In the Sting song, “St. Augustine in Hell,” the artist pointedly consigns many music critics to the confines of the Inferno, suggesting that music artists may not always have the easiest relationships with their critics. Certainly, it’s an unfair assessment of what most critics do, which is simply to critique the musical offerings of artists. Critics can do more than this and may have very good relationships with musicians; in many music magazines, it may be critics who do most of the interviewing of artists and the principal amount of writing about anything music-related.
The skill a music critic brings to this work varies widely. Some critics are trained extensively in music, and this will often hold true for those critiquing any form of native or classical music. Others are writers who, perhaps at a paper or for the Internet, happened to get assigned to writing about music. This second group might have a keen interest in music and some skill in music history, performance or other areas that can provide the argument their critiques are just. Anyone who remains a critic for a long period of time tends to end up doing plenty of research to justify negative and positive critiques, but in informal settings, the music critic may merely be expressing his/her opinion without education against that of the world’s.
There are certain types of things that usually end up being reviewed by a music critic. Releases of recorded music are among these. Whenever a band or a symphony puts out a new recording, the critic typically has something to say about it, and whether he/she thinks other people will enjoy it. Live performances may be critiqued, too, and these could be live symphonic or jazz performances, or elaborate shows constructed by popular music artists. Music critics might also address movie scores or recordings that are collections of artists’ prior works.
Another avenue of work for the music critic is interviews with artists. These might be done in context of release of new material or a new stage show. In advance of such interviews, the critic is better off when familiar with the canon of the musician and his/her prior life events.
Reviews may take the form of discussion of performance or recording. The good music critic will write about what he/she heard and/or saw. Depending on length of a critique, the critic might have something to say about every piece heard, or might focus on a few pieces. Sometimes a very general review is given instead, where songs or performance pieces are discussed together. As a writer the critic has to make choices about how to present reviews, but choices may be limited in part by the forum used. Also, critics may occasionally work in a spoken rather than written format, though this is less common.