The news broke last week that Pitchfork, a highly regarded and widely popular music website, would be merging with men’s magazine GQ, resulting in numerous job cuts.
The title, which started as a blog in 1996, rapidly rose to become the dominant voice in music criticism for millennials. To many of the site’s millions of monthly readers this news means a great deal more than simply the decline of a large website: they see this, with some justification, as an existential threat to worthwhile music criticism itself.
It has been difficult to accept the recent news of the downsizing of the important underground music platform, Bandcamp Daily, especially when coupled with other losses such as the Gal Dem website run by women of color and long-standing print publication Q. These events serve as a reminder that the future of music criticism as a viable industry is at risk and requires immediate attention.
However, not all individuals are expressing sorrow over the upcoming alterations to Pitchfork. For every pair of individuals condemning the perceived corporate destruction by parent company Condé Nast, there appears to be one person excited to use the laugh/cry emoji in response to the website’s future. The reasoning behind this is that with music readily accessible at the click of a button, is music criticism even necessary?
After completing this feature, I plan to prepare for my upcoming DJ gig. As I will be playing music in between bands at a club, I want to ensure that I have a variety of unique and captivating sounds. To achieve this, I will consult expert advice from magazines that I am subscribed to, such as The Wire and Crack, and browse through comprehensive websites like Bandcamp Daily and, while it is still accessible, Pitchfork. If I were to listen to the 3.6 million new songs uploaded to streaming services each month, assuming I took an eight-hour break for sleep every day, my listening session would have begun in January 1997. The reality is that everyone could use some assistance in navigating through the overwhelming amount of new music being released.
You may have differing opinions on current criticism – and you’re not alone in that, as a lot of it frustrates me as well, including my own website – but ultimately, it serves as a constant companion; even if it can sometimes be frustrating and challenging. Many people haven’t even thought about what a world without music criticism would be like, but when pushed, some may argue that streaming service algorithms can handle the curation. However, these suggestions lack the personable aspect of music criticism.
Spotify’s algorithm prioritizes adherence to strict criteria such as song length, chorus and hook placement, and discourages any form of innovation. This approach to recommendations is detrimental not only to avant-garde music, but also to pop music. Experimental music influences and enriches pop, contributing new ideas and information. The recent resurgence of pop can be attributed in part to the pioneering music that Spotify may potentially suppress and push to the sidelines. This narrow-minded focus on profit over artistic value resembles the actions of Condé Nast, where short-term savings take precedence over long-term financial consequences.
Reworded: Being the editor of an independent music magazine that focuses on my personal music preferences has always felt challenging, as it does not always have high commercial success and can be unconventional or unsettling. Running The Quietus with my friend Luke Turner for the past 15 years has been like trying to pull a steamship uphill. When the first lockdown of 2020 caused a sudden decline in digital advertising, we were faced with the possibility of closure. Implementing a subscription model ultimately saved us. While we still had a difficult task ahead of us, we were now joined by loyal readers who helped us by lending a hand and digging in their feet.
I am worried about the future of my website and the state of music magazines in general. While it is important to have a music press that is separate from streaming platforms to help navigate the overwhelming amount of content, it is also crucial for people to recognize that we offer more than just product recommendations. When we lose the independent spirit of websites like Pitchfork, we lose an essential aspect of music itself. Music criticism is about more than just purchasing decisions; it encompasses all the other important aspects of life.
Comparing writing about music to composing poetry about the weather, one could spend a lifetime crafting verses about thunderstorms and tornadoes without truly capturing the essence of the experience. However, there are moments when the writer connects with the musical rhythms, the burst of energy, and the soothing patter of rain, leading to the discovery of new inspirations and the creation of something truly unique.
Writing a unique arrangement of words to convey a complex mix of emotions, ideas, and personal encounters that forms a telepathic connection between the writer and reader, transforming their shared perception of reality – that is the essence of magic. While often bound to serve the powerful force that is music, writing has the potential to stand alone as a refined and exquisite creation. We must not allow such a beautiful art to be discarded and disregarded.
John Doran is both the creator and editor of the Quietus website. He is also a writer and sometimes works as a broadcaster.