In June 2012, I ran a short workshop on How To Critique Music for the Student Editors of Trove. The team of six undergraduates – comprising aspiring artists, writers, editors, and publishers – are in the midst of completing their creative arts practicum that I was overseeing, and editing the journal’s latest issue. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when critiquing music submissions. Please feel free to use with credits back to this page.
A very basic observation – how is the quality of the recording? Is it clear or is there a lot of white noise and static? Is the artist audible?
How is the balance between the vocals and the instrument accompaniment? Does one drown out the other? If it is a purely instrumental piece, are the instruments measured? In general, instruments of a higher pitch easily pierce through the thick of the sound and should be of the lowest volume, while bass instruments of a lower pitch ought to resonate more. If each instrument/voice carries its own melody, are these melodies distinct and not jarring or out of place? Are they well blended or do they sound like an indiscernible thick of sound?
Pace & Rhythm
Is the song at a comfortable pace? If there is singing, are the lyrics easy to follow or is the artist rushing/dragging? Is time kept or does the song speed up at some instances and slow down at others? If these happen, are they intentional (e.g. towards a climax or fading out at the end) and what is the artist trying to portray?
Dynamics & Mood
What is the overall mood of the song? How does it make you feel? Do the lyrics match this mood and tone? Does the song vary in dynamics or is it monotonous?
Is the melody line relatively original or is it too similar to something that has already been published? If the artist is producing a cover of a song, make sure to mention/credit the original artist/source on the Trove page. Please do bring up any possible ethical concerns (i.e. Copyright, Originality, etc.) that you may have.
After listening to the song a couple of times, are you able to identify a catchy segment or melody line? These are usually in the chorus for standard verse-chorus-bridge songs, but may vary for purely instrumental pieces or submissions that are intentionally creative or abstract.
Is the artist articulating the lyrics clearly? What types of words are being used in the lyrics? Are they offensive, clichéd, or reinforce stereotypes?
What is the overall message of the song? What is the author trying to convey? Do the musical instruments, vocal line, lyrics, and tone/mood of the song work together to depict this message?
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