To the editors:
I am writing in response to Ben Kim's letter in the July 12 issue in which he says, among other things, that he basically takes what he can get in terms of music. It is this lackadaisical attitude toward music that perpetuates the mindset of "Well, if so many people like it, it must be good."
The "pop" album is a product ready-made for consumption. No member of the industry is going to market something new or challenging if s/he knows there is no money to be made. Unfortunately, it's simple economics that keep talented bands relegated to independent labels and Wednesday night shows. I don't receive free records every day and I am not put on the guest list of every show in town, yet I have made the effort to find music that is interesting and challenging (not surprisingly, it also would be considered "underground"). First of all, Mr. Kim, you are searching all the wrong places.
Today's radio holds almost nothing for the listener that wants something new and "good." We can already skip over WCKG, WLUP and (God help us all) The Blaze and move to the so-called "progressive" stations. The most popular of these is WXRT, which has gotten noticeably safer lately in order to attract a larger audience. I do, however, recommend their late-night shows where one can hear Primus, Fugazi and others who really should be heard. I also highly recommend 88.3 and 89.3 FM for music you probably would not hear on commercial radio. These are two college stations that aren't being financed by some beer conglomerate, allowing them to be more free with their programming.
The whole problem with "skimming mainstream magazines" is that they are written especially for the mainstream. Never mind the hype, Rolling Stone is a bad magazine. Musician is even worse and Spin is just horrid. The mainstream doesn't want to hear about new music--they want what they are comfortable with. Mr. Kim, I feel you are truly reaching out for something exciting in music. Two magazines I can recommend off the top of my head would be Ear and Option.
I never wanted to buy an entire album on faith alone--I still don't. There are many used-record (and CD) stores in Chicago where one can take a chance on something and pay a considerably lower sum than if it was new. Also, if you can't afford the recording, ask yourself if it's worth it--I mean, is this new album going to keep your interest upon further listenings or will you grow tired of it in a short while?
Taping is a good idea but if you only tape what you know, what purpose does it serve? What I would do is find someone who seems to know what s/he is talking about and ask them if they wouldn't mind taping a few of their favorite things for you. Dubious word-of-mouth is easier to sort through than none at all.
The whole secret is cross-referencing. If you read something about an interesting band, follow it up. Ask around, check them out, buy (or tape) a recording and if in this process, you hear about a related band, follow that up, too. I don't buy into the "sometimes you don't want to know better" line--of course you do! Music should not be something that just washes over you, without leaving anything behind. No one needs pop music. If you enjoy it, fine--don't say you need it. Good music is within reach: not as easily as MC Hammer, but it's there. The Big Lie is bigger than all of us but it can be avoided if you try.