5 Changes Pitchfork Could Make to be a Better Site

pitchforkIt’s easy for us less successful internet types to make fun of the online music magazine/Indie tastemakers/Festival makers/Evil plot to rule the world? that is pitchforkmedia.comPretentious and elitish, we call them while sober.  “Bitchfork” we call them after a few drinks.  “My ex-girlfriend was a bitch, BUT YOU’RE AWESOME” we call them after we reach the level of blackout drunk (how else do you think I scored that Wrens interview, anyway?)

When anything gets powerful enough, it’s easy to point out their flaws.  If Paris Hilton weren’t famous for being a mega slut, we wouldn’t make fun of her for being a mega slut.  If Kim Kardashian wasn’t famous for being a mega slut, we wouldn’t make fun of her for being a mega slut.  If Gene Simmons weren’t famous for being in kiss, we wouldn’t make fun of him for being a mega slut.

One of these things is not like the others…

What I’m trying to say is that pitchfork likes casual sex with multiple partners.  Wait, no, I’m not supposed to be bashing pitchfork.  That’d just be too easy (sort of like pitchfork, sexually.  Am I right ladies?  High five!)

No, instead, I humbly offer to pitchfork five ways that they can make their site better.  Not that they’d listen, anyway…

5.  Allow Users To Comment on Articles and Reviews

As the Flight of the Conchords TV show has shown us, no matter how bad a band is, there will be at least one person who will go retarded over them.  Be it a spouse, friend, stalker, or some eclectic Finnish gentleman who magically will show up to all their shows in a full body chicken suit and try to get on stage to dance, it’s impossible to find a band that’s so bad that no one will mind seeing them receive a negative review on p-fork.  Currently, pitchfork is a self-enclosed music magazine.  If you hate a review, you have nothing to do but simmer in your hateful rage until you can get to your blog and write “fuck you, pitchfork!

Or something like that…

So why on Earth would pitchfork want to let loose the collective fury of teh interwebs all over their frequently visited website?  I mean, no one really likes being called a faggot because of something they wrote, right?  (Though, being called a faggot would be completely acceptable if you were in England, and you wrote an article entitled “I am a cigarette, or a bundle of wood for kindling”.  But that would be a boring article, so fuck you, faggot).

How about just because it would be infinitely amusing?  One of pitchfork’s biggest issues is that they get around 100,000 page visits a day, but roughly 85% of those views are on the site for less than a minute, and the large majority do not stay on reviews to read them.  They simply click the review, check what rating it received, form judgements about that band, and go to the next review.  What better way to keep people reading on the site than to have hundreds of comments following the article, with a healthy mix of internet trolls, morons, and well thought out and reasoned musical opinions?

Stereogum embraces and recognizes this, even writing an article with the highest and lowest rated user comments of the year, which range from the articulate, yet biting (I don’t think Stereogum should be allowed to make judgment calls or take clever stabs at bands.  Stereogum, please stick to the recycling of press releases you do so well), the brilliantly simplistic and satirical, (“FORBIDDEN OAN TEH INNERNET:  1.  Liking things.  2.  Not liking things,” and the deliciously retarded (“What he hell does ‘finna’ mean? This negro needs to go fuck himself.  I’ll tell you something else too: I was secretly happy when his mother died”).

“And I think I wear better glasses than that Kanyett feller, too!  H’yuck!”

Admit it- once you get over the complete offensiveness and hate behind that last comment, doesn’t it kind of feel good to laugh at the ignorance of hipster bigots?  Imagine the shit you’d see on p-fork.  Why would they deny us that, Schreiber?

4.  Have Less Freelance Reviews, and More Reviews Written by the Full-Time Staff

Full disclosure time- I actually did work with pitchfork for a brief period of time as an intern for their business department.  Since I left, they’ve set up permanent offices in New York, as opposed to just their headquarters in Chicago.  So they’re a slightly bigger operation now.  So, how would you imagine their headquarters to look like?  Giant, glass walls with embedded Indie Rock posters?  A Foosball table and an espresso machine?  Wild cocaine parties with hipster chicks wearing sundresses and stockings during the winter?  The frozen, soon to re re-animated corpse of Jeff Mangum?

What, you thought he was still alive?

Alas, no.  The pitchfork headquarters are in Wicker Park in Chicago, directly above an acupuncture clinic.  In what is essentially an over-sized studio apartment, with one “office”, and a bunch of computers along the walls where the news staff works.


It’s not as large of an enterprise as you would expect.  There is no office where all the writers will sit together and ask about various albums, and try to choose someone who views the album in a way that represents the staff.  They generally just get sent out to writers chosen by the editor-in-chief, are edited and tinkered with before publishing, and end up being the opinion of just one hipster writer.  And while that’s all well and good for your average music review site, when you’ve grown as large as p-fork, there has to be accountability.  The average reader doesn’t read a review and say “this is what Ian Cohen thinks of the Cold War Kids,” they think “Pitchfork didn’t like The Cold War Kids?  I will EAT THEIR BABIES!” (Assuming the average reader loves The Cold War Kids, and enjoys the taste of baby flesh).

Average Pitchfork Reader

Some of the better articles in the early history of pitchfork were written by some of the higher-ups on the site.  The founder of pitchfork, Ryan Schreiber, no longer writes reviews.  Even though he’s responsible for some of the better reviews of some of the more important albums that have been reviewed by the site during it’s 10 year history.  And the reviews that select members of the news staff have written are generally well informed, and indicative of how the actual staff of pitchfork feels about the music.

So why not have them take on more articles?  The news writers and editors get leaked albums constantly, listen to them for months, and then just pawn them off to a freelance writer on p-fork’s list, and lets them do what they want with it.  How else can you fix the fact that a brief news blurb about the Silversun Pickups was better written then the actual review of the album?

3.  Review Your Reviews

I think it’s safe to say that many bands that are negatively reviewed by p-fork are enjoyed by at least some of the other pitchfork writers.  Just like some albums that are highly rated are hated by other writers.  And one of the main complaints of pitchfork is that they determine the popularity of bands.  It pisses people off to see a band get a 4.5 rating for a band they like, knowing many record stores won’t stock up on the album because of it.

“What’s that, Travis Morrison?  You were in The Dismemberment Plan!  COOL, let’s hang out!  Wait…Pitchfork gave you a 0.0?  Um… Oh, wow, look at my wrist, I gotta go…”

Meanwhile, if an album get’s a 9.0 (even if some view it as undeserved), their album sales soar through the roof, and many assume that the only reason the band became popular was because of the pitchfork review (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, anyone?).

But, if each article was followed by a link to, say, a brief dissenting opinion, instead of telling the readers if they should listen to an album or not, they’re more likely to inspire a healthy debate.  Which would lead to us, the readers, staying on the site longer (good for pitchfork) without having to resort to furious outrage and death threats when our favorite bands are panned (good for us).

2.  Bring Back the “Free MP3s” Section

Before “Forkcast” came along, Pitchfork used to have a “Free MP3s” section.  Since Forkcast essentially gives us mp3s, streaming tracks, and videos, all with little write ups (which, as of 2007, warranted the writer with a hefty $10 payday for each forkcast article), I can see why they’d feel having a Free MP3 section would be about as obsolete as an 8-track player.


What the hell is a “Phil Collins”?

But why can’t we have both?  The Free MP3 section was not officially a part of the pitchfork staff- the section had a disclaimer claiming that none of the songs that appear on it are endorsed by pitchfork in any way.  They simply were paid by record labels to post the songs, almost like an advertisement on the site.  Pitchfork could make some bread exposing these songs, and you could often find hidden gems amidst the mass of craptastic music the section had.

Even though you are apparently much taller than the Jonas Brothers, have no fear.  They would have no reason to post on the Free MP3 section of pitchfork

Just because a band isn’t covered by pitchfork doesn’t mean they’re not worth listening to, so why not give some of the “insignificant” bands out there a chance to have pitchfork readers know they exist?  Pitchfork could make money, and the more adventurous of us could possibly find a new band to obsess about.

1.  Figure Out How to Made a Goddamned Year End List That Doesn’t Suck

sort of…

Towards the end of December each year, Pitchfork tries to represent all their writers by democratically figuring out what the best albums and songs are.  Which is all well and good, until the album with a 7.5 rating gets three writers to call it the 10th best album of the year, and suddenly it ranks higher than half of the “best new music” selections of that given year.

This has always been a problem for pitchfork.  As good as “Turn on the Bright Lights” by Interpol was in 2002, and deserved it’s 9.5 rating, but how in good conscience could pitchfork actually list it as the number one album of the year?  Keep in mind, not one, but two albums came out that year to get a 10.0 rating.  …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and Wilco (numbers 3 and 2, respectively) released albums that, supposedly, were perfect.  And neither were able to be the top album of the year?  How does that happen?

Recently voted the number 2 best “Jessica Alba” of 2009 by pitchforkmedia.com

And don’t get started about their yearly singles lists.  There are likely more “top singles” on their year end lists that have never even been mentioned on the site than those that have.

No one (except for myself, of course) can write a year-end list that makes everyone happy.  But if you’re going to be a music magazine, at least try to follow what you’ve been doing over the year.  In 2003, the highest reviewed album of the year was The Meadowlands by the Wrens, receiving a 9.5 rating from the founder of the website.  What kind of credibility do your reviews have if that same album ends up only being the 18th album on your year end list?

I dont know how you can fix it.  But I know what you need to do.  You need to fix it.

About Jeff GoodSmith

I write on occasion. Sometimes it ends up here.
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3 Responses to 5 Changes Pitchfork Could Make to be a Better Site

  1. Ken says:

    You can’t really expect the founders to write the reviews forever (even if they do love the Wrens) but I think you’re right that they need some uniformity–just a few, at most, regular reviewers so that the readers know where the reviewer is coming from taste-wise.

  2. Rafi says:

    What is worse is the list for the best albums of 2000’s. ‘I Get Wet’, which got a 0.6 rating, was ranked 144th best album. ‘Discovery’ got a 6.or.so rating and got 3rd best album. ‘Meadowlands’, a 9.5, got 88…’Source Tags & Code’, a 10, got 100. ‘Clap Your Hands’, a 9.0, wasn’t even ON the list!

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