For the last six years of my life I have been living the life of a student and avid fan of music. I am a senior in Drexel’s Music Industry program and have been apart of the Philadelphia music scene ever since my freshman year. Of all of the classes and all of the experiences I have partaken in and learned from, there is an obvious phenomenon that has emerged into the industry over the last decade: Music Blogs. Blogs in general are everywhere these days. You can find blogs about anything, as well. What I find interesting is the effect of such blogs, and specifically, music blogs and their effect on the general public.
In 2004 The Arcade Fire, an indie-rock band from Montreal released their debut album Funeral on the independent label Merge Records. This band had only played regionally and had really only formed one year prior to the release. Some would guess that this band would not do well without a major label, but lucky for them, the biggest music blog in the world reviewed their album. Funeral got a 9.7 rating out of 10 on Pitchfork Media. With just this review, Merge Records sold out of inventory of Funeral and it also became the label’s first album to make the Billboard 200 chart. Needless to say, The Arcade Fire was the first Internet phenomenon and put Canadian music on the map.
But what exactly is Pitchfork Media and how did just one positive review jumpstart a whole country-worth of music? Pitchfork Media is a daily Internet publication based out of Chicago, IL, which focuses on music reviews, criticism, news, interviews and commentary. Established in 1995, Pitchfork grew into the biggest name for music on the Internet within nine years. Positive quotes from Pitchfork reviews are used in artists’ biographies, press releases and even on album covers in order to attract more sales and growth. Though focusing mainly on independent music and indie-rock, Pitchfork is known for its “Best Albums of” lists and even other genre reviews and news. Some successful acts that can trace their achievement back to Pitchfork include: The Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Interpol, Broken Social Scene, and Wolf Parade. Each of these bands has established uniqueness in the music industry with a loyal following all because of a positive review.
“But what happens with bad reviews?” you might ask. Well, unfortunately, it’s just what you might guess: Bad reviews usually mean a drop in sales and possibly the end of a career. For instance, the Rock and Roll revivalist band, Jet, released their album Shine On in 2006. Pitchfork’s review of this album was a link to a video of a chimpanzee urinating into its own mouth (Pitchfork). I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard from them since.
There is also another, more interesting case that actually occurred within the last 2 years. Black Kids is a band that impressed Pitchfork with their first demo, which increased their blog coverage by 900% and even got them a management deal that soon turned into a major label deal with Columbia Records. They became the main attraction at 2007’s CMJ Marathon after only a number of shows together. The hype was building and they delivered their debut album, Partie Traumatic in 2007 (Harding). Though Pitchfork gave a great review and an 8.8 rating to their demo, this time around the blog gave them a 3.3 rating and a picture of two pugs with “Sorry :-/” above the dogs (Pitchfork). This did not help with Black Kids’ debut album.
I have been focusing on Pitchfork only because it is the biggest music blog around and has almost single handedly altered the state of the music industry, as we know it. There are numerous other music blogs including: Brooklyn Vegan, Stereogum, Music Snobbery, and Largehearted Boy. Each and every blog has some sort of effect on its readers and then in turn on the industry. But after all of these examples and lists, we haven’t even touched on the appeal of these blogs and why they are so effective.
In “Finding Evidence of Community From Blogging Co-Citations: A Social Network Analytical Approach,” sociologists Alvin Chin and Mark Chignell of the University of Toronto developed a research blog in order to perform a case study on the effects of blogging. Their findings show that since blogging is used to uniquely identify specific topics of interest, said blogs can be used to build community. This sense of community is the attraction. For the case study, they created an indie music blog on MSN Spaces, which showcases indie music bands and promotes and adds value to the indie music community. They then went through steps in order for the blog to be effective. First they motivated the community by adding blog tools: a rating system, a media player, a photo album, and a “Song of the week.” After that, they then identified the community by examining links within the indie blog community. Using all of their findings, Chin and Chignell created their blog and observed its effects. Basically, they concluded that, although it is extremely difficult to actually measure the effects of blogging, the main effect is the sense of community (Chin, A.).
I asked my roommate, John Christon, about Pitchfork and other music blogs and he told me that he doesn’t like how critical Pitchfork can be, but still uses it and other blogs as a guide when decided whether or not to get an album. He also said, “I usually go around blogs and listen to the music they put up and decide from there.” So, like many other music fans, John listens for what he likes and reads the blogs to see if an act is his cup of tea. I can relate. I subscribe to RSS feeds through my Mail Application on my computer. This lets me view short reviews and news about artists and even allows me to listen to the artist. In other words, blogs are convenient.
After my own research and personal experience with music blogs, I have to agree with that article. When I read blogs, I feel as if I am “in” on something that not everyone else knows about. These views and opinions are credible just because music is opinion based, so therefore anyone is right yet we follow the blogs because they are a larger community of people like us. Not everyone likes Pitchfork and how they put down acts and hype up others (myself included), but it still exists for the simple reason of having a somewhat authoritative view on what is “cool” and what is not.
Chin, A., & Chignell, M. (2006). Finding Evidence of Community from Blogging
Co-citations: A Social Network Analytic Approach.Proceedings of 3rdIADIS International Conference WebBased Communities 2006 (WBC06)(San Sebastian, Spain, Feb. 26-28, 2006), (pp. 191-200).
Pitchfork. 2008 Pitchfork Media, INC. http://www.pitchforkmedia.com
Harding, Courtney (2008). “Black Kids.” Billboard.com.