Hype Machines and Taste Makers

A mere 15 years ago,  discovering new music was a much more labor-intensive process. You’d have to turn on the radio or the tv (back when they still played music videos on MTV) or actually go to a record store to see what was new on the music scene. Sure, the popularity of certain bands or artists came in waves and they could certainly swell up, but back then, it was a different beast.

With the advent of the internet and MP3’s, the dynamics have certainly changed… especially in the ‘indie’ rock world, which I gravitate towards. Long gone are the days of turning on the radio and discovering new music. (1) Today, the avid music consumer has at his or her fingertips a wide body of opinions and whims thanks to the Internet. Anyone can start a blog and start proselytizing. (2) Still though, there are taste makers. We may have graduated from the days of listening to local radio stations, but sites like Pitchfork have become a new force to reckon with. Whether you read it religiously or the very name causes your skin to crawl, you can’t deny the power that it wields. Little-known bands can suddenly gain widespread exposure when they make the cut for ‘best new music.’ Pitchfork has been credited as launching the careers of such bands as Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, and more.

pitchfork photo

In an interview on the (great) site Tiny Mix Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah member Lee Sargent discussed the impact of Pitchfork’s influence on their album Funeral, saying:

Well, first of all we didn’t think Pitchfork would ever review our record because we’re not on a label. I don’t read Pitchfork much these days because I don’t have any money. So if there’s, like, a record I want to buy I’ll have to buy it and then I’ll be in debt again. Um, so I don’t really read it much. But I’m fully aware of how influential it is and I’m fully aware of what they do for a lot of bands […]

We always knew that this band was going to be successful eventually. We didn’t know how long it would take. You hear about really awesome bands like, “paying their dues” for three years and not getting noticed. So that was always a possibility. But, the thing about a publication like Pitchfork is that they can decide when that happens. You know what I mean? They can say, “We’re going to speed up the process and this is going to happen…now!” And it was a kick in the pants for us, because we lost control of everything.

But… all that said, how much credit should we really give Pitchfork? Are their articles peer edited? Do they get paid or bribed by promoters or labels? Are the whims of the music industry really dictated by one individual’s opinion? How do you become a Pitchfork God anyway? How thoroughly do the reviewers imbibe the albums before they write the review?

Though many of these questions have been floating around in my consciousness for a while now, it was my friend Jeff who really called into question the advent of the music blog and the arbitrariness of the taste makers. Jeff and his roommate Paul are starting a music blog of their own. In it, various people (myself included) will contribute reviews of albums, with the stipulation that we must listen to the entire album ten times before we write the review. There will be no casual listening there. Will this dedication and attention clear away the preconceived notions and expectations thrust upon the music by these hype machines? We’ll see…

Until then, I thought I’d start a little thing of my own. Periodically, I will take the track or album highlighted in the ‘best new music’ section and review it, myself – right here in this blog. So stay tuned for my thoughts on the likes of The Drums, Wild Beasts, The xx, and more.

(1) Unless you count NPR music-related content as radio… but I for one typically stream that online or download the podcast.
(2) Though I will say that it is getting harder and harder to come up with a catchy original name for a blog since they’re all getting snatched up.

*See also:
– “Could This Be the World’s Most Hated Website?” An article that depicts the pro’s and con’s of Pitchfork.
– “David Cross: Albums to Listen to While Reading Overwrought Pitchfork Reviews” A humorous article/spoof by comedian David Cross.
– The message boards on last.fm about “Pitchfork Oversights”
– “Music Critics: Irreplaceable or Irrelevant?” a segment from WNYC’s show Soundcheck that features Douglas Wolk, a blogger and contributor to Pitchfork.


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"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being


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