Pitchfork Lived and Died by the Internet theverge.com

In January, Semafor’s Max Tani obtained a memo from Anna Wintour announcing Pitchfork would become part of GQ. Though Wintour emphasized “our coverage of music can continue to thrive within” Condé Nast, it is hard not to see this as the beginning of an ending for the version of Pitchfork many of us grew up with.

Casey Newton, of Platformer, argued one of the main reasons Pitchfork lost relevance is because of streaming services:

The most important change arrived in 2006, when Spotify was born. (It arrived in the United States five years later.) Spotify was Napster, but legal: a celestial jukebox that let you listen to almost anything you could imagine, on demand and for pennies a day.

Before Spotify, when presented with a new album, we would ask: why listen to this? After Spotify, we asked: why not?

It’s hard to overstate what a challenge this posed to music criticism. As consumers of music, we came to Pitchfork to ask one question — is this worth listening to? — and got an entire education in return. But with the arrival of streaming music that question lost its meaning, and suddenly we had fewer and fewer reasons to seek out criticism.

I have been ruminating on this conclusion for two months and I think I have figured out why it makes me uneasy: the problem, as it were, is not the delivery system but how it is used. Trent Reznor, in an interview with Rick Rubin, is right in saying “Spotify’s homepage [feels] like I’m at the mall walking past the same shit I would see the billboards of going down Sunset Boulevard”; Newton is right in arguing it commoditized music and transformed it to be “consumed at the point of curation”.

Frank Rojas, New York Times:

Have your Sunday scaries ever given way to a “Nervous Ocean Monday Morning”? Does the weekend truly begin on Friday, or on a “Wild and Free Chaotic Thursday Afternoon”? How should one dress for a “Paranormal Dark Cabaret Evening”?


So who is responsible for the peculiar titles? Spotify users who have been amused by these thrice-daily servings of word salad might be surprised — or, just as likely, not — to learn that the playlist names are ginned up by A.I.

If your music listening experience is mostly driven by playlists and suggestions, you might be less interested in reviewers and critics. That is not a denigration of how anyone listens to music, mind you — I am not a prescriptivist about this kind of stuff. You should experience art in the way you choose.

But streaming music is ultimately just a catalogue into which anyone can dive. It reduces the bar to entry and, on the other side of the same coin, reduces the cost of exiting. If you do not like an album, there is not a $20 sunk cost compelling you to keep going. But you also do not need to spend $20 to experiment with something you are unsure if you will like. This was always the selling point of high quality piracy and it continues to be the thing that makes streaming alluring — if you want it to be. Critics still exist, even if Pitchfork seems to have lost its relevance, and they can help you navigate the overwhelming amount of new music released each week.

Elizabeth Lopatto, of the Verge, wrote a great profile of the site’s rise and fall. This part, in particular, was brutal to read:

What’s more, Condé has long seemed confused about the difference between traffic and a loyal audience. Pitchfork’s homepage attracts far more visitors than those of GQ or Vogue, three people familiar with Condé’s traffic told me. As referrals from social media and Google decline, a loyal audience is more important than ever — but only if you’re smart enough to cultivate one. Anna Wintour, global chief content officer of Condé Nast, doesn’t care about music and doesn’t understand the internet, two former Pitchfork staffers told me. She didn’t even take her sunglasses off when she fired Pitchfork’s employees.

It probably does not help that, at some point over the past year, Pitchfork moved the reviews on its homepage to below a section of fairly generic music news.

For what it is worth, I was never a huge Pitchfork reader, but I appreciate the mark its critics left. Its elevation of independent music has been a uniquely important contribution to my life, and many of those highly rated albums soundtracked my early-to-mid 2000s. It is a shame it appears to be on its way out.