A three-step guide to assigning an album a score in a review

There is no online vocation more venerated than that of music reviewer, and it’s easy to understand why. Not only do music reviewers play a vital role in steering the uninformed masses towards “correct” auditory preferences — do you dare imagine a society where we’re unaware of what is currently cool? I don’t, because I don’t want nightmares — but their job, the actual task of listening to new albums and assessing them, is hard. No, not because writing a music review requires an understanding of both the current and historical artistic contexts an album was created/released in, a vocabulary able to describe the sonic organization of music without resorting to empty words like “relaxing,” and a talent at summarizing a work of art in a manner both informative and entertaining. Forget all that. No, what really makes writing music reviews so challenging is assigning the right score.

See, assigning a score is ostensibly the easiest part of writing a music review, but it actually requires a staggering amount of skill. So, as a tool for all you nascent music reviewers out there, I’ve created a guide to help you avoid all the pitfalls of the __/10 assignation process. You can thank me later.

Step one: Don’t worry about differentiation with regards to artistic intent

If you’re listening to, say, the latest Kanye West release, are you actually listening to that album in the same way — with the same expectations and biases, fitting it as an artistic work into the same cultural narratives — as, say, the latest release by Tonedeff? No, you’re not (or at least shouldn’t be). Two works of art that share a genre may have entirely distinct aesthetic goals, and our ability to differentiate between those goals is what allows us to, as an example, derive as much pleasure from a high-concept indie film as a well-executed “popcorn flick.” They’re both movies, yes, and it’s possible to enjoy both equally, but approaching them with the same expectations, forcing them into the same framework of assessment, is inimical to said capacity for equal enjoyment. If you’re upset by the fact the dialogue in The Bourne Identity isn’t as rich as the dialogue in Tape, that’s because you’re judging both movies by the same criteria. By their very nature, they demand to be treated as distinct.

A score, however, inherently levels all differentiation. That’s what makes scores so appealing and eye-catching. A score is a self-evident statement; any explication — like, I don’t know, the actual text of the review — is of secondary importance. Elaboration and explanation are nice, sure, but a score really means something. And what imbues a score with meaning? Why, the ability to compare it to other scores assigned using the same scale! If Mr. Reviewer says Album A deserves an 8.71/10 and Album B deserves only a 3.29/10, why should you have to wade through paragraphs of analysis when the final assessment, the part you’ll actually remember and debate about/discuss with your friends, is sitting right there in easy-to-digest form? Does it matter if Album A is artistically dissimilar to Album B? Sure, probably. But a scoring system presents an assessment removed from context, creating the illusion — a helpful one, mind you, for generating discussion and subsequently enticing readers to return to your site — where all works of art exist on the same playing field, thus eliminating any need for discernment and nuance. Readers don’t want to quibble over artistic “intention” when they can instead shout about if something is “properly” rated. You’ll earn more attention — and more of that sweet, sweet, page-view cash — with an outlandish score than you will with some all-art-is-unique-and-should-be-discussed-as-such crap.

So, to you inexperienced music reviewers out there, don’t worry about the oddness of scoring every album on the same scale. Your readers want things to be simplified because such simplification allows them more emotional leeway in reacting to your reviews. A review is already an a decontextualized interaction with art anyway, so why not just go for the gusto say, “This album is entirely defined by this here number. Disagree? BRING IT ON!” After all, what’s really more important: some album a billion other bloggers are reviewing or your review, your numerical assessment, of said album?

Step two: Forget consistency and methodology

Now that you’ve overcome your initial fears regarding the inanity effectiveness of scoring every album on the same numerical scale, it’s time to tackle the issue of how exactly a score is assigned. Potential questions on this topic may include:

  • What causes an album to lose points?
  • Do all albums lose points for the same things?
  • If points are subtracted for a specific flaw, how do you know the exact number of points to subtract for that flaw?
  • What is the starting score for each album? Do they all start at 10/10 and then lose points? Do they all start at 5/10 and then either gain or lose points?

If you have these questions, disregard them. Seriously, they aren’t even of the slightest importance. Assigning a score to an album is not a scientific process worthy of detailed methodology. Assigning a score to album is about reaction. It’s about passion. It’s about crystallizing an experience to a work of art (you know, by giving that work of art a pseudo “objective” score for the purposes of attracting attention and galvanizing debate, which is in no way a disservice to the work of art itself, nope). If an album “feels” like a 7.31/10 to you, then give it a 7.31/10. If that score seems incongruous to how you scored a separate album, whatever. See, even though using a scoring system generates the perception that all albums are wholly comparable, you can sneak “distinction” into the process by being both inconsistent with how you assign scores and mum about your methodology! If people complain about how conflicting your reviews seem, let them caw. They’re probably just jealous they don’t have a sweet job like yours.

Step three: You can pretty much just pick a number and slap it on the end of a review. Honestly, it’s fine if the text of your review seems inconsistent with the score. Most people only skim reviews in the first place, so they’re unlikely to notice any incongruity between the words you use as the score you give. In the event someone does actually peruse your review and is confused/angry about inconsistencies, congratulations!  You have successfully “gotten someone’s attention,” which is half the battle of being a successful music reviewer. Prepare to rake in the dough!


So there you have it — a detailed guide for how to excel in the lucrative field of scored music reviews. Now that you’re an expert, wanna work for us?


Tags: Albums Reviews Scores

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