RAISE THE PITCHFORK: MUSIC AND MAINSTREAM MEDIA

by Mike Vinti

It was announced on Wednesday that influential music blog Pitchfork – virtual second home to many music nerds – has been sold to Condé Nast, the publishing group behind Vanity Fair and Vogue.

On the face of it, this is a pretty boring piece of news to anyone other than music journalists; Condé Nast is no longer the giant of media it once was, and Pitchfork has a relatively niche audience.  As such, this announcement has been met with derision by many in the blogosphere, perhaps wary of the old-world Nasties infringing on their ad revenue, alongside some legitimate concerns for the diversity of its audience and contributor pool. Yet aside from the dull business of one company purchasing another, the deal proves far more interesting than it first appears.

In my first piece for The Norwich Radical, way back in January, I wrote that  2014 was the year pop music started to get taken seriously by the mainstream press. While many major publications still fall behind on their coverage, especially newspapers, underground pop music is starting to creep back into the public eye.

Nast’s decision represents a movement within popular culture, that the old guard must adapt or die.

Condé Nast’s decision to purchase Pitchfork, then, is a perfect example of this. They focus on highbrow, and admittedly establishment, content, counting The New Yorker, GQ and The Condé Nast Traveler among their publications, alongside the aforementioned Vogue and Vanity Fair. Publishing magazines spanning everything from food to fashion, they’re a pillar of old-guard media. This is why it’s so interesting they’ve purchased a publication like Pitchfork, a previously independent, firmly underground blog, which only recently launched a print edition.

( © Condé Nast )

( © Condé Nast )

On paper, or should that be on pixel, the two have little in common. Yet Nast’s decision represents a movement within popular culture, that the old guard must adapt or die. By purchasing Pitchfork, Nast have gained more than ad revenue, they’ve gained relevancy; access to a generation that rarely buys print media, whose fashion isn’t controlled by Vogue and who, quite rightly, think that GQ is past its sell-by date.

While the loss of Pitchfork‘s independence may raise questions over its future and the growth of media conglomerates should never be celebrated, at last, the mainstream media are starting to take note of interesting, underground, popular music, and its fans. As I wrote those many months ago, this is vital in order to rectify many of the problems within the music industry and to bring moving, important music to a wider audience.

This may well be optimistic and it remains to be seen whether their new owners will have any impact on Pitchfork‘s readership, but given the increased profile of pop music in fellow Nast publication The New Yorker recently, there is reason to be optimistic for the future of music journalism. If nothing else, it might make newspapers and other magazines start to take a closer look at the world of underground music.

It is easy, and natural, to want to hold on to the culture that many people have followed without the help of publishing groups like Condé Nast, to want the underground to remain just that, and admittedly as a music journalist I have a vested interest in music journalism becoming more high-profile. But to those who think Pitchfork has sold out, to quote the Beach Boys; wouldn’t it be nice? Wouldn’t it be nice if the mainstream music press wasn’t just middle-aged white men going on, and on, and on about how great rock music is/was? Wouldn’t it be nice if FKA Twigs was on the cover of Rolling Stone rather than Keith Richards? Wouldn’t it be nice to open the pages of the Guardian or the Independent and read something musical that didn’t mention Taylor Swift?

there is reason to be optimistic for the future of music journalism

This can happen. Imagine a world in which the quality and originality of music is placed above its commercial performance, where you can turn on Radio 1 during the day and hear something new, something that might shock you or move you to tears, something that doesn’t feature Sam Smith or Ed Sheeran.

In fact, it is happening. The Weeknd and Fetty Wap both have two singles in the top forty, Major Lazer’s latest release is at 28, and a couple of weeks ago Stormzy’s ‘WickedSkengMan Part 4’, a grime freestyle with no chorus, broke the top twenty. These are all examples of ‘underground’ artists – The Weeknd and Major Lazer in particular – who have started to find commercial success thanks to people actually being able to hear their music on the radio and read about it outside of niche publications like Pitchfork.

( The Weeknd © Rap-Up )

( The Weeknd © Rap-Up )

The future of media is uncertain, music related media even more so, yet with the right exposure underground and experimental pop music can reach huge audiences and drive progression in the industry, bringing with them not just new sounds but new ways of interacting with fans and producing and selling their music.

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