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Thinking

They’re Just Not That into You

I know insid­ers claim that peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to music now more than ever before, but what if peo­ple are just not as inter­est­ed in new music as they used to be? Has per­ceived demand for new prod­uct out­stripped con­sumer inter­est?

The answer is easy. Search your heart. Every­thing will be eas­i­er if you can just admit what you know to be true.

No. The vast major­i­ty of peo­ple surf­ing the web aren’t inter­est­ed in music, or just not as much as you believe them to be. Don’t get me wrong: there are audi­ences for obscure stuff that’s off the beat­en path. I, for exam­ple, love Raven Sings the Blues, but I think one can safe­ly assume that that blog, won­der­ful as it is, has a small, com­mit­ted audi­ence.

The prob­lem I see with an edi­to­r­i­al approach that val­ues quan­ti­ty over qual­i­ty is that the bulk of your work is sim­ply being ignored. It also plays into the per­cep­tion that you’re will­ing to cov­er just any­thing in order to have fresh con­tent. It’s one thing to cov­er music that deserves men­tion; it’s anoth­er to slave away writ­ing con­tent for con­tent’s sake.

If you think that this post is direct­ed at lega­cy webzines like Pitch­fork, you’re right. Pitch­fork’s trade­mark prac­tice of assign­ing numer­i­cal val­ues in their reviews cer­tain­ly con­tributed to the way we con­sume music press today. Why read a review when you can just click inside, look at the num­ber, and ignore the rest?

Now they’re reap­ing what they’ve sown.

The site recent­ly revamped its news cov­er­age, impart­ing a blog­gi­er tone. In a strange twist, you’ll find that Pitch­fork is often behind the rapid-fire inter­net news cycle, some­thing that had nev­er been as obvi­ous as it is now. Then again, an audi­ence that goes exclu­sive­ly to them for their music news would­n’t notice some­thing like that. That’s the sort of inside base­ball only RSS junkies would catch.

More impor­tant­ly (damn­ing­ly?), Pitch­fork went from pub­lish­ing a dai­ly fea­ture piece to three-a-week max­i­mum sched­ule. They only pub­lished two last week! You could chalk it up to a bad econ­o­my trans­lat­ing into less mon­ey to pay for long fea­ture pieces, or you could view it as an admis­sion that pub­lish­ing reg­u­lar pieces on grime and dub­step below the fold weren’t appoint­ment read­ing.

If it’s not a list, it’s hard to get peo­ple to com­mit to fea­tures. As much as ana­lysts want to write off crit­ics now that the web has made every­thing avail­able on demand, it’s impos­si­ble for just any­one to sift through the amount of infor­ma­tion out there to get a great overview of a genre or even the best new music in a giv­en year. Sites like FAIL blog demon­strate the val­ue of a cura­tion to cre­ate a best-of-web expe­ri­ence. It’s what makes a site worth vis­it­ing. Cura­tion is still king.

Now, not every­thing needs to dri­ve clicks. Like any pub­li­ca­tion, Pitch­fork’s fea­tures have always been a mixed bag of the excel­lent and the irrel­e­vant. To their cred­it, they’re not aban­don­ing them entire­ly, but rather shift­ing them from text to video, a risky move that’s dif­fi­cult to mon­e­tize. It’s the right one, even though it might not seem that way now.

I think the move to video sto­ry­telling for music is a nat­ur­al one. It’s been inter­rupt­ed by music’s dis­ap­pear­ance from tele­vi­sion, but it’s famil­iar enough and excit­ing enough to grab some­one’s atten­tion. The real hur­dle is con­vinc­ing worka­day info snack­ers to make the jump from reviews and fea­tures that take a sec­ond to skim to longer form video that can run for sev­er­al min­utes, all while they’re on the clock. It ain’t easy, but it may be the last best hope for music fea­tures on the web.

I know I promised to tell you how to run a suc­cess­ful music site this morn­ing, but I’m run­ning out of time. I’ll say this: Pitch­fork’s new news sec­tion, though odi­ous at times, is a step in the right direc­tion. It’s the sort of con­tent that can build a traf­fic stream to sup­port the pur­er music con­tent on the site. There are audi­ences for both and we as edi­tors need to accom­mo­date the full spec­trum of music fan­dom to the extent that we can. It’s the only way to sur­vive!

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