If Pitchfork closes... will we be next?

Music news

If Pitchfork closes… will we be next?

Pitchfork is not going out of business. They will continue to publish musical content, and we will only guess their real changes in the medium and long term. But now that I’ve caught your attention with this unforgivable clickbait, let’s talk about what’s happened in music journalism in recent years.

Music websites (previously blogs) experienced a moment of splendor at some point in the 2000s and 2010s. Basically when there were almost no social networks. In principle, Facebook and Twitter were a source of million-dollar traffic for all media, until both began to reward the personal and punish the professional. Even if people had actually subscribed to your website voluntarily, you stopped appearing on their wall, perhaps because those same people preferred to share or refute ideas from friends or admired people, and not from companies. It is logical, but this small detail took away websites like Playground and many professionals in the sector. According to the insiders, Playground “laid off 60 employees” due to “a sharp decline in its audience as a result of Facebook’s algorithm change.”

The way in which networks have stopped providing traffic to the media is a frequent topic at conferences and round tables. The public finds out about breaking news through a tweet, discovers artists through their wall, and does not seem to need a website of prescribers as much as before. Less is said about the Google Core Update of May 4, 2020 (full pandemic), which I have personally always considered the great catastrophe, a before and after in the drift of music journalism.

Although this is not a science, I have no evidence nor any doubt that Google – I repeat, in the middle of a pandemic – stopped considering music relevant information. It was normal: there were no concerts, there were no festivals, there were no vinyl stores open; Because there wasn’t even Eurovision. Some music websites lost a monumental percentage of traffic in a single day, which yes, recovered after the pandemic but only in part. That’s when we decided to go to paper. Was the revolution in the third decade of the 21st century putting something in print? It couldn’t be true.

Pitchfork, which also briefly had its adventure on paper, will now move under the umbrella of GQ, a rather strange destination for what is considered the most influential music website in the world. Even the biggest “hater” of the portal would have trouble locating which one would be the second, undoubtedly at a great distance. But within the framework of a business giant like Condé Nast, I can understand why a music portal is not a priority or strategic, nor will it be any time soon.

A Condé Nast analyst says that Pitchfork has great metrics, with the best average daily visitors of all the titles and that it generates many page views. Without access to more data, you seem to be talking about fidelity. It seems logical that the portal has loyalty data higher than a fashion website, but I would be very surprised if its unique monthly users had increased in the last decade with the chaos caused by the drift of Facebook, Twitter and Google. Let us remember that the new social networks like Instagram and TikTok do not provide traffic, only visibility and some specific monetization for isolated actions that cannot be constant: a website like Pitchfork cannot turn its networks into an advertising circus. Or at least I couldn’t until now.

The macro scenario could be something similar to that, because it is the day-to-day life of cultural, economic and sports media: how to continue reaching the people who knew you 20 years ago, and how to awaken the interest of a younger audience who He no longer even searches for information on Google but on TikTok. Afterwards, we can discuss a micro scenario, more related to the qualitative.

While Pitchfork’s loyalty data appears to be excellent, the evolution of its editorial line deserves a mention. The website went from not even reviewing pop music, from not even reviewing albums by Taylor Swift or Adele, to elevating them, perhaps disconcerting and alienating an audience seasoned in 90s indie, which is no longer in their forties but in many cases. cases exceeds 50 years. That review from the 90s in which they claimed that Hole were better or more influential than Nirvana and the Cranberries better than U2 seemed like a very serious mistake to me, even though I am the biggest fan of girl groups, as you all know. It was going overboard with the song “woke”, his new obsession where before it had been discovering Sufjan Stevens, The Knife or Grimes. To understand the profound change that the American music industry has undergone in recent times, you just have to take a look at the Coachella 2024 poster, where indie has almost completely disappeared, a band like No Doubt that was not reviewed in Pitchfork is headlining until 2020, and then we find more Featherweight and Bizarrap than The National and the Strokes. Editorial and industry changes leave a certain feeling of “no one at the wheel.” Surely the public continues to enter the websites, but not with the faith they used to.

In this time of enormous musical segregation, I would not want to be in the bones of someone who runs a musical medium within a huge musical corporation. With the example I always give, it is difficult to get traffic when Viva Sweden and Quevedo fill stadiums, but the former’s audience has no idea what the hell the latter is singing about, and vice versa. The end of monoculture means that we no longer have a Michael Jackson who generates massive audiences. Not even The Weeknd, the number 1 artist on Spotify Global. Many people, especially older people, still won’t know who he is or what he sings, like they did know who Prince was in the 80s, or in the 90s everyone hummed ‘Wonderwall’.

Many of the criticisms that Pitchfork is receiving point to its criticism system, based on scores from 0 to 10, very long and very voluminous texts: up to 5 reviews a day. I differ from those who think they are not interesting. At least in JENESAISPOP I was surprised to see how album reviews and analytical texts have more traffic than ever. Maybe it has slipped in terms of volume. From a business point of view, it is absolutely pornographic to have a staff of editors dedicating hours and hours to albums that are not going to go down in history and that no one will remember, not in 5 years, but in 5 minutes. There are more 20 albums a year than 1,500 that could go down in history, and at some point we have gone crazy with the time we dedicate to discussing new musical developments, instead of valuing the classics, or – If we do not want to resort to the past and nostalgia, write more analytical articles about the reality of the current scene. There is so much weekly news that we don’t have a second to take a step back and reconsider.

In that sense, the media have a self-criticism to carry out about what we have systematically dedicated our efforts to all these years. Although there are many nuances. True criticism in the music press has been in question recently. Unlike what happens in cinema or television – where it seems that you can give your opinion about a bad or disappointing product and argue openly about how good or bad ‘Oppenheimer’ is -, if in music you make a negative review about a certain artist’s album, the world will be on you for being toxic, trying clickbait because you’re desperate, or damaging your mental health. The fear of all this causes an embarrassing number of reviews to constantly fluctuate between 7 out of 10 and 8. How is something like this going to generate truly massive traffic? In the end, you avoid reviewing the albums that seem most disastrous to you, because last year we suspended the Arde Bogotá album and that meant receiving “hate” through social networks or comments for several weeks.

Even so, and as I said, I insist that the reviews present decent traffic, and do not seem to me to be the root of the problem. In contrast, what has less traffic than before? The short news. For example, festival confirmations: the type of information you consume on social networks. A few years ago “David Guetta and Bob Dylan perform at the FIB” could be the most viewed thing of the month. Now it is unthinkable. “Do Lana del Rey and SZA perform at Primavera Sound?” Great. I don’t need to read information about that because the headline already defines itself or I prefer to zoom in on the poster on Instagram to see what I know. Now, title an article “the importance of Primavera Sound’s queer weekend” and 40,000 people will read it. The analysis of immediacy. And relatedly, by the way, I have felt that Pitchfork has sometimes forgotten the last of the most basic functions of journalism (inform, educate, entertain). It is difficult to understand that with that amount of resources, they have not found a person who knows how to communicate news in an erudite but fun way, in their style, through videos on social networks, or that they have not found a specific columnist who hooks us , in the manner of Alexis Petridis, Manuel Jabois, Elvira Lindo or Juan Sanguino.

JENESAISPOP is not there to lecture anyone on what to do, precisely. I was recently asked to give a music journalism masterclass and my instinctive response was: “about what? about how to create a successful forum and destroy it? We are a medium that simply survives, no one knows for how long. The use we make of certain social networks can be greatly improved, if not non-existent. In recent years, the good functioning of the podcast and the publishing adventure of books and yearbooks has saved our necks. In some exercises, just barely. The podcast more than anything as a showcase for the brand, more than for the benefits it generates. Books, like an extra income that will not get us out of poverty but that encourages and motivates us because it reminds us that the loyalty of a part of the public is truly passionate. That is to say, you may not have as many users as in 2010, but what good were all those people who came to you looking for the worst thing you had in your files, such as “pork tenderloin with Coca-Cola”? You don’t know how many visits that had, but wouldn’t it be more valuable to have gained loyalty from your audience and generated community in another way?

In that sense, we have to thank our advertisers, who always respect our editorial freedom, both those who I notice and feel like us a lot and trust us, and those who literally come to us “because we don’t know where else we could advertise.” ” (LOL). I accept the compliment? because it is hard to believe that great musical media will emerge in the coming years. The 5 of us left should be appreciated. This profession requires so much passion and dedication that it is not going to be the business priority of anyone with half a brain.

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Simon Müller

Simon Müller is the driving force behind UMusic, embodying a lifelong passion for all things melodious. Born and raised in New York, his love for music took form at an early age and fueled his journey from an avid music enthusiast to the founder of a leading music-centered website. Simon's diverse musical tastes and intrinsic understanding of acoustic elements offer a unique perspective to the UMusic community. Sporting a dedicated commitment to aural enrichment and hearing health, his vision extends beyond just delivering news - he aspires to create a network of informed, appreciative music lovers. Spend a moment in Mueller's company, and you'd find his passion infectious – music isn’t simply his job, it’s his heartbeat.