Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ian Port's Guidelines for Freelance Reviewers

Ian’s Last Night guidelines

- Remember that what happens onstage/behind the decks isn't the only thing readers are interested in. Sometimes the crowd and the scene make for a better story than the performance itself. Make sure to give readers a sense for the night as a whole, not just the show.

- We're critics, not cheerleaders. Don't slam anyone undeservedly, but don't refrain from making critical comments – or even ripping the artist a thoughtful, evidence-supported new one, if that’s warranted. If something really sucks, don't mince words about it. On the flip side, don’t gush at length about how great a performance was. It’s ok to be very positive, but aim to show your readers why something was good or bad, rather than just telling us it was so.

- You don't have to look at these as straightforward, stodgy concert reviews. Feel free to think up a funny or weird angle, write a review as a list (or some other format), write it like you’re an alien experiencing human/San Francisco culture for the first time, or go off the wall in some other way. But be sure to make it clear what you’re writing about.

- Shoot for somewhere between 400 and 800 words overall.

- band/group names are always singular (Simian Mobile Diso is, has, loves, etc.) unless it's something like The Frogs, in which case you'd give it a plural verb.

 - It's ok to use first-person a little bit, but the general thrust of the article should not use first-person. It's partly a matter of taste and partly company policy. It's just as easy to write without the first person, and sometimes the whole It-struck-me-like-this style can come across a bit self-indulgent. That said, it's ok to go there sometimes.

- Avoid cliches and tired words/phrasing ALWAYS. Mind Orwell's five rules of writing ( ) -- actually, live by those rules and you'll be a better than writer than 90 percent of your competition.

- One of the challenges of your job is to find new words to describe people dancing, beats dropping, and other common club occurrences. I'm not pretending this will be easy, but use your imagination. We want to avoid the commonly used words and phrases to make the reviews exciting to read. Think of new ways to describe what's going on -- they can be wacky and funny and weird as long as they're understandable.

- Your reader doesn't know what you know and may not have even been there -- so in order to write coherently, you will have to describe and mention things that would be obvious to people who were there. Strive to write so that someone who has lived in a cave for the last 30 years could read your post and get the gist of it.

- We're often inclined to write reviews in chronological order -- starting at the beginning of the night and writing to the end -- but this usually isn't the best way to do it. You may want to start with the interesting stuff and a gripping main idea to hook your reader, give a brief summary of what happened, then go into other details. You also don't have to say everything that happened -- just point out the funny/unusual/otherwise noteworthy stuff.

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