The Reviewer’s Conundrum: What to Do with a Very Bad Recording?

I review CDs and DVDs for MusicWeb International, the site with the largest number of classical CD reviews freely available on the internet. I’ve been writing reviews for the site for nearly 15 years, and have reviewed some 600 CDs and DVDs.

MusicWeb reviewers receive a list of CDs every month or so, and choose the ones they want. (I also get some CDs directly from record labels.) So I go over the list, and check out what interests me, what new releases fit with my musical tastes and knowledge. In this month’s lot, I got a recording of a work I love and know very well – I’ll leave it nameless – that I tried to listen to this morning, but that was so bad, I had to give up. It’s a solo instrumental recording, and the performer plods through the piece, which, by the way, is played at a tempo which makes it about 50% longer than other versions of the same work.

So I’m faced with a conundrum. In general, I don’t like writing bad reviews; I think it helps no one, and harms the performers and record labels. But there is also a responsibility to write such a review, to alert other music fans about such a poor recording. It’s not like they can’t judge from themselves; the release is available by download, so anyone can listen to excerpts and hear what I heard, and see if they agree with me.

So what do you think? Is it better to write honest reviews of bad recordings, or just toss them aside, and spend time writing reviews of the good ones? Because, since the time of all reviewers is limited, every bad recording that gets reviewed means one less potentially good recording will go unreviewed.

12 thoughts on “The Reviewer’s Conundrum: What to Do with a Very Bad Recording?

  1. Toss them aside. For me, at this point in my life, I’d rather spend my time learning about good things, uniquely valuable things.

  2. Toss them aside. For me, at this point in my life, I’d rather spend my time learning about good things, uniquely valuable things.

  3. I think you owe it to the people who read the reviews that your review it honestly. And it won’t do that much harm to the recording artist/label to be honest. Maybe they can learn from that and do better.

  4. I think you owe it to the people who read the reviews that your review it honestly. And it won’t do that much harm to the recording artist/label to be honest. Maybe they can learn from that and do better.

  5. I think the purpose of reviews is to inform the potential buyer. As a reviewer coming across a bad product, you have to ask yourself, “Absent my review, what is the likelihood someone is going to buy this and end up regretting their decision?” If the answer is something like, “If I don’t bring this product to people’s attention, few people are going to buy it anyway,” then ignore it. No harm done. But if people might likely buy the product because of some other reason, the reputation of the label/brand or performer, prominent promotion, or some other reason I can’t think of just now, then you owe it to the buying public to send up a warning. “You think this is going to be a great product because of X, but you will be woefully disappointed because of Y and Z. Save your money and don’t buy it.”

    This applies to any product one might review and not just music. I’m always annoyed when I read a review for some obscure piece of software on Macworld and the review ends up being, “This isn’t very good.” Then why did you waste my time by posting it? But if it was something I might have bought based on reputation or some other factor, only to be disappointed, I’m glad the reviewer warned me.

    I hope that helps.

  6. I think the purpose of reviews is to inform the potential buyer. As a reviewer coming across a bad product, you have to ask yourself, “Absent my review, what is the likelihood someone is going to buy this and end up regretting their decision?” If the answer is something like, “If I don’t bring this product to people’s attention, few people are going to buy it anyway,” then ignore it. No harm done. But if people might likely buy the product because of some other reason, the reputation of the label/brand or performer, prominent promotion, or some other reason I can’t think of just now, then you owe it to the buying public to send up a warning. “You think this is going to be a great product because of X, but you will be woefully disappointed because of Y and Z. Save your money and don’t buy it.”

    This applies to any product one might review and not just music. I’m always annoyed when I read a review for some obscure piece of software on Macworld and the review ends up being, “This isn’t very good.” Then why did you waste my time by posting it? But if it was something I might have bought based on reputation or some other factor, only to be disappointed, I’m glad the reviewer warned me.

    I hope that helps.

  7. You should provide your honest review. I feel that too many reviews are too positive or look for something nice to say.

  8. You should provide your honest review. I feel that too many reviews are too positive or look for something nice to say.

  9. You can just push your editor to create a “Really Bad Music we got” category. In French video games magazines, they had a few pages for what they called the “Daubes du mois” (“crap of the month” would be some quite bad translation). The review was then a fourth of a page, and sometimes, they were just much better than full-review as the reviewers were trying to explain with a lot of humor why the game was bad. It was really cool.

    That may be a way to do it. But I think bad reviews are necessary, even if it means a good one will get a litle less attention.

  10. You can just push your editor to create a “Really Bad Music we got” category. In French video games magazines, they had a few pages for what they called the “Daubes du mois” (“crap of the month” would be some quite bad translation). The review was then a fourth of a page, and sometimes, they were just much better than full-review as the reviewers were trying to explain with a lot of humor why the game was bad. It was really cool.

    That may be a way to do it. But I think bad reviews are necessary, even if it means a good one will get a litle less attention.

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