It began as a blog that developed during Schreiber's teenage years working at a record store and quickly earned a reputation for its extensive coverage of indie music. It has since expanded and covers all kinds of music, including pop.
The site is best known for its daily output of music reviews but also regularly reviews reissues and box sets. Since 2016, it has published retrospective reviews of classics, and other albums that weren't initially reviewed, each Sunday. The site publishes "best-of" lists—albums, songs—and annual features and retrospectives each year. During the '90s and '00s the site's reviews—favorable or otherwise—were considered widely influential in making or breaking careers.
In late 1995, Ryan Schreiber, a recent high school graduate, created the magazine in Minneapolis. Influenced by local fanzines and KUOM, Schreiber, who had no previous writing experience, aimed to provide the Internet with a regularly updated resource for independent music. Initially called Turntable, the site was updated monthly with interviews and reviews. In May 1996, the site began publishing daily and was renamed Pitchfork, alluding to Tony Montana's tattoo in Scarface. Schreiber wrote the website's first review, of Pacer by The Amps.
In early 1999, Schreiber relocated Pitchfork to Chicago, Illinois. By then, the site had expanded to four full-length album reviews daily, as well as sporadic interviews, features, and columns. It had also begun garnering a following for its extensive coverage of underground music and its writing style, which was often unhindered by the conventions of journalism. In October, the site added a daily music news section.
Pitchfork has launched a variety of subsidiary websites. Pitchfork.tv, a website displaying videos related to many independent music acts, launched in April 2008. It features bands that are typically found on Pitchfork . In July 2010, Pitchfork announced Altered Zones, a blog aggregator devoted to underground and do it yourself music. On May 21, 2011, Pitchfork announced a partnership with Kill Screen, in which Pitchfork would publish some of their articles. Altered Zones was closed on November 30. On December 26, 2012, Pitchfork launched Nothing Major, a website that covered visual arts such as fine art and photography. Nothing Major closed in October 2013. On October 13, 2015, Condé Nast announced that it had acquired Pitchfork. Following the sale, Schreiber remained as or-in-chief.
On March 13, 2016, Pitchfork was redesigned. According to an announcement post during the redesign, they said:
We last redesigned in the fall of 2011. A lot about the online world has changed since then. This iteration, more than a year in the making, brings Pitchfork into a new era, improving functionality and inviting deeper exploration while simplifying the experience to make browsing, searching, reading, listening, and watching easier.
In August 2018, Pitchfork's longtime executive or Mark Richardson stepped down. He began writing for the site in 1998 and was employed full-time in 2007. On September 18, 2018, founder Ryan Schreiber stepped down as the site's top or. He was replaced by Puja Patel as or-in-chief on October 15, 2018. On January 8, 2019, Schreiber announced he would be exiting the company. In January 2019, Condé Nast announced it would put all its titles, including Pitchfork, behind a paywall by the end of the year, though this did not occur.
Conversely, Pitchfork has also been seen as being a negative influence on some indie artists. As suggested in a Washington Post article in April 2006, Pitchfork's reviews can have a significant influence on an album's popularity, especially if it had only been available to a limited audience or had been released on an independent record label. A dismissive 0.0 review of former Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison's Travistan album led to a large sales drop and a virtual college radio blacklist. On the other hand, "an endorsement from Pitchfork—which dispenses its approval one-tenth of a point at a time, up to a maximum of 10 points—is very valuable, indeed."
Examples of Pitchfork's impact include:
Arcade Fire is among the bands most commonly cited to have benefited from a Pitchfork review. In a 2005 Chicago Tribune article, a Merge Records employee states, "After the Pitchfork review, [Funeral] went out of print for about a week because we got so many orders for the record."
Bon Iver was catapulted to mainstream and critical success after a 2007 Pitchfork review of the album For Emma, Forever Ago.Pitchfork was the only publication to have included the album on a 2007 end-of-the-year list, while over sixteen popular publications included the re-release on their 2008 lists. In the summer of 2011, Pitchfork noted Bon Iver's self-titled release as "Best New Music", and later chose the release as the best album of 2011. Pitchfork's critical acclamation of Bon Iver is widely seen as lifting the artist to commercial mainstream success, which culminated with his Grammy Award for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album. Time nominated Bon Iver as Person of the Year in 2012, noting the 2007 Pitchfork review as the "indie cred" that "led to mainstream success".
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah member Lee Sargent has discussed the impact of Pitchfork's influence on their self-titled debut album, saying, "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."
Size and readership
On October 24, 2003, Loren Jan Wilson of Pitchformula.com reported that Pitchfork had published 5,575 reviews from 158 different authors, with an average length of just over 520 words. Together, the reviews featured a total of 2,901,650 words.
In the 2000s the website's journalism favored independent music, favoring lo-fi and often obscure indie rock and giving only cursory treatment to other genres. The website had a reputation for publishing reviews early and for being unpredictable, often strongly dependent on which reviewer was writing. In a 2006 article in Slate, Matthew Shaer accused Pitchfork of deliberately writing provocative and contrarian reviews in order to attract attention.
The website was sometimes criticized in those years for the quality of its writing. A 2006 article in City Pages noted the large discretion the site gave to its writers, arguing it was "under-ed" and that the prose was often "overly florid". Shaer singled out some examples of "verbose and unreadable writing". In response, Schreiber told City Pages that "I trust the writers to their opinions and to their own style and presentation. The most important thing to me is they know what they're talking about and are insightful."
A 2007 review of the album Kala by M.I.A. inaccurately said that Diplo had produced the tracks, when he had produced 3 out of 11 tracks and M.I.A. had produced the rest. Another Pitchfork writer described the error as "perpetuating the male-led ingenue myth". M.I.A. and later Björk argued that this was part of a wider problem of music journalists making the assumption that female singers do not write or produce their own music.
When Pitchfork asked comedian David Cross to compile a list of his favorite albums, he instead provided them with a list of "Albums to Listen to While Reading Overwrought Pitchfork Reviews". In it, he satirically piled over-the-top praise on fictional indie rock records, mocking Pitchfork's reviewing style.
In 2004, comedy website Something Awful created a parody of Pitchfork's front page. Entitled "RichDork Media", the page makes reference to nonexistent, obscure-sounding indie-rock bands in its reviews, news headlines and advertisements. The rating system measures music on its proximity to the band Radiohead. A similar, more light-hearted parody was created by Sub Pop, a record label whose musical artists Pitchfork has reviewed (often favorably).
On September 10, 2007, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a story in which founder Ryan Schreiber reviews music as a whole, giving it a 6.8.
In 2010, writer David Shapiro started a Tumblr called "Pitchfork Reviews Reviews", which reviews Pitchfork reviews.
In 2013, the IFCsketch comedy television series Portlandia satirized the publication in a sketch in which a collective of children run a website entitled "Pitchfork Kids!" and give a highly favorable review to an album by the fictional children's music band Defiance of Anthropomorphic Sea Mammals.
In 2016, in the RiffTrax comedy commentary for the film Icebreaker, Mike Nelson quipped about the ticking of a Geiger counter, "This Geiger counter released an album of just this; Pitchfork gave it an 8.3."
In December 2013, Pitchfork Media debuted The Pitchfork Review, a quarterly print journal focused on long-form music writing and design-focused content. J. C. Gabel, its first or, had been the publisher of The Chicagoan and founding publisher of Stop Smiling.Pitchfork planned a limited-ion quarterly publication of about 10,000 copies of each issue, perfect bound, and printed on glossy, high-quality 8-by-10¼ paper. It was expected that about two-thirds of the content would be original, with the remaining one-third recycled from the Pitchfork website. The International Business Times likened the publication's literary aspirations to The New Yorker and The Paris Review. It ended after 11 issues in November 2016.
On July 29 and 30, 2006, the publication premiered its own Pitchfork Music Festival in the same park. The event attracted over 18,000 attendees per day. More than 40 bands performed at the inaugural festival, including Spoon and Yo La Tengo, as well as a rare headlining set by reunited Tropicália band Os Mutantes.
In 2008 Pitchfork collaborated with All Tomorrow's Parties to curate half of the bill for one of their May festival weekends. This was the first event that Pitchfork has been involved in outside of the United States.
Pitchfork's music reviews use two different rating systems:
Individual track reviews were formerly ranked from 1 to 5 stars, but on January 15, 2007, the site introduced a new system called "Forkcast". In it, instead of assigning tracks a particular rating, reviewers simply label them one of the following categories: "New Music", "Old Music", "Video", "Advanced Music", "Rising", "WTF", "On Repeat" (the category of their most favorably regarded songs), and "Delete" (for the least favored songs). As of 2009[update], the site had officially removed this system, opting to instead simply review tracks, while giving some a label of "Best New Track".
Album reviews are given a rating from 0 to 10, specific to one decimal place.
On October 24, 2003, Pitchformula.com made a survey of the 5,575 reviews available on Pitchfork at that time, showing that:
6.7 was the average rating
2,339 reviews had been awarded a rating of 7.4 or higher
2,362 reviews had been awarded a rating of between 5.0 and 7.3
873 reviews had been awarded a rating of less than 5.0
British Sea Power's 2008 album Do You Like Rock Music? was initially awarded a tongue-in-cheek rating of "U.2", however the page now gives a rating of 8.2, seemingly at odds with the critical review. Their rating of Run the Jewels' remix album Meow the Jewels (2015) was a pictogram of a cat's head with hearts for eyes – highlighting the pictogram and right-clicking on it reveals that the actual score is 7.0. Their review of Pope Francis' album Wake Up! featured the rating "3:16", though using the same method of revealing Meow the Jewels' actual score reveals the score to be 5.0. Rather than give a traditional review to Jet's Shine On, the site simply posted an embedded video of a monkey urinating into its own mouth and a 0.
Initial release 10.0 rated albums
The following is a list of albums given Pitchfork's highest possible rating, on initial release. The score is rare and has only been given to twelve albums since the site was launched in 1995. As of May 2021, 127 other albums have been given a 10.0 following a reissue or the publication of a retrospective review. Pitchfork has since deleted the reviews for 12 Rods, Amon Tobin, Walt Mink, The Flaming Lips, and Bob Dylan without replacing them with newer reviews, meaning that only seven albums continue to be listed with a 10.0 rating that was given on initial release. In a 2021 historical roundup, Pitchfork listed 11 albums as having received a 10.0 on their initial release: All of the below listed albums with the exception of the Bob Dylan live recording.