't like it. He was really cool about it, but it made me feel like shit for quite a while.

I usually make my negative reviews as scathing as possible because I think being all "Aww, it's okay, try again next time!" is insincere and boring (which has gotten me quite a bit of angry emails, or in one case, resulted in being called out on YouTube by a guy signed to Sevared Records because I shat on a couple of his labelmates/friends), but I try to be nicer if the review's being expected of me by the band, since I find that it's hard to be rude to someone who's at least humble enough to seek criticism for his work.

Author:  Zodijackyl [ Mon Jun 25, 2012 2:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

In all but the worst cases, I offer some positive words about what is good about a release - I tend to be much more forgiving of shortcomings when something is called a demo, because that generally means that the band understands that they can improve on it and they're just demonstrating some of their potential. I have never given a demo a 0% review, and I think most of my really low ratings towards demos reflect that the musicians lack respect for their music - when it is apparent that they haven't spent the time to get a grasp on their instruments or production, and it sounds horribly amateur. The other reason I would give a really low rating to a demo is when a band seems completely unimaginative and sounds like pieces of their influences chopped together in an uninteresting way.

When I am reviewing current demos, I try to offer three angles - what the listener can expect from this release, what the band does well, and what the band can improve upon. I usually include some future outlook too - I'm excited for what the band puts out next (Maximum Oversatan and Midnite Hellion are two of these), good music taken that needs better production (Black Chalice), or a decent listen and expecting more of the same (most thrash demos).

I'll admit that I do listen to stuff a bit more when the band gives it to me than when it's a random listen. When I randomly pick something to review, unless it stands out as something I'd listen to again, I'll usually start writing during the second listen and be done by the end of the third. Perhaps I have just gotten higher quality stuff from bands looking for reviews - I think that bands who are seeking reviews on MA also have a bit more confidence in their music, since they know that negative reviews are given here when they're earned. I have yet to randomly stumble on an album I'd give 100%, but I did write the first review of a masterpiece that I got from the "request-a-review" thread recently (Bound By Entrails' "The Stars Bode You Farewell").

Author:  Illuminati322 [ Mon Jul 09, 2012 5:21 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

I would review it negatively, but mask said negativity with euphemisms. Instead of attacking it outright, frame your repsonse as constructive criticism and be sure to make it appear you wish them well with their aspirations. I know it sounds wimpy and half assed but it may satisfy the guilt feeling you experience without forcing you to dishonestly praise substandard music. All these bands will gradually improve on their own anyways.

Author:  Napero [ Mon Jul 09, 2012 5:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Illuminati322 wrote:
All these bands will gradually improve on their own anyways.

No they won't.

Author:  Wilytank [ Sat Jul 21, 2012 10:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Metal_Detector wrote:
As a young reviewer who's just starting to get promos directly from bands asking to review their music, the biggest thing I'm afraid of is not sticking to the ethics of providing an honest opinion in the least diluted form. What I fear is the inevitable happening of receiving some pathetic, small band's awful, awful release and being forced to tear them apart for it. It's kind of awkward, you know? You're in direct contact with these people, you've conversed with them, and then you publish a caustic synopsis of their music. I know I wouldn't lie or exaggerate about a release's quality simply for getting free stuff or because I'm going easy on them, but I probably would feel pretty bad about it and might try to soften the blow by not providing the stinging hate speech I'd fling at, say, Queensryche or Stratovarius. Luckily, I haven't faced such a problem yet (since most of the stuff I've gotten has been mediocre at worst).


This is one of the biggest reasons why I will never accept free promos for reviews.

Author:  Bleeding Ancient [ Mon Jul 23, 2012 4:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think that if an album's not worth listening to, why even review it? It is best to simply say, "I'm not going to review this because it would only be negative." This educates the band, saves them public humiliation, and, at the same time, saves readers from wasting their time reading about about crap they don't need to. (Exception: warning readers about established bands that have released stinkers.) Reviewers are important gatekeepers, and should only bring to light bands that are ready for it. Anything else just seems to me to be pointless and unethical.

Author:  GuntherTheUndying [ Mon Jul 23, 2012 4:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Because it's important to stress one's disdain as much as one's pleasure regarding a product.

Author:  oneyoudontknow [ Mon Jul 23, 2012 4:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Bleeding Ancient wrote:
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think that if an album's not worth listening to, why even review it? It is best to simply say, "I'm not going to review this because it would only be negative." This educates the band, saves them public humiliation, and, at the same time, saves readers from wasting their time reading about about crap they don't need to. (Exception: warning readers about established bands that have released stinkers.) Reviewers are important gatekeepers, and should only bring to light bands that are ready for it. Anything else just seems to me to be pointless and unethical.

Good point ... but what do you do in case there are review/s which praise the album, even though it is bad. Would you not feel obliged to write some sort of a counter perspective?

Author:  Bleeding Ancient [ Mon Jul 23, 2012 4:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

That is a good point. I would say that reviewers that are afraid to deny a band a review, and go easy on them instead, just make it hard for people to trust all reviews when they find out that the album didn't deserve a rating.

Author:  BastardHead [ Mon Jul 23, 2012 11:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Bleeding Ancient wrote:
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think that if an album's not worth listening to, why even review it? It is best to simply say, "I'm not going to review this because it would only be negative." This educates the band, saves them public humiliation, and, at the same time, saves readers from wasting their time reading about about crap they don't need to. (Exception: warning readers about established bands that have released stinkers.) Reviewers are important gatekeepers, and should only bring to light bands that are ready for it. Anything else just seems to me to be pointless and unethical.


Every time I see something like this I just want to headbutt myself in the face. The whole "nice reviews only" crowd always gets under my skin, what's the point of only positive reviews? If a new band sucks and you review it poorly, oh well. I don't get why people take offense to these things. If an album you like gets trashed, move on or write a review telling us what you think. If you don't want negative criticism of something you do, don't put it in public, one of the most important aspects of creating art is the ability to react to criticism. Tim Lambesis's ridiculously thin skin is something that I mock because it deserves to be, it's like a hydrophobic fisherman.

You basically imply that if there are no reviews, it's terrible, which implies that a vast majority of the bands on the Archives suck. And while that may be true, the amount of reviews do not reflect that at all.

Author:  Empyreal [ Mon Jul 23, 2012 11:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Bleeding Ancient wrote:
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think that if an album's not worth listening to, why even review it? It is best to simply say, "I'm not going to review this because it would only be negative." This educates the band, saves them public humiliation, and, at the same time, saves readers from wasting their time reading about about crap they don't need to. (Exception: warning readers about established bands that have released stinkers.) Reviewers are important gatekeepers, and should only bring to light bands that are ready for it. Anything else just seems to me to be pointless and unethical.


How would the band even know that you didn't like their work, if you don't review it? What would they gain? Better to tell them than to leave them in the dark to create more crap later.

And yes, any opinions like this - these "only positive reviews are good" posts - are stupid as shit and unproductive to the reviewing climate. You need negativity to teach what's paradoxically good, too, and because it's just the way of all music. If it's released, it is subject to opinions of all kinds. Those with soft feelings need not apply.

Author:  GuntherTheUndying [ Tue Jul 24, 2012 12:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

^Couldn't have said it better myself.

Author:  Bleeding Ancient [ Tue Jul 24, 2012 5:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

I'm interested in ways of stemming the tide of publicity for shit bands, elevating the importance of reviews, educating rejected bands in the process by said rejection, and I'm accused of being soft and nice. Haha. Your emotional reactions were unexpected, but there's really no need to be so defensive. I just don't understand why reviewers waste time trashing bands that no-one has ever heard of, and probably never would have heard of otherwise. I have an interest in ethics, that is why I checked out the thread. I didn't come looking for a fight. Save the vitriol.

Author:  John_Sunlight [ Wed Jul 25, 2012 10:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

Your silent rejection can and will be understood by the bands as silent approval.

Author:  DodensGrav [ Wed Jul 25, 2012 3:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

You can tell a band they suck and why without writing a review.

Author:  Zodijackyl [ Wed Jul 25, 2012 3:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

DodensGrav wrote:
You can tell a band they suck and why without writing a review.


Well-phrased criticism is often much better received, and you'll rarely have a better way to go in depth than with a review.

Author:  DodensGrav [ Wed Jul 25, 2012 6:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

It is a way to avoid writing a negative review for somebody that doesn't want to when a band requests that he check their music though, while also avoiding John_Sunlight's hypothetical scenario of approval via silence. I just added that for the sake of the discussion at hand, as it doesn't apply to me; i.e. I do not accept review requests and I do not review music I don't like.

Author:  Violent_Possessor [ Wed Aug 08, 2012 6:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The ethical side of reviewing music

If you feel bad about giving a band a bad review you shouldn't be reviewing things. Pretty much part of the job. And if you only review stuff you like who cares? People looking at reviews don't want a fanboy review. I think part of being a reviewer is listening to things you may or may not enjoy.

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