By Katie Bandurski
The hobby started as a way to get free records. Greg Kot, music critic for the Chicago Tribune, began covering the music beat in college and it’s a love affair that has lasted over two decades. Kot’s work has been featured in Rolling Stone among others, he is the author of several books, and he co-hosts the weekly radio show “Sound Opinions.” Here he talks business, journalism, and everything music.
Music University: Why is it important to cover music?
Greg Kot: Pop and rock music are the most immediate ways of a culture talking to itself. You look at the charts every year, and you get a feeling of where the country is, what people are thinking, what they value and what’s important to them. A movie will come out two years after the event that inspired it, but with pop music you’re seeing artists upload songs the day something happens and commenting on it. If you listen to an N.W.A record from 1988, it tells you everything you need to know about the Rodney King riots in 1992. It was talking about that same neighborhood. CNN wasn’t reporting that story; the story was being reported by hip hop groups on the West Coast, and to me that is incredible.
MU: Sound Opinions is your weekly radio show with co-host Jim DeRogatis where you analyze trends, interview artists and share new music. How did the show get its start?
GK: Sound Opinions started out as two guys sitting on a couch talking to a third person in the room, which was the listener. We want to get the conversation started about music because we’re excited about it, and we think there are cool things happening. The show has exponentially grown in a way that I don’t think either one of us ever would have predicted.
MU: What’s the most momentous story you’ve covered?
GK: The transition from the analog culture to digital culture. You got the sense that things were changing, that the ground was shifting beneath your feet. It’s very rare to live through a time in history where things are in that kind of fluidity, that kind of transition. You can tell nothing is going to be quite the same after this is done.
MU: Do you have any tips for interviewing musicians?
GK: Over prepare. People who are being interviewed are very jaded about interviews because they keep getting asked the same questions, and it’s clear that the people interviewing them didn’t do much digging and have peripheral interest in their music—or at least it seems that way. People are pleased to talk in-depth about themselves when somebody’s done their homework. That seems to be really basic, but I don’t think it’s done nearly often enough.
MU: What’s the key to becoming a music journalist?
GK: A lot of people talk about writing or wanting to be music journalists or writing reviews—so what’s stopping you from doing that right now? Everybody has access to music, and you can write about it. If you’re excited about it, write about it. You’re not going to magically turn into a great writer or great music journalist overnight. You have to spend time doing it and practicing. It’s like exercise for an athlete. If you don’t work out, you’re not going to get any better.
MU: What can University-goers expect from your talk?
GK: We have several topics that have been particularly successful on college campuses, and the future of music discussion has always been a big one. If I’m a college student and interested in getting into music on some level—whether as an artist or as a behind the scenes business person—this is an incredibly fluid area where the rules are being rewritten as we speak. One of the things I think Jim and I are going to address with a certain level of expertise is what’s happening out there, what might happen, and the opportunities. There’s no longer a cookie cutter business model out there. It’s a process of self-invention.
MU: Just for fun, what’s your favorite Beatle’s album?
GK: Definitely Revolver.
Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis will be presenting “Everything You Need to know about the Music Industry in 2015” from 1:30 to 5 p.m. in the Cowles-Kruidenier Auditorium at MU: A Conference and Showcase for Musicians October 17, 2015.
Register for MU today at music-university.org