Exploring Music's Complexities

Musical Criticism

What is Musical Criticism?

Concert review

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines Musical Criticism as a branch of philosophical aesthetics concerned with making judgements about composition or performance or both (1).  It has its beginnings in the eighteenth century when it was designed to provide commentary on “classical music.”   Today music journalists review songs, albums and live concerts, profiles of recording artists, and reporting of artist news and music events (2). In order to be successful a critic must be knowledgeable about the genre about which he is writing.  He should be able to compare a musician’s previous performances or with other performers in the field.  Many also hold degrees in music.


Many Music Critics freelance or work part-time on newspapers and on-line.  They listen to new albums, check media blogs, and listen to public opinion. They need experience and good writing skills to find top positions.  “According to a publication by the Berklee College of Music, the salary range for music journalists (which includes journalists for newspapers, magazines and online publications) is between $20,000 and $70,000 annually. The music critics may earn $150 for a CD review or between $100 and $500 for a feature article. Indeed.com lists the average salary for music journalists at $45,000 yearly (3).

Despite music journalism’s long history, it continues to be a struggle to develop itself into a means for dealing with the subject of the art of music.  What accounts for this struggle?  One of the difficulties is that music is autonomous.  What one knows about music is that it must be experienced.  Secondly, listening is a purely private and personal experience.  Its mastery can only be commented on by one who has listened to it.   It either speaks to each listener directly, or it does not speak to them at all. To those who have not experienced it, a work’s mastery is not demonstrable (1).

Why Critic?

So, what is the point of music criticism ? (4). If it is assumed that criticism expresses value judgments there is a need for the critic to explain why one work is a masterpiece, another a mediocrity.   Since music does not exist until it is brought to life by the player, two basic requirements are demanded of the critic: a knowledge of the work and a knowledge of the instrument.  Emity Zemier suggests it is the responsibility of a “critic” to help the listener to understand what they’re listening to and how it fits into music’s big picture.  The man credited with setting the standard for this profession is Harold C. Schonberg.  His 1971 pulitzer Prize was the first awarded to a music critic ( 5 ).

Role of the   Performer in the Critic

It is not always appreciated that at least a part of the total musical experience is created by the performer, who has a twofold artistic duty: first, to the fundamental character of the work he interprets; and, second, to his own artistic conscience, which tells him how the work should unfold. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Performance critic is the most public, and publicized, aspect of a critic’s function. It is also thought to be the least important (1).  Nevertheless, performing artists find themselves obliged to rely on these critical notices if they are to secure further work, even though neither critics nor artists like it. The box-office economics of performance are so delicate that bad publicity, or no publicity, can wreck artists and management alike.

Sample Review

REVIEW: Daniel Kobialka’s “Sabor a Mi”

PhotobucketThis is one case where you cannot “judge a book by its cover”, or in this case, album title. Upon looking at Daniel Kobialka‘s Sabor a Mi (Li-Sem Enterprises) and the song titles, I expected for it to be some wicked Latin jazz. Even the green polka dot dress on the cover made me go “oooh, might be sexy”. Instead, this is a mixture of jazz and classical, and its mood and vibe are far removed from what most would expect from something assumed to be “invigorating”.

I found the songs on Sabor a Mi to be relaxing and meditative, a bit like what one would expect to hear on a 101 Strings album. Is it easy listening? If you want to go that way, then sure, but one could say this would be new age if you want to go down that route, and it wouldn’t be a problem for Kobialka, since he has been known for new age tones in his past releases. This album though: let me say this. If you are listening to this late at night, this may become your lullaby music. It’ll make you drift off, not good when you want to give this a serious and deep listening. Tracks like “Cuando Vuelva A Tu Lado” and “La Paloma” will take you up and out into the clouds and allow you to float, if you wish to go that route. In terms of being a romantic album, play this in the background and you will be popping bottles, metaphorically and realistically. A French kiss of an album, but with Latin flavors.




  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica.  Musical criticism.   https://www.britannica.com/topic/musical-criticism
  2. Morgan, Shelly.  Job Description of a Music Critic.  Chron.com 
  3. https://careertrend.com/the-average-salary-of-a-music-journalist-13637564.html
  4.  Ayers, Gregory.  Opinion:  Is Music Criticism Really Pointless?  http://dcmusicdownload.com.
  5. Cleveland Plain Dealer.  Role of a Music Critic.   ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/caseconsortium/casestudies









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  1. Musical Criticism — Wonder of Sound Music Notes | Studio Wonder of Sound
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