In the era we grew up in we’d sadly missed the golden age of music magazines. The NME had long since lost the relevance it once prized so highly, Rolling Stone was similarly falling from grace and we had to battle with a slew of dubiously-written metal titles like Rock Sound and Kerrang! who championed some truly terrible bands (though maybe as an ex-goth that’s a problem specific to me). But then we found Pitchfork at just the right time, pointing its fingers in the direction of excellent new music and embracing the kind of critique that most had abandoned in favour of indie celeb-spotting and Smash Hits-style boot-licking. And it was all available for free on the new-fangled internet.
Nearly two decades on the Pitchfork powers that be have decided the title shouldn’t just be confined to the digital world and have made their first foray into print, publishing the inaugural Pitchfork Review in January 2014. It offers an experience unlike anything the online version has achieved so far, replacing up-to-the-minute music news and interviews of time-specific relevance with a slower form of journalism designed to let music lovers in on some extraordinary narratives and ideas from the vaults of music history.
It’s an impressive undertaking for an online publication that looks and reads very well indeed, bringing something truly exciting to music journalism’s table. In honour of their first edition we pitched a few questions at Pitchfork’s creative director Michael Renaud to find out about the highs and lows of birthing a print publication into the world.
You’ve been an online mag for 17 years, why does now seem the right time to move into print?
Well, we’ve been talking about it for years, and this just happened to be when all the stars kind of aligned to the point that we were able to make sense of the concept. We felt it should be something of value that didn’t necessarily exist anywhere else, and we wanted to feel comfortable with how it was being made. We knew people would ask us why, and we wanted to make something that would answer the question for them once they had a chance to see it.
What’s the main thing you’re trying to achieve with the new title?
In the first issue Simon Reynolds wrote a piece about his experience with music magazines growing up, and crystallised the specific relationship one can have with that object. Much of that special connection was tied to discovering new music for the first time, which is obviously more difficult to accomplish in print today. The moment when you find out about something new and interesting is often at the heart of that experience. We believe that’s still possible to achieve, but the focus should be on that very love and attachment to music, on what’s permanent, on what isn’t necessarily new but possibly under-appreciated, and also on what’s happening now that we’ll remember for years to come.
“In many ways the first issue was a dress rehearsal, in that we just needed to make sure we could get through it all. Now we can play with nuance and the format we’ve set for ourselves.”
Tell us a bit about the process of taking Pitchfork into the physical world
Many of us come from print backgrounds and have a lot of love for the craft, so we’ve been able to carefully put together our plan and workflow in a way that we know it’ll work for our funny little team. Deadlines are a lot more real here, and there is no CMS to save you once you hit ‘“publish.” But we’re all having a blast!
What did you get wrong along the way?
Subscriptions are a difficult thing, especially internationally. The Review has more of a book-like weight than a traditional magazine, and we’re doing relatively small runs, so costs associated with postage are the biggest challenge so far. And there just aren’t many systems in place to accommodate for the expectations of someone in 2014 that has maybe never subscribed to a magazine before. It takes four to six weeks for delivery – the lead time helps to keep costs as low as possible. I wouldn’t say it’s something we got wrong, we just haven’t been satisfied with the options that have so far presented themselves. But we’ll get there.
What were the highlights?
Working with Palmer Printing has been a great experience; they’re the last printer on Printer’s Row in Chicago, which was the printing centre of the Midwest beginning in the late 1800s, and they’re still a small, family-run operation that’s been there since the 1930s. Being able to get to know them face-to-face and to be there for regular press checks has been awesome, and I’m proud that we’re able to have it made so close to home.
Now that the first one is ready and out there do you still feel it was the right decision?
Hahaha! Well, yeah man! There hasn’t been a moment yet where I’ve gone “OH NO WHAT HAVE WE DONE?” so I guess that’s good. In many ways the first issue was a dress rehearsal, in that we just needed to make sure we could get through it all, and now we can play with nuance and the format we’ve set for ourselves. I think we’ll be pretty critical and try to improve with each issue.
You’ve got a great selection of illustrators and photographers in there. Tell us about a few of them.
We invited photographer and filmmaker Nabil Elderkin to our first Paris festival in 2011, and he took a lot of really great photos. We’ve had them for a few years and this seemed like the perfect way to publish them for the first time. And yeah, almost too many amazing illustrators to mention: Sterling Bartlett, Michael DeForge, Patch Keyes, Tim Lahan, Hannah K. Lee, Brandon Loving, James McShane. We’ve got pages of comics from Ron Regé Jr, Simon Hanselmann, Sophie Goldstein, Paul Hornschemeier, and Johnny Sampson painted the most incredible tribute to Al Jaffe with a MAD fold-in rip-off.
Issue two will be out in April!