Sound choices: Let’s talk about Pitchfork

Alex Schaaf

Music blogs. I think many people don’t even know that these exist. I know my mom has heard of Pitchfork, through me obviously, but I’m not sure if she could name any similar sites.
Most people, “normal” people, get their music from iTunes; their recommendations from friends, family and Rolling Stone; and their snarky, ironic arguments about the newest flash-in-the-pan indie band from, well, I’m not sure where they get those from.
On the other hand, those people who are aware of the world of music blogs know both how helpful having this wealth of information – and MP3s – at your fingertips is and how frustrating it can sometimes be to see music judged too harshly just because it does not fit into a specific genre or scene.
There are thousands of music blogs out there, from corporate-sponsored Web sites to blogs run by college students and single mothers. But one site tends to stand out among the rest.
Let’s talk about Pitchfork. Pitchfork is the “king of music blogs,” as many of their reviews have played a large part in spurring previously unknown bands to greater fame – the biggest examples of this phenomenon involve Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Often, as was the case with Arcade Fire, the Web site does a great job at recognizing the potential of a young band and helps give the new band a bigger audience.
However, sometimes the blog’s power is used to give undue credit to a band that ends up with way too much attention and has actual meltdowns on stage due to the spotlight – see Wavves for the perfect example of this.
Along with such visible power comes a great deal of scrutiny. Many other bloggers, listeners and musicians decry the Web site and its writers for having too much power and using this power in a snarky, condescending manner. After all, the site gives each piece of music a specific score on a scale from 0.0-10.0, thus assigning a very specific “grade” to each album, something that many people feel is ridiculous.
Most of these people are also reading Pitchfork every day, if for no other reason than to find something egregious to point out to other people: “See, this is why I hate Pitchfork.”
I can easily understand why people dislike the style of Pitchfork, and I can recognize the smugness that comes along with each 10th of a point. But I also recognize that Pitchfork plays a vital role in the music culture today, especially the “indie” subculture.
The fact is, I agree with the writers 90 percent of the time, and I’ve experienced being turned on to a new band by Pitchfork many times – I appreciate this. There is no other Web site out there right now that is doing what Pitchfork is doing: offering long-form reviews, in-depth interviews, insightful columns, and, uh, hosting its own music festival that brings many of my favorite bands to one place every summer.
The Web site has played a large role in creating the “indie” scene that brings hundreds of unique bands and artists under one umbrella, thus helping listeners discover new favorite artists.
If there were another Web site that did exactly what Pitchfork does, but with a little less arrogance and smugness, would I stop relying on Pitchfork so much? Probably, but the fact is, this is what we have for now, and we should appreciate the ways in which this Web site brings together “indie” culture in one place.