If you’ve ever thought being a music reviewer sounded like a good lark, take some tips from Grant Smithies (reviewer for the Sunday Star Times).
Every week about 20 CDs turn up in the post (that’s over 1000 albums a year) and he has to sort through them, find the gems and write about them for our listening pleasure.
You might think a music reviewer would need specialist music skills or experience, but Grant’s unlikely career path includes working as a mental health support person, landscape gardener and artist’s model.
In Grant’s opinion the thing that makes a good reviewer is their love of language and ability to write in an entertaining way. And Grant’s reviews are always fun to read.
There is only room to write about two albums a week, so while washing the dishes or making a pot of tea he listens through to the lot and makes piles according to what genuinely interests him (or, if he is bored, on what particularly annoys him). He says the first two or three tracks on an album need to capture your attention, although it’s also true that they can end up being the songs you get sick of the quickest.
By Friday he is ready to focus on the chosen few. In his office surrounded by thousands of records, and drawers crammed with CDs (with promo sheets wrapped round them), he listens to each album another three or four times, checks them out on the stereo in the living room as well, take notes and writes up drafts.
Grant is quick to point out that he is representing only one person’s opinion, and it’s fine if someone wildly disagrees. He would rather have that than write something that is impartial and dull.
His advice for budding music reviewers is to concentrate on being a good writer, avoid clichés, improve your language and learn to self edit. This means writing until you are happy with something, then cutting it in half.