Hey Y’all! Since this is a blog that is centered on music reviews and is targeting an audience of fellow concertgoers, I wanted to create a page that details my process as a live music analyst. Some readers might be curious as to what sorts of things I look for during a show, how I critique setlists, and how I actively listen to the music in order to produce my reviews. In terms of context, I know people who enjoy reading this blog all bring something unique to the table as far as their experience with music goes. That’s why I felt that making a page dedicated to how I approach live music might be useful to my audience or at the very least, fun to read. Hopefully this page will be informative for other music reviewers, fans, or enthusiasts who want to start analyzing concerts.
I’m a live music fan (which should be obvious by now) and my favorite type of concert to go is one that features a jam band. I like going to bands I’ve seen before but I also enjoy trying to see groups I’m unfamiliar with or that I haven’t seen live yet. Listening to a band and seeing them live are two completely different things. One of the main reasons I like jam bands is because their studio albums usually just give you a taste of their sound but when you see them live, they improvise and expand on their songs in new and creative ways. It’s called “jam” for a reason, a 5 minute song on the album can be a 20 minute shred-fest in person.
The very first step in my process is to find a show that meets my criteria. If it is a band that I have seen previously, I have an idea of what I am getting into as far as how the show will sound. But if it is a band that I’m new to, I try to do some background research on them, find related artists, and listen to a sample of their material before I decide to buy my ticket. Once I do this, I am more prepared to write a review that is supported with some background knowledge. I think this improves my credibility as a writer and shows that I am interested in more than just the music. I want to give readers information about the artists, their music history, where they’re from, their overall style, etc.
When I go to the show, I try to find a spot with a clear angle to get some decent photos of the stage and the band. I find it’s good to not be right at the front of the stage but closer to the middle so I can capture the entire scene in the frame. This way I can zoom in on the individual artists if I want without being too nosey or distracting to others. Some people get right up front on the stage and are practically sticking their phones 5 inches from the artist. Don’t do this, it is is just plain disrespectful. Also, keep the flash off your camera. It’s not only annoying to see a bright camera flash while you are trying to enjoy the music but it’s also incredibly distracting to the band. Even though the photos may seem a bit dark, you can manually adjust the brightness and if you focus on the right area, they turn out well. Follow this basic concert etiquette and you will be in good shape.
Snag That Setlist
Depending on when I arrive, I’ll make note of the opening band (if there is one) but I won’t attempt to document their songs because their performance is not the focus of my review. The headliner is who I am more concerned with because they are the main reason I’m attending. Once the main act comes out, I try to pay close attention to each song that is being played. If I am sure of the titles, I document them as they come up on my phone. This way I am able to keep track of what has been performed. Most of the time I am able to get the actual setlists from the artists or find verified setlists online. But when this doesn’t happen, it’s good to have a backup that I kept track of myself. It’s okay if I don’t know all the songs, at least I’ll have a few to reference in my review. Knowing the song placement is important because it provides direction for the review and a way to chronologically place the events of the concert. If I am familiar with the band, it can be fun to see how they structured their show with particular song placements, if any really stood out as having epic jam sections, or if there were some that hadn’t been played in a while.
I will also keep track of how well the musicians are playing the songs and listen for any mistakes. I’m not a music scholar, I don’t have a background in music theory, and I can’t read music. But over time, I’ve developed an “ear” for music and I can tell if something is out of tune or if the rhythm is off. I watch each member of the band closely and notice how they interact with one another. Their onstage behavior is usually a good indicator of how the show is going. If they look a little confused, stiff, or are giving one another intense stare downs, the jam probably needs to be tightened up. But if they are smiling and nodding their heads, all is well. Therefore, the dynamics of the musicians, song quality, and stage behavior are all things worth considering and including in the review. It’s not just about reviewing the music, it’s about reviewing the show as a whole.
Following the show, I will usually check the band’s social media to see if they posted anything that could be relevant to my review. Oftentimes, I’m looking for a setlist to confirm the one I documented. Next, I try to take a few notes on the show while it is still fresh in my mind. After doing so, I gather all my materials (pictures, setlist, notes, etc.) and begin to compose my review. Most of the time I start by introducing the band and the background information I found about them. Then I will launch into the bulk of my review starting from the first set all the way to the encore. Throughout the post, I will embed photos that I took, making sure they relate to what is being discussed. I will name each band member and their instrument in order of appearance in the photo. Using the setlist, I make an attempt to describe select songs that stood out to me as a listener. I think this is a good thing for a reviewer to do because it gives the reader an idea of what is worth listening to if they want to check out a recording of the show.
In the final part of my reviews, I try to include relevant links to the band’s social media, website, streaming services, and other interesting resources. This provides listeners with more opportunities to engage with the band and their music if they are fascinated with it. I also like to include a brief statement about who I’m reviewing next, where the show is, what time, and when readers can expect the review to be posted.
That about covers my review process! I hope it was helpful to find out how I engage with live music to create my analysis’ and what sorts of tactics can be used to produce a good review. I believe anyone can start reviewing live music and can find new ways to appreciate music and view it from different perspectives. Even if you are just a music fan and don’t have an education in music theory like me, you can still improve your skills as a reviewer by attending concerts, actively listening, and attempting to examine the music from multiple angles. Over time, you will find you are able to grow your musical ear and you will find enjoyment in documenting setlists and watching the band member interaction for musical cues. Just keep listening and the ability to engage with live music on a deeper level will come naturally.