The Grading Scale

Reviewing music is an inherently subjective process, so it is necessary to have a grading system in order to remain as consistent and accurate as possible. I have chosen the six criteria that are most important to me when I listen to an album in order to measure that recording’s value. There is a seventh criterion that only occasionally comes into play, which I will explain at the end. After I write a review, I rate the album by scoring each of these six factors on a scale of 1 to 10 and finding the total percentage out of 60.

  •  Songwriting

The first factor I consider on any album I review is the songwriting. Simply put, are the songs compelling? Songwriting takes into account things like attractive melodies, surprising instrumental sections, explosive guitar solos, danceable rhythms, or anything else that compels me to “like” a song. The biggest downfall for most recordings, especially synthwave albums, is monotony. If songs rely on the same rhythm and melody for most of their duration, the songwriting score will plummet. In many cases, the difference between a great song and a subpar song for me is about two minutes. I have heard countless songs spoiled by an unnecessary five or six-minute running length.

  • Technical Execution

Music is only as good as its delivery. Technical execution usually takes into account the tightness and precision of the musicians’ performance on the recording. However, assessing technical skill can be tricky on metal albums, as a band can have a loose playing style that feels energetic and works well for their music. Therefore, the most important question for me when I’m rating technical skill is, “does the performance help or hurt the songwriting?”

  • Sound Production

The best songwriting and technical delivery in the world can be negated by lousy sound production. This factor assesses the various elements in a song and how pleasing they are to hear. Do the bass notes sound distant? Are the guitar riffs drowned out by the vocals? Does the audio become thin and abrasive at high volumes? Factors like these are perhaps the most subjective part of rating an album, and people can argue for days about whether a recording sounds “right.” I do my best to indicate my thoughts on sound production in each review, especially if the album loses points for it.

  • Song Variety

There are plenty of bands that have built a career on writing the same song over and over. I would prefer to hear artists branch out and push themselves to make memorable and unique tracks on an album. However, I do not think it is necessary for musicians to reinvent themselves. Experimentation and diversity can hurt a recording just as easily as they can aid it. Typically, I look for songs that are distinct from one another but form a cohesive whole.

  • Overall Quality

The most important thing to me when judging overall quality is how many songs from the recording make it into in my Spotify playlists. For example, if I cut out three songs from a nine-song recording, then this score is almost automatically going to be a six or a seven. However, if the remaining songs are exceptional, I may still rate the overall quality an eight. If the remaining songs are good, but not great, it may drop as low as a five.

  • Memorability

I am a firm believer that memorable art is good art. If I can remember the details of a movie from 20 years ago, I am usually impressed by how good it is when I rewatch it. Similarly, if I hear an album 10 times and can’t recall a single song from it a year later, it is the mark of a mediocre album. The memorability factor assesses how well the songs stick with me once I walk away from the recording. If I find myself humming a melody or if I have a strong desire to hear a particular song, then this rating will be high.

  • Album length

As mentioned above, there is sometimes a seventh criterion, which is album length. This only becomes relevant if the running time negatively impacts the listening experience. Additionally, I do not have an upper or lower limit for album length. For example, a recording does not automatically lose points for going under 40 minutes or over 60 minutes. Some albums, such as those from progressive metal bands, have longer song structures and need more space to effectively tell their story. A punk or crossover thrash album, on the other hand, can often get its point across in 30 minutes. Albums can lose points for being too short or too long, but it depends entirely on the recording. This is the only score I do not rate out of 10. Instead, I deduct a certain number of points, up to 5, from the album’s total score before finding the overall percentage.

Sample Ratings

I gave Nightstop’s album Dancing Killer a 95 / 100. Here is the breakdown of the scores for that album.

Songwriting: 9

Technical Execution: 10

Sound Production: 9

Song Variety: 10

Overall Quality: 10

Memorability: 9

Album Length: N/A

Total Score: 57 / 60

Final Rating: 95%

 

I gave Satan’s Hallow’s self-titled album a 75 / 100. Here is the breakdown of the scores for that album.

Songwriting: 8

Technical Execution: 8

Sound Production: 9

Song Variety: 7

Overall Quality: 8

Memorability: 6

Album Length: -1

Total Score: 45 / 60

Rating: 75%

 

I gave Kalax’s self-titled album a 38 / 100. Here is the breakdown of the scores for that album.

Songwriting: 2

Technical Execution: 8

Sound Production: 9

Song Variety: 1

Overall Quality: 2

Memorability: 1

Album Length: N/A

Total Score: 23 / 60

Rating: 38%