I’m sure you’ve read them: Those writers (of all kinds) who seem to have a natural ability to move to an inescapable conclusion, and end a piece of writing with a flourish.
When you finish reading them, you feel completely satisfied. The reader has hit a perfect cadence. You’re not left wondering about that thread he or she began at the start, and somehow left hanging. You might not agree with what he or she has written, but you can’t disagree with the internal logic of the piece. For actually brilliant works, you might even feel like applauding.
You should, by the way. It counts, even when you’re on your own and the writer is half the world away.
The solution is like a lock with two keys: You need both to open the door.
If you don’t have both keys, you aren’t going to do anything remarkable. It’ll be halfway remarkable.
The first key is knowing your argument
When you know your argument, you also know your conclusion.
If you are one of those unlucky people who “fell” into music journalism without having done any other serious writing study, then I feel for you. Constructing a cohesive argument isn’t something that just “happens”. I’ll show you why.
A good argument has a known structure. It presents a case, and shows you what’s going on here. Then, just like every great piece of sales copy, it will make strong arguments for the position, and make the arguments against redundant.
This doesn’t mean that you’re structuring the work like an essay. You can do this even in a very short album review, if you know the argument to begin with.
If you are just ‘writing about’ an album, then good luck to you. If you have done the work, listened to the album, have formulated a position, and have evidence to support your view, you are going to write something worth reading.
Once you’ve got the backbone of your argument together, the conclusion won’t so much naturally flow, as it will become inescapable.
The second key is knowing what outcome you want.
Are you trying to sell an album?
Are you trying to sell tickets to a tour?
Are you trying to get new subscribers?
Are you trying to get people to read more of your work?
Do you know that people will completely disagree with you? In which case, your best outcome is getting them to give the album fair listening time?
Whatever is your outcome, know what you’re trying to achieve. Great calls to action (to buy, to sign up, to read more work, to subscribe, to listen to a back catalogue and see where this fits) are rarely tacked on. They form part of your concluding remarks.
More to the point, writing to your reader, and involving him or her in some kind of action at the end of your argument, is sensible. By far the majority of music journalism appears online. If you’re one of those rare beasts (and they ARE rare in my experience!) who can write a natural and effective call to action will be loved by an editor and a publisher. It involves readers and, in the long-term, this involvement becomes loyalty. Loyal readers are worth much more than satisfied ones.
Would you rather your spouse was satisfied, or loyal?Jeffrey Gitomer
With both keys, you’ll unlock your conclusions much more easily.
The idea of constructing an argument might sound frankly ridiculous, if this is new to you. However, if you’re in the role of critic, then criticism requires you to have a known and effectively defended position.
To defend your position, you need to:
- Know your arguments
- Sequence your arguments effectively
- Point to evidence that supports your arguments
- Conclude with final remarks that ‘sum up’ your argumentation.
You wouldn’t, for example, write about 10 negative points in an album, against only 2 positive points, and credibly advise everyone to go and buy it. Collection completists will buy everything anyway; but casual fans who believe that your writing reflects their own tastes will steer clear. If you choose to write about that album from a slightly different perspective, however, you might find that you have 8 positive points and only 3 negative ones.
Your decision about how you approach the work of critical argumentation completely shapes the result.
And, with it, the conclusion.
Er, hang on. What about interviews?
If you understand why Q&A interviews are cheating, then hopefully you know that you’re writing a feature, and that your feature has a story.
Just because your story happens to be a non-fiction story, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a storytelling cadence.
Go back to your interview and look at its structure. Did you ask questions that fed into an over-arching structure, to begin with? What was your ultimate motive, in interviewing this band?
Much of the time it’s as simple as pointing to a new release, or a tour date. If you are able to sequence your material so that you (a) tell a story; (b) move the narrative towards a perfect cadence, which (c) makes your conclusion inevitable, so much the better.
It takes practice, like all things that are worth doing.
If you want to learn more about this kind of work, as I research and write my next book on music journalism, which is Music Journalism Mastery, add yourself to my mailing list: