Ask the Critic: Robert Hilburn

Question: How do you prepare for concert reviews?


Hilburn: The first step for me is to sit down in my office at home and listen to the artist’s last couple of albums, with special emphasis on the last one.

I jot down ideas about each of the songs, and in the process begin formulating some thoughts about the artist’s strengths and point of view.

I’ll also read over my past reviews of the artist and browse through copies of recent interviews he or she has done. The point of all of this is to stimulate thought so that I’ll have lots to draw upon while watching the show.


During the show, I’ll jot down anything that comes to mind -- from the artist’s effectiveness as a performer to his or her demeanor to how interesting or original the material seems.

Ultimately, you are looking to be touched in some way -- either amused, inspired, uplifted or awed. It doesn’t really matter if the music is dark or liberating. The question is how original and how effective is the artist.

I’ll then try to write the first draft of the review, sometimes looking back over material in the notebook, but often just writing off the top of my head (looking at the notebook only to check certain facts). I’ll read through the review the following morning to see if it has captured my feelings of the show. If not, I’ll start over again.

The easiest review to write is about the artist who was great or awful (the latter of which usually means lacking in any personal vision; just recycling what is popular on the radio).

The hardest one is the artist who is so bland you don’t have any feelings about him or her. In that case, it’s good you have a deadline or you could find yourself sitting around for days trying to think of something to say.


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