A Note About Requests For Concert Reviews & Media Coverage
Last updated: 2024-03-03
Table of Contents
- A Note About Requests For Concert Reviews & Media Coverage
- The Role of Music Criticique Today—A Personal Perspective
- An Unexpected Blogger Career?
- My Work Ethics as Critic
- What Role Can I Play in Concert Critique?
- Concerts and the Pandemic
- What About Requests for CD Reviews?
- Other Media?
- Related Blog Posts
I started blogging in the summer of 2011 with the idea of writing about the music in my CD collection and related topics. In 2014 I was “sidetracked” by an invitation from Bachtrack to write concert reviews. However, over the past 6 years, concert reviews have gradually become the focus of my blogging activities. As of this writing (2022-11-10), 425 (64%) of the 660 blog posts are concert reviews or related posts.
Initially, the concert reviews in my blog were largely related to concert attendance/reviews I wrote for Bachtrack (in German). At the end of 2018, I stopped writing for Bachtrack, expecting to be able to write more CD reviews again. However, to my surprise, various promoters and ensembles have signaled that they are still offering me press tickets. Even just for a blog review. This happened even though my blog is in English and I live in a (Swiss-)German-speaking area. In fact, the majority of my readers live in North America and the UK.
Goals of this Document
This document explains how this situation came about. And it discusses its consequences for me as a blogger, but possibly also for my “clients,” i.e., agencies, ensembles, and artists. I’ll address the central aspects of these questions below, in the sections “What Role Can I Play in Concert Critique?” and “Goals and Directions“.
The Role of Music Criticique Today—A Personal Perspective
Of course, I don’t just attend concerts when I get an invitation and/or a free ticket. I also attend concerts that I find interesting. Events that I feel I should be able to write a review about. I have made it a rule to write about every concert I attend. The only exceptions are concerts in my area and with local artists.
I try to fulfill as many requests / invitations for reviews as possible. At the same time, I don’t want to give up my own concert plans and wishes. However, over the past few years I have often found that “my appetite is bigger than my stomach”. I seem to have a tendency to overfill my concert/review schedule.
I have to learn to make compromises between demands / wishes / requests, my abilities and time. With this post I’m trying to explain my situation, what I think I can do. The goal is to channel incoming demands. I want to avoid excessive expectations and disappointments.
First, let me provide some context and perspective. I’m of course honored and eternally grateful for the opportunity to receive press tickets and attend interesting concerts as a result. However, my “channel” is just a private blog with a limited readership. So I often wonder why I’m getting these press ticket offers. Some of them may have an explanation in personal relationships with promoters & artists. However, the more invitations and offers I received, the more I realized that there is more to it than that.
The Decline of Concert Critique
Over the past few years, I have noticed a gradual decline in music criticism. I can see this from two things:
- There are fewer and fewer concert reviews in the print media. Retiring music critics/commentators are not being replaced. Those who remain are becoming more selective in their coverage. They tend to focus on the “big names” and/or major orchestral performances and festivals with their mainstream repertoire. The recent pandemic has dramatized this situation.
- When I was reviewing for Bachtrack, I was occasionally invited to press briefings. These either preceded a particular concert or served to present the program for the upcoming season. To my amazement, one orchestra kept inviting me to their annual press conference. Even though I’m just a blogger with limited reach. True, I usually wrote positive, if not enthusiastic, reviews of their performances—but still… Sadly, and confirming the above statement about criticism in the news media, there are usually only one or two other attendees: the main local newspaper, rarely a local radio station or a smaller newspaper.
I have made these observations in recent years, at a time when live concerts and festivals were booming, even overheated. With the collapse of concert life due to the pandemic, this lack or absence of music criticique has become alarming.
The Need for Music Critique
Of course, it is legitimate to ask whether music critique is really necessary. Especially now that print media are under increased financial pressure. Let’s ignore the entertainment & information value of arts pages for the average reader. What seems relevant here is the point of view of concert organizers, and even more so that of musicians.
Possible Views of Concert Organizers
Concert promoters and agencies are commercial enterprises and must be financially viable. They rely on publicity to attract and retain audiences. Hence their interest in having concerts reviewed in the media.
At the same time, somewhat unfortunately, commercial pressures change their attention and focus. They look primarily at the “big names” for artists (soloists, conductors, orchestras), the big festivals, and the big venues. On top of that, unfortunately, it makes them steer towards mainstream repertoire. At the very least, they want to make sure that mainstream works have a substantial presence in their programs. In this way (and through the “big names”), the concerts are supposed to attract large audiences. Needless to say, the recent pandemic has dramatically increased the economic pressure on these companies.
How about the Artists?
I’m not talking about the superstars. They rarely bother with music critique. They are usually busy traveling the world giving countless concerts and recitals. So they probably don’t have time to read reviews. And even if they did, why bother? They have their audience.
For the majority of artists, however, the situation is different. They may have a teaching position or a job in an orchestra. If not, they rely almost exclusively on the income (and therefore success) from concerts. CD sales can’t support an artist’s life.
CD sales are declining. In addition, CD producers pay the artist an appallingly microscopic amount per CD sold. Only superstars get a substantial income from physical media sales. Streaming platforms are now gradually taking over the market from CDs and DVDs. In terms of the artist’s payout, these are even worse, not better. Recordings / CDs have become a mere promotional tool for concerts.
Help through Video-Broadcasts??
During the pandemic, many artists have started live video broadcasts via social media (YouTube, Facebook, IDAGIO, etc.). This can often be an act of desperation. These broadcasts include live performances, interviews (e.g. with fellow artists), teaching sessions (either with a student, or even addressing the audience), lectures, discussions, or mixed formats. I have watched several of these and still enjoy them.
However (with a few exceptions, perhaps) such broadcasts are not a source of income. On the contrary, they cost time and resources. Broadcasts are mostly a means of maintaining audience contact and/or self-promotion. They keep alive the hope that they will help the outcome of future concerts.
Critiques to the Rescue?
Overall, for many artists, critiques are a key element in promoting their activities. This is especially true for young artists at the beginning of their careers. The decline in reviews directly affects artists. In addition, the pandemic has put their livelihoods at risk. When concert life is interrupted, many are cut off from their main source of income.
An Unexpected Blogger Career?
In 2018, when I ended my collaboration with Bachtrack, I expected to focus on media reviews again. As already mentioned, to my surprise, several promoters and agencies have signaled that they will continue to offer me press tickets for their concerts. Agencies also send me invitations to concerts “out of the blue”, i.e. without prior contact with these people/entities. Recently, this has also happened through artists and ensembles. Apparently I’m in some database(s) for potential concert reviewers. In other cases, people came across my blog and liked my reviews.
However, the real reason for people to offer me press tickets almost certainly is in the decline of critiques in news media. And agencies, artists, and ensembles need publicity. They want to “stay in business”, as outlined above.
Too Much of a Career?
Needless to say, I enjoy and am grateful for these unexpected opportunities to attend and review concerts! I am honored that organizers and artists consider me a “viable” critic, that they invite me to their concerts, and that they like my reviews. Especially those of their own concerts and recitals. Moreover, these invitations have often led to friendly relationships with artists and people who work for concert agencies. This is the most rewarding aspect of blogging.
Both the opportunities for free tickets and the growing circle of friends make it harder for me to turn down offers for concerts. Of course, there are other concerts that catch my attention. Mostly in the area of chamber music and solo recitals. Events that my wife and I can’t resist attending, provided they are affordable and geographically within reach (see also below).
As stated above, I have set myself the rule to write about every concert that I attend. This keeps my blog reviews “alive”. And it also makes me listen more carefully, makes me remember more details about works, performances, and artists.
The downside is that—as you can easily imagine—”my appetite is bigger than my stomach”. This was the case from the time I reviewed for Bachtrack until the pandemic brought concert life to a standstill. I often tended to keep myself so busy that I ended up working more than in my previous professional life. Which is saying a lot.
This article is an attempt to avoid such overload, perhaps to keep invitations and other people’s expectations at bay.
My Work Ethics as Critic
I have a set of rules and principles for my concert review blogging:
- I want to write about every concert that I attend. If the review backlog is too large, I may have to skip concerts.
- I try to apply the same (“universal”) criteria to all concerts that I attend. I don’t have different “local” and “global / world-class” criteria.
- At the same time, if I suspect that an event would lead to a mediocre or even negative review, I’d rather skip the event. I don’t want to offend anybody. This is also a reason why I tend to skip local events.
- There are a few exceptions to the above. Occasionally, I may disagree with a world-class artist’s opinion based on recordings or YouTube videos. Given their generally high ranking, I may sometimes attend a concert just to re-evaluate (verify or falsify) my preconceived notions.
- I try hard to avoid pandering reviews. I want my reviews to be honest. They should reflect my true (personal) musical concert experience.
- Sure, I’m only just human. I admit that it is sometimes difficult to be critical of friendly artists and organizers. However, I have found that in almost all cases, artists like critical (and detailed) reviews. Provided, of course, that the criticism is well-founded. This confirms my course towards critical and detailed reviews.
It passed my mind that some may see a danger of me feeling bribed by free press tickets. Could this push me towards favorable reviews? That could barely be farther from reality!
I typically spend at least two full days preparing the review (organizing scores, doing Web searches, etc.) and writing. If I’m also taking photos, I may spend another 1–2 days wading through hundreds of pictures, looking for the best shots. And none of this receives any compensation. In addition, I pay for the transportation to and from the concert. These costs often exceed those for a regular ticket.
Blogging, a Money Sink?
In the case of concerts, my reviews are ideally a win-win situation:
- I might get 1 or 2 free tickets, and I certainly enjoy the music, the concert, the contacts.
- In return, the artists and organizers get a detailed and (hopefully) careful review describing how I (as a listener) perceived a performance.
The cost of press tickets is often non-existent: unless a concert is sold out, I don’t take anyone’s seat. My costs, however, are real, taking into account travel/transportation (rarely even hotel costs). There are also expenses for running the blog (hosting, software, etc.). My only real “income” comes from the Amazon product links. If someone buys media through them, I usually get a 5% commission on a successful sale. However, this happens so infrequently that in the last 5 years I have been able to buy maybe 3 CDs (at regular price). It simply does not compare to my expenses, not even remotely.
I can only afford to blog because I’m actually retired and living off my pension and Social Security. And of course my motivation comes from my love for music. And the satisfaction I get from the friendship with musicians and promoters.
What Role Can I Play in Concert Critique?
Finally, I’ll come to the central purpose of this document: what you might want to know before you ask me for a concert review. I fully understand your desire to have me review your concert(s) or recital(s). However, I want to avoid disappointment and frustration. Therefore, I would like you to be realistic about what you can expect or hope for.
I strictly limit my music listening to classical music. For me, this ranges from medieval / renaissance up to contemporary classical. Most of my experience is with baroque up to late romantic music. That’s where I can rely upon experience (from concerts and recordings) to judge, and to form my personal opinion. Further back in time, my experience gets a little thinner, but I still trust my ability to form an opinion and / or evaluate a performance.
For contemporary classical compositions, there is very often nothing to compare with, no scores that are available or easily accessible. With such works, my comments will still address performance aspects (coordination, sound, intonation, interaction with acoustics). But apart from that, my reviews focus is on describing my personal impressions, the emotions and images that such music evokes.
Repertoire that I’m Not Covering
I do not listen to (and refuse to comment on) pop, rock, folk, etc., or what is sometimes called “popular music”. This includes mixed (“hybrid” or “blended”) genres, such as crossover, or the like. I’ve listened to jazz occasionally (mostly decades ago), may even enjoy it—but I don’t have the knowledge and experience to even talk about it. So that’s out too
I made the decision over 50 years ago to limit myself to classical music. And I stick to it—a lifetime is not enough to cover more with sufficient depth.
Within what I called “classical music” above, I apply additional restrictions. This is not because I don’t like certain music or genres. Rather, I want to focus on events and performances that I feel comfortable commenting on:
- I do enjoy opera and theater, but don’t feel like commenting on staging and related aspects. So, opera reviews are rare exceptions (I have only reviewed one “real” opera performance so far, at the specific request by Bachtrack). Opera in concert halls is a another matter—I may consider that.
- I do enjoy ballet, but have neither the knowledge / terminology, nor the language to even just to talk about it.
Other limitations come from the way my blogging “works”. I refuse to do “quick and dirty” reviews. I want to maintain my standards of quality, depth, and detail. In addition, I’m not only a writer (that’s hard enough, usually!), but I’m also my own editor, and I maintain my web/blog platform all by myself. The latter involves database maintenance, internal linking, external referencing, consistency checks, and social media outreach. To make all this work, I stick to standard review schemes so as not to get lost in the complexity of the publishing process.
In this chosen scheme, concerts with a large number of small pieces tend to be laborious. Especially when they are by many different composers. This is one reason why I rarely attend recitals. I’m more open to attending performances of entire song cycles (such as Schubert’s Winterreise). The simpler the structure of a program, the easier it is for me to write about a concert.
Otherwise, I cover most genres within classical music, with some preferences. For example, in Baroque and older music, I (usually) prefer performances on period instruments to performances on modern instruments. I try to be as open-minded as possible. Still, there are some rare things I’m less enthusiastic about. For example, I have never been a big fan of the mandolin.
As stated above, while I don’t necessarily dislike their performances, I personally find it less appealing to comment on the interpretations of established, world-class stars. Especially when they are in the twilight of their careers.
- The results of such reviews are often predictable.
- Countless critics have already commented on this or similar performances.
- These artists usually ignore reviews.
- Their fan communities only accept comments that fit their preconceived notions. I don’t really care about them, but I’m not eager to start a heated debate. And I’m not willing to change my reviews based on such input/debates.
- If an artist’s performance level is declining, it may sometimes be worth telling the truth. However, writing such comments usually feels rather uncomfortable.
- Very often such artists have their repertoire well documented in recordings. A meaningful review would be limited to the “state of the art”. However, if I find the time, I’ll certainly include such artists in posts that compare different performances / interpretations.
Since I stopped reviewing for Bachtrack, I rarely attend classical/romantic concerts with major symphony orchestras. For one thing, I’m not on the list of reviewers for such ensembles (“not an accredited member of the press”). Also, large orchestral concerts are often well covered in the print media.
Large orchestral concerts are expensive. This almost forces the organizers into repertoire that is likely to attract large audiences. Of course, I have nothing against reviewing performances of the “big” classical symphonies or the popular classical and romantic concertos. But when this repertoire becomes repetitive, I tend to lose interest in reviewing it. Chamber music concerts and solo recitals usually cover a broader and non-mainstream repertoire.
Goals and Directions
In an earlier blog post (2018-10-27), I wrote about my view of the purpose of music criticism. In a more recent post (2019-11-10) I wrote about the time commitment involved. I won’t repeat myself here. Just a few additions:
I’m not a newspaper. This is just a private blog. The number of readers / visitors to a review is small, unless the artists of the organizers “spread the word” (assuming they like the review). And I suspect that ordinary readers often don’t make it to the end of my long texts. Still, I’ll try my best in
- Ensure that Google finds my reviews (SEO), and
- Promote my reviews via social media (Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, etc.). But even there the number of followers is limited. Re-posting / re-tweeting or other sharing is most welcome.
Please note that all my reviews are written in English. For German-speaking readers, I often add a short German summary at the top. For concerts in French- or Italian-speaking areas, I occasionally add a summary in those languages.
Just to reiterate the obvious: no, I no longer review for Bachtrack—and I have no intention of returning to Bachtrack.
Size and Detail
More than once I have resolved to write short(er) concert reviews—all in vain. If anything, my reviews seem to be getting longer. At least I have started to formalize the introduction. And I have stopped posting detailed excerpts from biographies, especially when I include a link to the artist’s website.
However, I don’t want to give up the amount of detail I offer in the discussion of the actual performance. More than once I have thought “well, this review is going to be short(er)”. And always I seem to end up with 3000 words or more. I have no ambition to follow the scheme of stenographic newspaper reviews.
The length of my reviews can be problematic in that they look long and thus turn off some readers. As a partial remedy, I structure my reviews with titles and subtitles. And I use a smaller font for text that I consider secondary/less important. In addition, I always have a table of contents at the top, with links in the text. This should make it easy to jump to a particular section.
Also, whenever possible, I add images to my reviews. This makes the text look less dense and easier to read. I only use artist press photos around the headline. Sometimes there is an official press photographer. If so, I’m happy to use such “official” event photos in my review. I will always include the appropriate copyright notice and/or source information.
If there is no official photographer, I often take the photos myself. I have found that smartphone shots of a live indoor concert, even with tricks, are usually not suitable for web publication. So I use my iPhone only in rare exceptions and only during applause.
Using a Photo Camera in Concert
If I’m allowed (and some organizers and artists are happy about it), I take my camera with me (no filming). But even there, sitting in the middle of the crowd, I only take pictures during the applause. I don’t want to upset the people around me.
Ideally, however, I use my camera on a tripod (and of course always in silent mode and without flash). Of course, this requires that I sit in the first or last seat in a row, or that there is no one behind me. I don’t want to block anyone’s view. The tripod will not only keep the camera stable, but will also be a great help in post-processing.
Of course, front row balcony seats would be ideal for an unobstructed view—but they are rarely available. In any case, I don’t wander around the hall looking for spectacular “action shots”. My intention is simply to give a visual impression of my personal experience of a performance from a position close to my seat in the audience.
Limitations & Restrictions
Scheduling, Time Requirements
I try to plan ahead, but even then there are periods of serious overload. There have been months with 8–10 reviews. This inevitably leads to delays in reviews. Needless to say, writing a 3–5000 word review takes time.
Also, when I take pictures, it adds to the delay. When using a tripod, I often take several hundred photos. Processing such large batches (selection, lighting adjustments, cropping, etc.) easily takes 1–2 additional days. Please be patient.
Most of the concerts I review are in the Zurich area. However, my wife and I also consider concerts in other places:
- Primarily locations that are easily accessible by public transportation (Basel, Lucerne, Bern, Brugg, Baden, maybe St.Gallen or similar).
- Locations that can only be reached by car are definitely not our favorites.
- Concerts in places like Lugano or Geneva etc. (where we have to stay overnight) are rare exceptions. If you want me to review a concert in such places, you’ll need very good arguments!
- Needless to say that concerts in other countries are usually out of the question. Unless we happen to be there on a vacation trip.
Concerts and the Pandemic
With the pandemic and the associated closures and restrictions, concert life has been temporarily suspended. At first I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to resume CD reviews. However, after some consideration, my wife and I have taken this as an opportunity for a “mental reset”, to recuperate through gardening, to catch up on tasks that have been on our minds for years (but put off for a later date).
In fact, we enjoyed this time immensely—not least because we could afford to, since we were both retired. However, I have mixed feelings about it, given what many artists—especially musicians—are going through right now.
Switzerland is in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic. It is inevitable that the concert life (which just started again about 2 months ago) will suffer again. And I expect that the second wave will last for several months, maybe the whole coming winter.
What I can say, however, is that I intend to resume reviewing concerts (whenever that will be possible) slowly and carefully. Just as we are being very cautious about traveling, even locally. We’ll see how it goes.
What About Requests for CD Reviews?
Also, since concert reviews have taken up the lion’s share of my blogging, I have had to make CD reviews a lower priority. I have made this known to agencies, pointing out my backlog. I don’t promise reviews and may not even respond to incoming requests. And of course I won’t commit to any deadlines.
If you are considering requesting a CD review, please note that my review backlog is currently substantial. It includes CDs that I received several years ago. Still, agencies and artists have occasionally asked for reviews, and some have sent me media. Unfortunately, since 2016 I have barely managed to publish two CD reviews per year. Sorry—I am on my own with my blog. Time is limited, life is short!
As a matter of principle, I don’t review YouTube videos: all too often, the audio quality is questionable (to say the least). It is certainly not comparable to that of CDs (or DVDs, eventually), let alone live concert experiences. As a rare exception, I may occasionally mention YouTube recordings—but without detailed discussion and/or rating.
Another exception is the occasional comment on DVD recordings. In my scheme of commenting and blogging, these are too time-consuming. And I can only rudimentarily cover the visual aspect of such recordings. I don’t actively collect music DVDs.
In the early days of my blog, I did comment on a live stream of a concert. However, for the same reasons as with YouTube videos, I will probably not repeat this.
For similar reasons, I don’t want to comment on other streaming formats, such as the audio of video podcasts, blogs, vlogs, and the like. My to-do list is already long enough to keep me busy for many years to come.
Related Blog Posts
- Reflections on the Role of Concert / Music Critique (posted 2018-10-27)
- Blogging and Concert Reviews — Full-Time Jobs… (posted 2019-11-10)
- A Layman as Concert Critic — A Personal Note (posted 2017-04-01)