Indie-rock kingmaker Ryan Schreiber had modest beginnings. In 1995, fresh out of high school and influenced by local college radio stations and fanzines (and three years before even Kottke had a blog), the impassioned alt-music connoisseur started Pitchfork Media at his parent’s house in a Minneapolis suburb with a Mac and a dial-up.
Infectiously enthusiastic, terribly honest reviews of an independent scene all but overlooked by mainstream publications were Schreiber’s forte. Bands barren of major record label affiliation eagerly approached him for coverage and people dispirited by Casey Kasem’s countdown used the site to discover new sounds.
Traffic swelled, prompting a wildly popular annual music festival and a tastemaking phenomenon known as the Pitchfork effect, that has made and trashed the careers of Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Travis Morrison, among hundreds more.
Now, sitting high atop the slush pile of independent music, Schreiber wants to do the same thing for music videos that he did for music reviews: offer coverage of a scene overlooked by major media outlets that don’t even cover that much music. In an interview with Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun Times, Schreiber relates his music television frustrations:
"I watched MTV all the time growing up. I was obsessed with music all throughout my childhood, and I watched it incessantly. And, um, as I got more turned on to music, I was like, “Why was there never anything like this on MTV? Why was there no exposure for these things anywhere else so I could have heard it, being as big a music fan as I was my entire life, and only discovering independent music and alternative rock at like 13?” It was like, “God, I’ve been listening to pop music all these years!” So it still comes from that: Watching MTV and thinking, “This can be done in a very different and cool way that people would actually like.” And that’s something that I feel increasingly that cable television networks are not really paying attention to."
###Just launched today, the nascent music video network embodies a lot of Schreiber’s vision. A selection of music videos – from Death Cab for Cutie to Radiohead – carefully curated by a team of reviewers rests at the site’s foundation. One-week exclusives supplement the vids (this week it’s a Pixie’s reunion documentary) and R.J. Bentler executive produces the trimmings, which include the gritty, raw concert footage seen in Pitchfork Live, shows recorded out of Argentine-American Juan’s Brooklyn basement (formerly of Plum TV), and mini-docs of a day-in-the-life of a band on Daytripping, Pitchfork.tv’s first-ever production.
There are restrictions on which videos you can embed, but that’s the site’s only drawback. The sound quality is overall fantastic and the interface lets you easily search and navigate without interrupting your current selection.
The videos lack the beautiful spontaneity and awkward behind-the-scenes gyrations of La Blogoteque’s Takeaway Shows, the variant forms of Austin’s KUT 90.5’s Retread Sessions, and the humble theatricality of Live at Other Music, but Schreiber isn’t trying to do any of that. At a time when major players are rewriting the increasingly fragmented music biz, Pitchfork.tv is doing its part to be a discovery mechanism and outlet for the industry’s overlooked. An anti-MTV:
“…what happened to Rolling Stone and MTV was that at some point, the focus shifted from attempting to create a good and valuable resource to becoming as profitable as possible, or appealing to as many people as possible. What we do with Pitchfork and with the Pitchfork Music Festival, and now with Pitchfork.tv, all come from a sincere place of being really dedicated music fans who want to create these things that don’t exist for other people like ourselves.”
It’s certainly starting out that way. And if Pitchfork.tv can stay away from the man (hey, it’s worked for Craig Newmark) it could one day ascend to a place in the pantheon of musical influence among early iterations of American Bandstand, Rolling Stone, and MTV (whether Schreiber wants it that way or not).
Pitchfork.tv just needs to stay true to intentions: a network all about good music. Watching the slush on TV today, it almost seems like that’s a novel idea.