Week One Lesson

Welcome to Rock the Fucking House: Creative Approaches to Music Writing. As the description says, I want to focus on both critical and personal approaches to music writing. When writing about music, writers often intermix these two modes, but I think it’s important to understand some of the distinctions between them. So here’s a very brief description of each. 

  • Critical music writing: You’ll typically encounter this style in traditional album and live reviews. Depending upon the venue, editors might be more or less open to the use of first person. For example, with reviews on The A.V. Club, the editors don’t allow any use of the “I,” but, in less formal venues, such as Vice’s Noisey, you can still use “I” while ultimately keeping the piece critical. At any rate, critical music writing is much like critical literary writing. It typically attempts to create a feeling of objectivity, and it often locates the music in a broader social context. But the overall goal is to create a sense of what the music actually sounds like for the reader. 
  • Personal music writing: This approach is often as much about the writer’s experience with a particular piece of music as it is the music itself. Whereas this style often includes in-depth descriptions of the music, it leans more toward an examination of what the music means for the writer. Oftentimes, this entails creating a sense of what a particular piece of music sounds like. But, unlike a critical piece, the descriptions of music in personal writing should typically work to highlight something about the writer. In short, the music should work as a metaphor for something else.

While there are definitely differences, the overall act of attempting to capture a musical experience in writing is the ultimate goal of each mode. It sounds simple, but music writing is an act of translation, and I think it can be helpful to think of it in this way.


For this week’s reading assignment I want you to read at least four reviews of your choice on The A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/music/. I also want you to read this longer critical piece: http://www.avclub.com/article/you-fail-me-proves-hardcore-can-grow-without-losin-203534

For some examples of personal music writing, I want you to read the following essays: http://pigeonsandplanes.com/2015/06/discovering-my-blackness-through-nirvana/. And http://www.gq.com/story/final-comeback-axl-rose

As far as writing assignments, write 250 words in the comments section about some of the differences between critical and personal music writing that you notice in the week’s reading assignments. You might discuss some concrete stylistic differences and/or some of the differences in how the writer does or doesn’t locate themselves in relation to the music. It would also be helpful to pay attention to the overall differences in tone between the two styles.

Finally, I want you to write a 500 word critical review of an album of your choosing. I’d like you to find a new album that you haven’t listened to and write about that. If you need recommendations, I can give you some. As with the reviews on The A.V. Club, I don’t want you to use first person at all in your review. Try your best to locate the album within a specific genre, possibly comparing it to the artist’s previous work and/or what other artists are doing.

Also, start thinking about a band and/or album that you’d like to explore through a personal essay. A first draft of this essay will be due in two weeks. 

Let me know if you have any questions, and I look forward to working with everyone!