Ryan Schreiber is an unassuming 26-year-old music fan. He also happens to be the editor in chief of Pitchfork (pitchforkmedia.com), one of the most popular and influential independent music Web zines.
“I’ve always been a big music fan and I just wanted to interview bands,” he says of the site’s humble beginnings. “After reading a bunch of local zines where I grew up in Minnesota, I decided that it couldn’t be that hard to interview these bands. So, back in 1995, I had this Internet connection and I designed a real rudimentary Web page, and I called the library and got the phone numbers for record labels, and I just started to do it. But if the whole thing was interviews, I don’t think we would still be around. Once I realized that it was really easy to get free promotional records, I thought reviews may be the way to go.”
Now, with a fleet of knowledgeable writers and 20 new reviews posted each week – not to mention the more than 4,200 reviews readily available in its database – Pitchfork is an indie-rock fan’s dream. The ever-growing site also provides up-to-date independent music news and special features like “The Ten Best Records of Krautrock” to the 23,000 people who visit it each day.
But such a large and loyal fan base did not come easy. “I was poor as hell,” Schreiber recalls. “In 1999, I had to sell all of my CDs just to pay my bills. But I stuck with it because our readership was always getting bigger and bigger.”
Schreiber describes Pitchfork’s coverage simply as “punk.”
“I say punk because indie-rock has a very punk, do-it-yourself ethic, which is what punk was before it became associated with the Sex Pistols and the genre pigeonholing that followed. Even though the music is varied, for all intents and purposes it’s punk because even though we cover pop and everything else, it’s all underground.”
What sets Pitchfork apart from other music media outlets is the site’s reliable combination of creativity and intelligence.
“We’re very trustworthy in terms of the ratings we give stuff and we’re really careful to think not only about how an album sounds now but how it will sound five years from now,” promises Schreiber. “The writing is not only good, it’s also entertaining for the reader. We’ll get a little bit more ‘out there’ than other places when it comes to being creative and making it fun. Sometimes it’s not always about the music like some people would want it to be, and I like to think that people are having a good time with the reviews, just reading some of the weirder criticisms.”
He cites a particularly humorous review of the techno/dance duo Basement Jaxx’s Remedy by Pitchfork mainstay Brent DiCrescenzo. The piece reads more like a comedy sketch than a record review as it tells of an imaginary DJ showdown between DiCrescenzo and the Jaxx. Although it may seem too meandering and unprofessional for some, it is a good example of the “anything goes” mentality that Pitchfork tries to uphold.
Schreiber sees the Internet as a more liberating alternative to mainstream music media outlets like Rolling Stone, which he discards as “obvious crap.”
“Because the major record labels haven’t given any credence to online advertising, most of the people out there doing indie magazines on the Web are doing it for the love of music,” he explains. “You have those real music fans out there writing for the love of music, which you don’t ever get with the mainstream press. Online press is at a peak right now because people haven’t figured out a way to cash in on it yet. So, in terms of integrity and really giving a shit, it’s really good. You can trust a lot of it.”
But whether it’s on the Web or on paper, Schreiber admits that he is always driven by his shameless passion for music.
“For as many albums I’ve heard, every one is so different,” he claims. “So many come from different areas artistically because they’re all from different genres like jazz, ambient, pop and even some weird metal stuff. But you’re always searching for talent. It’s something that you just know if you’re passionate about music.”
And it is that never-ending, always-rewarding search that will keep Pitchfork going, as he says, “hopefully, for the rest of my life.” nyou