Discuss our reviews or just talk about any old album.


Postby Nick Lyons » Wed Apr 12, 2006 6:36 am

I know we have this discussion about once every 3 months or so, but it's becoming increasingly frustrating to me, so perhaps all the reviewers could post their opinion on the topic.

Do you feel that RARB sits with the likes or Rolling Stone as far as being a "review board," or is it meant to be more of a critique, help the group grow, acknowledge strengths and weaknesses sort of thing? Rolling Stone reviews for the people that read. Do you feel that that is the main purpose of RARB? Or are you writing the review for the group you're reviewing and leaving it for the people to see?

My main reason for this is that, as an educator, and someone that really loves the art and wants to see it succeed, it's frustrating to read Corey's post about Collegeville. There wasn't a mention of anything positive throughout the review. I haven't heard the album, but I have learned throughout my years of coaching that any group or individual is much more likely to hear what you have to say when you start with something positive, then work your way into the areas of improvement. I know a lot of this is my personality, but I also feel like a review like that will just open the flood gates for the group to come back and start one of those infamous posts ranting and raving about everything about their album... which I don't really feel accomplishes anything.

I understand the reviews are for the public... but is it too much to ask to make it for the review-ee as well? I could write more, but sadly, I must venture to work... I hope I'm not terribly off-base here...

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Postby acappellanut » Wed Apr 12, 2006 9:08 am

i think that every review should have a few sound clips that you can listen to so that you can get your own opinion.
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Postby seth » Wed Apr 12, 2006 12:55 pm

I can say authoritatively that RARB has always had two stated goals: to advise the public on the worth of an album and to give the group constructive feedback. So let's not waste time on what RARB's purpose is or what it means to do. The question of how well a given review or the work as a whole is meeting those goals is open to debate, as is the value of those goals, and I welcome your constant scrutiny.

Also, feel free to contact the actual reviewers you have a problem with. Much like in the issue you raise, telling the readers of this forum about the failings of a reviewer isn't necessarily going to be constructive.

Posting sound clips would be nice, but would be a logistical hassle and bandwidth cost I haven't yet wanted to cope with. Even just getting the album art up there is more trouble than it ought to be. Meanwhile, groups are welcome to put clips on their own sites, and we link to those sites from the reviews.
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Postby Johnsapella » Wed Apr 12, 2006 7:10 pm

Obviously Seth has the real word here, but as someone who doesn't work directly for RARB, I would say that it's up to the reviewers to try and strike that delicate balance between reviewing for whatever public may come here to read the reviews and purchase (or not) accordingly, and providing some feedback to the group.

As Seth said, groups are always free to contact the reviewers; I don't know if it would help matters, but reviews could theoretically be unofficially split into a 'to the public' section and a 'to the group' section. Honestly, I think just citing plenty of specifics in a review achieves both ends. (e.g., "Tony Cipriani's solo on Alabama 3's Woke Up This Morning was delightfully heavy and edged, while Betty Crocker's turn on Do You Know the Muffin Man unfortunately came across as rather staid and uninspired, leaving me with little to do but watch my egg timer count down the seconds until the song was over," tells the public what to expect and tells the group where their strengths and weaknesses are. Blanket statements can help someone who might be looking to buy an album narrow their list a bit, but specifics will help them make a final choice, as well as make it easier to line albums up for comparison, and let the groups know what they're doing that's working, and what is falling short.)
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Postby jesset » Wed Apr 12, 2006 7:17 pm

Ahh, the "positive sandwich". Open with a compliment, fill in your criticism, and close with a compliment. What I learn from my years with clinicians. And marching band leadership. Hoo-hah.

"Hey Jim, I really like your shoes. God, you're an asshole! Nice hat."

On-topic, it would seem to me that those two goals can easily mix together, and I've always thought RARB's done a bang-up job of fulfilling and balancing them. Keep it up.
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Postby streetnix04 » Wed Apr 12, 2006 9:26 pm

I can say that personally I definitely attempt to acheive both RARB goals in each of my reviews, and I believe I have acheived those goals in all my reviews thus far. However, as a reviewer, there is no requirement that every review must have something positive or negative. I am giving my review of the subjective art form I am listening to.

In this specific case ("Collegeville"), my "review" part should also be taken as the "constructive criticism/how to improve" part. The group needs to focus more on tuning in the studio and they need to work with their producer on a better mix. They need more voice control. They need to not take themselves so seriously.

I guess it's all in how the text is interpreted.

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Postby brianhaverkate » Sun Feb 11, 2007 8:59 am


I appreciate your post ten-fold! I've tended to stay away from reading reviews on RARB in the past couple years for exactly your reasoning regarding the negative/positive correlation. I've always had questions regarding any type of review (movie, cd, art) because I've found I hardly ever agree with the reviewer. Most of the movies that are critically acclaimed are not what I would consider top-notch movies. They may be different and push the envelope, but I don't usually consider them to be outstanding in nature. Of course there's always exceptions. I'm not sure what that says about me as a consumer. I like tried and true...I like new and different, but only if they're what I consider oustanding. I guess I like what I like, and choose to formulate my own opinion about it. I don't know if a review ever once swayed my initial impulse (either positively or negatively) to consume that particular media.

RARB does a great job of finding faults in CDs and they do offer some compliments. However, this is usually only when the group "fixes" the faults RARB found on a previous CD. It drives me crazy, but there's not much to do about it I suppose.

Start our own review board? Just kidding. I don't have that kind of time or dedication and I do appreciate the amount of time Seth and others devote to even making this conversation possible. Great job guys!

One thing we CAN say about RARB and other a cappella outlets...they've all aided in the evolution of the art over the past decade.
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Postby NasonW » Sun Feb 11, 2007 12:28 pm

Unfortunately, in my 5 years with Capital Green at Michigan State University, we never had the pleasure or capability of releasing a studio album, so my personal experience with RARB is vicarious, to say the least. But, don't groups voluntarily submit their albums to RARB to review? It seems to me that if you're submitting it for review, you should be prepared to take any and all criticisms you receive, both good and bad. I highly doubt any of the reviewers are being petty or vindictive, and they're certainly not out to make fun of anyone. Having your art critiqued is a very difficult thing, because you've spent a lot of time on it and it's very personal. But we have to remember that RARB didn't seek out your album and choose to slam it, or choose to praise it highly for their own benefit. You asked them to review it, and they did. That must mean you respect what they say and have at least read other reviews they've done to put your work under their scrutiny. Take the advantage of their advice and grow as a group. :)
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Postby brianhaverkate » Mon Feb 12, 2007 11:00 am

True, very true. You get what you ask for when sending your CD for RARB to review. However, with this being the only review board around that I know of, groups are left with little choice. I guess some good advice for groups that don't care for RARB reviews is to just have someone they respect in the a cappella world give it a listen and some helpful feedback. Whew...problem solved. I feel completely relieved. :) And to think I've been up nights worrying about this...
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Postby dherriges » Mon Feb 12, 2007 11:39 am

I've heard people in college groups say they appreciate the bluntness of the criticism they get in a RARB review. I think it's very hard within most college groups to be really up-front and honest about the things you need to improve. There's always a lot of politics, a lot of toes not to step on. Sometimes hearing it very straightforwardly from an outside source is just the push the group needs to really take a criticism seriously, or be prepared to accept it.

My group's waiting on a review, and when I see that it's coming soon I plan to talk to everyone about taking it with a grain of salt, just as a heads up so they're not shocked or hurt by anything. Singling out individual people / songs / solos for criticism can really hurt, but I think it's important that the reviewee always takes it with the perspective that it's 3 individual people's opinions, which will always be somewhat idiosyncratic and not the final word.

I also think it's important that RARB reviewers writing about collegiate albums should always keep in mind the context of how collegiate a cappella works; i.e. it's a part time activity for people busy with a lot of other commitments, annual turnover is high, there's often stiff competition on a campus for the top talent in auditions, etc. Within that framework, college groups can and should be lauded for certain accomplishments that would be nothing special coming from a pro group.
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