How to Write Meaningful Paid Song Reviews on Slicethepie
What Is Slicethepie?
For anyone who doesn't know, Slicethepie is a music review site where ordinary members of the public can join up free as a scout (also called reviewer), listen to new songs, and write a short review about the song for a small payment. Each review is just the member's opinion of the song and/or artist. No special musical skill or knowledge is required as the site wants the opinion of the wide general public. In recent years, it has also enabled members to give reviews on fashionable clothes and phone cases, but those are more of a sideline, so this article is only concerned with the music side of Slicethepie and how to write song reviews.
As an experienced reviewer on Slicethepie and musician, I wrote this article to advise new scouts on how to write reviews that can be more helpful to the artist, even if they (the reviewers, not the artists) don't have any formal background in music.
How Much Does it Pay?
Although it's a British company, Slicethepie rewards each review with payments in US cents, ranging from about 5 to over 20 cents per review. The payment depends on several factors, such as the quality and length of the review, member rank, and whether extra bonuses are being offered at the time. It's not a fortune, but it adds up and you can easily earn a few dollars in a single "scouting" session.
The money is a nice bonus, but for me and many others it's not the main attraction. The best part is being involved in giving valuable feedback to up-and-coming musicians who put their songs out there to see what kind of reception they can expect from the general public—us! Artists who get the highest ratings from the reviewers can become eligible for financing to set them on the road to commercial success.
Writing a Review
Describing Musical Elements
Here are some musical features that come up in a typical song. You can comment on any features of the song you feel are worth commenting on.
Imagine a song that you know well, and focus on the following features as it plays in your mind.
- Intro If the song has an intro, what do you think of it? Some intros are atmospheric and capture your imagination from the start or they establish a good beat that sets up the song. They do what an intro is supposed to do: lead into the song naturally. Some intros you hear don't do that but instead lead awkwardly into the main part of the song. If there's nothing special about the intro, then there's no need to comment on it.
- Vocal melody What do you think of it? Is it tuneful? Interesting? Is it the kind of tune (melody) that would be easy to remember? Commercially, that's a positive quality, even if it's one of those awful songs that you can't get out of your head for days.How about the singer? Listen to his or her vocal quality. Is it a rich tone? Or is it thin? How expressively do they sing the lyrics? How consistent is their vocal quality? They may sound great until they try to get the high notes and go all screechy.
- Lyrics Can you make them out? Some lyrics aren't in English, so you obviously can't comment on the lyrical content if you don't understand the language. But you can still hear the flow of words. All good songwriters choose words and phrases not just for their meaning but also for their sound and natural rhythmic quality. How are the lyrics in the song you've got in mind? Are they deep and meaningful, or shallow and childish? Pretentious? Predictable? Amusing? Cringe-worthy? Cheesy? Original? Imaginative? Interesting? Offensive? A lot to choose from there.
The Instrumental Arrangement
The qualities to listen out for are:
- Rhythm Is there a solid beat and strong engaging rhythm that grabs you and carries you along? If so, that's a good quality. If not, that doesn't mean it's bad quality. Not all great songs are catchy. Rhythmic effects can be flowing, subtle, pronounced, complex, etc., but there should be some consistency and conviction whatever the rhythmic style used.
- Instrumental variety and balance If a song has a rich variety of interesting instruments, it may be more distinctive and memorable. The arrangement also has to be tasteful and suit the mood of the song, however. For example, a saxophone is a very expressive instrument, but would be out of place in many styles of music.
If a song has an accompaniment of just a single strummed guitar, for example, listen to how effectively (or not) the artist makes it interesting by varying the rhythm or dynamics and avoids a boring mechanical strum throughout.
- Digital effects Although digital effects can be striking and really enhance a song, there's a noticeable tendency among less-experienced musicians to overuse them. Rather than enhance the song, overuse makes it sound cheap and amateurish. Among less talented musicians, digital effects are often used in a vain attempt to compensate for a lack of musical quality. That never works. There's no substitute for musical quality.
You can make your review more interesting and meaningful by using a wide variety of well-chosen words and phrases. Don't use the word 'good' all the time, and definitely stay away from the 'Awesome dude!' or 'You guys suck' style of review if you want your review to be taken seriously. Use words that are more descriptive and specific.
Honest reviews are expected, of course, but there's no harm in being diplomatic too. The reason that your opinion is valuable is because, unlike the artists themselves (and their friends and families), you can be completely objective. The artists can be too closely involved with the music to hear faults and weaknesses. They need an objective and unbiased opinion and any advice you may have.
Here's a tiny selection of terms that may be relevant to the musical qualities you want to describe:
- Positive: catchy, tuneful, interesting, shapely (or well-shaped), strong, melodic, melodious, memorable, original.
- Negative: plain, shapeless, tuneless, boring, too simple, overly complex, unoriginal.
- Positive: distinctive, rich, warm, expressive, feeling, strong, attractive, appealing, confident, conviction, heartfelt, clear, stylish, soulful, impressive, pitch range, dynamic, edgy, raw, powerful.
- Negative: thin, weak, inconsistent, out-of-tune, pitch problems, expressionless, bland, self-conscious.
- Positive: original, amusing, thought-provoking, inspiring, heart-warming, punchy, meaningful, clever, deep.
- Negative: plain, uninspiring, weak, pretentious, cheesy, corny, cringeworthy, obscure, confusing, predictable, repetitive, offensive.
For instrumental accompaniments:
- Positive: balanced, varied, full, rich, rhythmic, engaging, compelling, competent, smooth, accomplished, imaginative, creative, solid, original, exciting, powerful, driving, atmospheric, ethereal.
- Negative: weak, plain, safe, uninspired, lacking conviction, poor balance, untogether, over-sentimental, unvaried, lacking contrast, strident, harsh.
- Positive: talented, imaginative, professional, creative, accomplished, competent, skillful, careful, experienced, natural.
- Negative: unimaginative, predictable, careless, unprofessional, untogether, dated, awkward.
If the song has a familiar arrangement of sections (e.g., verses, choruses, instrumental sections) then it's easy for the average listener to feel at home with it. This, in turn, makes it more commercially attractive. This applies to most styles of music. They don't all have verses and choruses, of course, but they all have contrasting sections.
You should always keep commercial potential in mind. Even if you don't like the song, try to imagine how the song's target audience would receive it. Some songs are excellent, but in a style that isn't in great demand commercially. They can still find niche outlets and have limited success. For example, you might hear an old 50s or early-60s rock-and-roll style song. It could be a superb example of that style played to perfection, but it's not a style that's attractive to mainstream commercial investors who worry about getting a return on their investment. The main commercial quality of songs like that is nostalgia, and nostalgia is a niche market.
Even without any musical knowledge on your part, you can still get a feel for things like how much the artist or artists enjoy and believe in what they're doing. Even if not technically brilliant, a vibrant performance that is full of confidence, conviction, style and flair is obviously going to be far more attractive commercially than a lacklustre performance by artists who sound like they'd rather be someplace else
Another quality you'll come across is over-expressiveness. The artist wants to make an impression emotionally, but overdoes it and comes across sounding insincere, put on, melodramatic and pretentious. That's a worst-case scenario, but it's not that uncommon.
Production and Recording Quality
Don't be too hard on poor production and recording quality. The artist may have very limited means, and it's the best possible sound they can get from very basic recording and mixing equipment.
On the other hand, sloppy recording (unintended distortion, bumping into the mic or even coughing into it) deserves to be criticised. Even with the most basic of equipment, a professional approach to the recording is more impressive than a 'couldn't care less' attitude in a recording studio.
Reviewing Different Genres
As you can't pick and choose the styles and genres that you get to review, you may have to review songs in a style that you're not familiar with. It's not a problem. You can still review the song by commenting on qualities that are common to most styles of music, such as balance, tastefulness, originality, style, variety, impact, emotion, and, last but not least, commercial potential.
You're free to let the artist know that you don't like that style or genre, but it would be unfair to rate an individual song low on those grounds. Don't let your personal taste cloud your judgement of what could become a major hit.
Here are some sample reviews to give an idea of the types of reviews that artists find useful, even if you're telling them something they don't want to hear. Compose your own reviews in your own style, of course, but aim to make them relevant, descriptive and informative.
Slicethepie also has quality controls in place that automatically reject reviews that are offensive, too short, lacking in musical terms, or too similar to your previous reviews (hence the need to have a wide vocabulary of descriptive terms). On the other hand, they pay a higher bonus for reviews that meet and surpass their quality standards.
Be Concise - Not long-winded - If your review is too long it will probably be rejected with the message that it's not specific enough. That's because the number of musical terms will be low compared to the number of non-musical terms and the system will reject it due to low 'keyword' density.
Example 1 - A glowing review - 9/10
This is a great song and performance. The melody is strong and tuneful. The singer has an attractive vocal tone, and puts real feeling into the lyrics. The lyrics are interesting and meaningful with some punchy phrases. Instrumentally, the song has a rich, full accompaniment that complements the vocal track perfectly. Great guitar solo too, although I think a grittier tone would suit the dark mood of the song better.
The performance quality is high throughout, both vocally and instrumentally. Overall, the song is distinctive and original, and I think it has strong commercial potential.
Example 2 - A good song badly arranged - 6/10
I think this song has some good musical qualities but needs a better musical arrangement. The singer has a distinctive and attractive vocal tone, but is often drowned out by the powerful instrumental accompaniment. The synth tones are far too harsh and strident. The singer should be allowed to dominate the song without having to compete with the accompaniment. The lyrics seem quite interesting, but can't always be heard clearly because of the poor vocal-instrumental balance. It's quite a tuneful song, though, and could be easily improved with a more tasteful instrumental arrangement.
Example 3 - A negative review - 3/10
This song has some problems. The intro is too long, and doesn't really develop or build up enough to justify such a long intro. The singer has some pitch accuracy issues. [That's a diplomatic way of saying "out of tune."] The melody is weak, and the lyrics are quite plain and repetitive. The instrumental arrangement is reasonably good in terms of balance, and it provides a solid enough accompaniment, but it needs to be a bit more varied and interesting, and definitely more expressive for greater impact. Overall, I think the song doesn't have enough quality in its present state.
Note: If you submit your review and get a message that your score doesn't appear to match the content of your review, don't worry about it. It's not a warning. It's just asking you to double check that you haven't made a mistake with your score. If you haven't, then just click 'submit' again and it will be accepted.
As mentioned earlier, sometimes a review will be rejected if you don't mention enough musical terms or 'elements' of the track you're reviewing. Here's an alphabetical list of common musical terms. Treat the list as a reminder of terms that you're already familiar with. Don't use any that you're unfamiliar with, as the artist reading the review will likely complain to STP if the review is full of terms used in a way that doesn't make any sense.
Accompaniment, acoustic, alto, arpeggio, arrangement, atonal, backing, backbeat, ballad, bass, beat, BPM, brass, bridge, chords, chorus, chromatic, classic, classical, coda, composition, counterpoint, development, dissonant, drumming, dynamics, fills, flow, harmony, harmonise (harmonize), harmonics, hook, instrument, instrumental, improvisation, intro, key, lead, lyrics, melody, metre (meter), middle 8, modal, modulate, offbeat, percussion, percussive, phrase, phrasing, pitch, range, refrain, register, rhythm, scale, sequence, shuffle, singer, snare, solo, soprano, swing, syncopation, synth, tempo, tenor, timing, tonal, tone (timbre), tremolo, triplets, tune, tuning, vamp, verse, vibrato, vocal, voicing
Become a Slicethepie Reviewer
I hope you found the reviewing advice in this article helpful and are encouraged to submit meaningful reviews that artists will find useful and benefit from. If not already a reviewer, why not give it a try? It can be quite addictive—and it pays.
Also, be patient as there are occasional glitches on the site and there aren't always songs available to review. They can only give us songs to review if people upload them in the first place to their sister site Soundout.com. If, after reviewing a few songs, you get a message telling you that there are no suitable songs to review, just stop for a while and come back later.
Here's the link: Slicethepie
© 2012 chasmac