I wrote reviews for a youth magazine in high school. This means I was on an email list where every day (sometimes twice a day) for two years or more I got emails asking if anyone on the email list would like to receive a free CD or go to a free concert in exchange for a review. I was always too nervous. Only once did I accept. I wrote an awful review of Mat Kearney‘s album “Nothing Left to Lose.”
By awful review, I don’t mean a poorly written review – which I also do – but a very mean review. I said that Mat Kearney was your typical male singer (he’s not). I said he sounded like Dave Matthews (he doesn’t). I remember sitting on the edge of my bed with my discman, sketching out notes after only having listened to the second song. I remember cringing, knowing what I was doing was not truthful. I just felt that writing a mean review made me more of a journalist.
Let me say I had never listened to Dave Matthews before. Let me say that I was nervous because I was sure I had nothing substantial to say about music. Let me say that I knew what I was doing was not right. I still did it. It never got published. Everything always got published.
I had some amazing experiences with writing for this magazine in high school. I interviewed Jason Mraz in his hotel room. I sat front row at a fashion show. I twice got a $200 shopping spree for writing short fiction.
I until recently thought I couldn’t write a review. I didn’t have enough knowledge or scope about the arts, whether it be books, music or movies, to make an informed opinion about something. I rarely leave a movie and feel one way about it, let alone be able to defend any way I feel about it. I can’t hear the difference between songs or singers.
I know more about books, so I suppose this was my way in to realizing that I am allowed to have opinions about things. In Literature classes and book clubs and through this blog I have practiced speaking my mind about literature and the writing process. Still, it was only recently that I realized the key to writing a review.
It is the opposite of what I was doing before. One does not need to have sweeping opinions or strong ones to write a review; one simply needs to have noticed things. The more specific of thing you might have noticed, or the more specifically you can say how that thing made you feel, the better. Never say a song is “one-dimensional.” Say that the song made you feel you were in an enclosed room. Don’t try and claim you heard the same beat in a different song. Say that the beat felt like it had come out of somewhere deep within the graveyard of music hell. Don’t say you love the song. Say that the song was yours to begin with. Say whatever you please, as long as it is detailed and you mean it. If you mean it, you’ve written a review.
I didn’t know who Mat Kearney was. I didn’t listen to his whole album. I had decided before I started writing that I would write a bad review because I thought that’s what you did two thirds of your time as a journalist. It wasn’t long after this experience that I decided I didn’t want to be a journalist, whether the two moments were connected or not. I realized that what I really liked was another type of writing, one where you’re creating the art instead of commenting on it. Fortunately for the narrow-mindedness of that future, I’ve come to the realization that all writing is the same: write something true, and write it well.