Condé Nast Buys Pitchfork: An Elegy for Indie Music and Alternative Media

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conde nast pitchfork aquisition

What does the acquisition mean for the future of alternative media?

Pitchfork Media, the renowned music site, was just acquired by mega-publisher Condé Nast in a move that shocked the media world. And though it will continue to operate, I feel as though I’m witnessing the departure of a dear old friend. I was practically raised on Pitchfork; like many millennials, it inspired me during my formative years.

Through 20 years of existence, Pitchfork transcended the label of a “music blog,” and become a music genre unto itself. At its pinnacle, the site wasn’t a tastemaker, it was the tastemaker—defining an entire subculture of music, as readers witnessed the startling power of a Pitchfork album review.

Born from the independent music obsession of founder Ryan Schreiber, the site became famous for its nit-picking 10.0 scale. In essence, Pitchfork revered the album as an art form above all else, valuing creative vision and risk-taking, as opposed to commercial appeal. While detractors dismissed the site as pretentious, this approach influenced my entire worldview, no less my taste in music.

As the site rose to prominence during the years of “blog bands” (indie artists who spread by digital word-of-mouth), its influence led to an independent music renaissance.

Think:

  • Clay Your Hands Say Yeah
  • Vampire Weekend
  • The Shins
  • The National
  • Animal Collective
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • The xx
  • The Flaming Lips
  • Wilco
  • Neutral Milk Hotel
  • Modest Mouse
  • Arcade Fire
  • Bon Iver
  • Interpol
  • Madvillian
  • Spoon
  • LCD Soundsystem
  • TV On The Radio
  • Deerhunter
  • Fleet Foxes

Positive reviews on Pitchfork bolstered each of these artists into prominence, effectively curating millennials’ taste for years, while becoming a bastion for independent artistry and free-thinkers alike. I love these bands. And like any musical subculture worth mentioning, this music was anti-establishment, weird, and thus, undeniably cool.

But things change.

 

All That Rises Must Converge

In 2015, the above list of artists is reserved for a Spotify playlist called “Chill Hipster House Party” or some shit like that. Each act has graduated from the indie blogosphere to widespread recognition, redefining what the term “indie” means altogether.

We’re so far removed from the origins of the indie movement, a recent article with Vampire Weekend’s frontman debates whether indie ever existed at all. Now, indie just means: some form of alternative rock, not necessarily made by independent musicians, which doesn’t sound that much like pop. It’s ambiguous at best.

At worst, indie has completely gone mainstream. It sold-out. Which isn’t to say that the genre isn’t full of good music anymore (it is), but maybe Pitchfork’s acquisition represents “the final straw,” as it were.

Does selling-out exist anymore, or is it simply called surviving?

Perhaps the best signifier of Pitchfork’s transition from indie darling to major music content hub was Condé Nast’s chief digital officer’s quote: “[The acquisition brings] a very passionate audience of millennial males into our roster.” The roster of course being print magazine behemoths like Vanity Fair and Vogue.

Suddenly, the intimate connection I shared with Pitchfork was relegated to a marketing metric—a savvy demographic play calculated by men in suits. The complete opposite of the countercultural foundations of the publication itself.

And yet, all that’s cutting-edge must ultimately assimilate. Even Bob Dylan appears on promoted Tweets from IBM. This is a sign of the times.

While I highly doubt Pitchfork will spiral downward into oblivion, or even change that much at all, the sheer commodification of its ethos stings. Millennial males are added to a publishing roster and filed away.

Yet in the content era, we all have a price tag. Hypothetically, if Condé Nast offered to acquire this site, Millennial Underground, we would sell in a heartbeat (please get in touch). Because as artists and writers, journalists and content creators, two options remain: fade away or sell.

Let’s face it, money isn’t rolling in (at all) to most creators, especially with the recent decline of display advertising. All sites must transform into marketing hubs to remain afloat—one must become Buzzfeed or die.

Online media is a game that requires clicks. And that doesn’t bode well for alternative media or controversial opinions. Does selling-out exist anymore, or is it simply called surviving? Is there any space left on the web for artistry and risk-taking, much like that which Pitchfork demands from album releases?

At the moment, it’s doubtful. But from every challenge comes innovation; from every push, a pull. Next time, it won’t be from Pitchfork, but from the countercultural ideas that it sowed in the minds of millions.

 

Nic's Eye Transparent

 

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