The Power Of Indie Media

by | Aug 28, 2006

In this month’s issue, Wired takes a close look at Pitchfork, the Chicago-based indie music site.

Ryan Schreiber, editor and founder of Pitchfork

Ryan Schreiber named his site after a tattoo that Al Pacino sports in Scarface: a pitchfork that supposedly marked him as an assassin in the Cuban underworld. It was a portentuos choice, as a bad review on Pitchfork can spell disaster for an emerging act.

By 2001, Schreiber believed the audience for Pitchfork had peaked. “It was like, how many more Yo La Tengo fans could there possibly be?” he says. But the site’s traffic quintupled over the next five years, from a modest 30,000 visits a day to a slightly less-modest 150,000. For the relatively tiny indie-rock audience, however, Pitchfork opinions had an impact far out of proportion to its middling traffic stats.

Pitchfork is as informative as it is opinionated. A look at the site tonight introduces me to Evangelicals, a psych-pop band from Norman, Oklahoma. Here’s a snippet from the Pitchfork interview:

Pitchfork: Do The Flaming Lips cast a formidable shadow over the city’s music community?

Jones: I don’t think so. Everyone knows they exist, but I think there’s still more of a shadow cast by Garth Brooks and Toby Keith. I was born in a town called Elk City, which is on the Oklahoma/Texas panhandle border, and then moved to Norman when I was 12, and instantly someone handed me a Flaming Lips CD and a Chainsaw Kittens CD. Had I lived in Norman and those bands hadn’t existed, who knows where I’d be, I might be doing something awful; I might be a doctor, or a physicist or something. Having those kinds of experiences at 12…the Chainsaw Kittens had a flamboyant homosexual lead singer, and the Flaming Lips were obviously very weird. I had only listened to the radio before that– things like Willie Nelson– so having people say, “These are the bands around here that you should listen to,” I was like “Ok, I guess this is what normal music sounds like.”

The Wired article also suggests Pitchfork might receive some competition from blogs. I agree, but not with the word “competition.” As a reader of music journalism, I want a definitive source and undoctored opinion and I’m willing to shop around for it. Excellent indie music sites like My Old Kentucky Blog, Aquarium Drunkard, Muzzle of Bees, Brooklyn Vegan and Largehearted Boy compliment Pitchfork and one another because there’s plenty of music and music criticism to go around.