In this blog post, I wanted to talk about the music review website that I write for in my spare time. It is called Bucketlist Music Reviews. It was founded by a wonderful person named Liz Imperiale. Her passion in life is music and the underground scene here in Montreal, in Canada, and across the globe. Her primary focus of the website is to give exposure to the artists that wouldn’t otherwise get it. We (the writing team) are given a couple of albums a month to review, along with as many live shows as we wish to sign up for. It’s all done on a volunteer basis, and the site pulls in next to no money, so if you’re a fan of either good writing or good music, you can donate here.
Why I wanted to talk about this venture is because it has helped shaped the writer that I am today. I have always been interested in the written word, be it from writing short stories to just plain devouring whatever book I could get my hands on. In my writing, I find myself slacking at times. Some days I’ll power through two thousand words, while others, I’ll barely get one consonant down before quitting. Bucketlist changed (helped) with that.
First off, Liz keeps me on a strict deadline. From being assigned an album, I’ll normally have seven days to come up with three to six hundred words describing said music. This is a tougher task than most realize. It forces me to sit around and listen to albums over and over and over again. Whether I like them or not. I do this in hope that I can pull up a few good lines that are a) adequate, and b) showcase how the music captured my attention, be it from the good or bad side. I only have so many days to conjure up some fine words, so, at the end of the deadline, even if I’m stuck, I have to realize that what I’ve written is good enough. I have to learn how to love what I’ve written and downplay the second guessing. No easy task. As far as word counts go, it’s helped me get a better grasp on editing. Sometimes I come up with 10,000 amazing words, but the subject only calls for 1000. It’s hard to cut down what I think is perfect into suiting the guidelines. Many lines have gone by the wayside, but it makes each piece that much stronger.
Second, it taught me to be objective. Sure, when writing a review, it all boils down to personal preference; however, when reviewing music, I have to go beyond that. Maybe the music I’m reviewing doesn’t fit into my wheelhouse, but I must find the good, or bad, in it regardless. Again, this is no easy task. It requires an eye, or ear, for detail. Everything must be crafted just so. To fake it would be doing a disservice to those who have put so much time and effort into the work that I’m asked to review. I have to listen to each musical track throughout the duration of every song and nitpick it. This works wonders when I’m combing through my writing because the editing process is all about nitpicking. Why does this work? How could it be better? Such are the questions I’ve had to ask about the music I’m reviewing, and subsequently, the writing I’m doing myself.
Third, it’s made me focus on what’s going on around me and comment on that. Aside from reviewing albums, I also review live shows. These are two different animals. An album review takes time, takes patience, takes a dedication to getting everything perfect. A live show is all off the cuff. It’s about what I can see in a limited time frame. How can I concisely capture one person’s movements while neglecting another? What is the optimal way to write something I’m observing? Observation, obviously. That’s what it all boils down to. When reviewing a show, I must pick and choose which moments are worth writing about. Once again, I’ll take notes upon notes on my phone (and I’m super sorry to anyone who happens to be standing behind me at said shows and are blinded by the constant light of my screen), in so far as I’ve never written more than four thousand words at a show, but never less than one thousand and five hundred. The next day, I must sift through all the action and boil the entire review down to between six hundred and eight hundred words. Once again, no easy task.
Fourth, it has forced me to come up with an astounding number of different phrases to describe the EXACT SAME FUCKING THING! How many times can I say that a band had a low, resounding bass? Or that a guitar solo was rad? Furthermore, how many times can I do that without turning to a thesaurus? It’s a great exercise. It’s like going to a trivia night, you know, those nights when you rely on all the useless information that you’ve packed away in your brain to come up with amazing answers to out of this world facts without reverting to google. Yes, every now and then I must run to that beautiful book, but it’s good practice to not to until there is no other choice.
Fifth, it has enhanced my ability to write creative non-fiction, and isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t the best advice, “Write what you know?” As stated before, in my first blog post, I try to put a little bit of myself, or the environment I’m in, in each short story or novel that I’m working on. This allows a) the words to flow more freely, and b) the words to be true to life. Writing about live shows that I’m partaking in allows me to put myself as the focus, and all writers are super egomaniacal no matter what they say, and gives me that extra leg up in basing situations around things that I’ve been privy too. And this all comes to a head for my next point.
Sixth, Bucketlist has allowed me to find my voice. To clarify, I’d written the entirety of my short story collection, 14 Needles, before I even started working for Bucketlist Music Reviews. Hell, I’d even written about eight other short stories and half a novel before I started working there. All was good, or so I thought, until I was forced to write on a very regular basis. Now, after a year, I’ve found my narrative voice has slipped from what I once thought it was into that comfortable place where, no matter what, everything I write sounds similar. Make no mistake, this is a good thing.
My seventh, and final point is, it’s been an overall rewarding experience. It’s not something that I’d trade for the world. It’s true that I’m a musician as well, so getting to learn about and hear new music is a plus, plus seeing phenomenal shows is always a treat. It’s those sort of things that tickle my creative bone, no matter which way it’s swinging at the time.
So, this whole blog post is essentially a testimonial to all those would-be writers that have no idea where to start. The answer is simple. Start in your own community. Get off the blog universe. Get off that paying horse, because I highly doubt you’re good enough for it out of the gate. Get some experience. Learn some ins and outs of the craft that you wish to make your own. Without the tricks and subtle pushing that Bucketlist gave me, I don’t think I would have been able to write a blog post as awesome as this, haha.
As always, I look forward to hearing about your exploitative experiences in the comments sections below. If Bucketlist taught me anything, it’s that I’ll try and respond to each of you in a timely manner, even if all you wanna do is talk shit to me. As a music reviewer, I can handle that too.