A few weeks ago the creative director of The Pitchfork Review Michael Renaud sent through a copy of their latest issue, accompanied by a small zine he had put together and a small note: “enjoy the weird book I designed and printed in 24 hours, I almost died.” There aren’t many large organisations who employ crazed zine-makers and lovers of the weirder things in life, but Pitchfork do. It’s a site we check daily, like the news or the weather, which we can all agree is one of – nay the place to go for fantastic, in-depth reviews of the best music today. And they’re not just some website, oh no – Pitchfork has publications, exclusives and some of the best interactive, moving interviews ever published online (check out this one about Bill Callahan). They even just held an enormous music festival in Paris which The Quietus described as “too perfect.”
For our online publishing feature, Behind the Screens, we wanted to ask this spectacular site how it came to be so good, and what happens behind the scenes. Enter Brandon Stosuy, who is their wonderful, friendly, enthusiastic editor. Read below about his life before Pitchfork, what he believes is the future of music journalism, and what the internet can offer people who love zines and music simultaneously.
How do you pronounce your surname?
“Stow-see.” It’s a bastardisation of a Russian surname. My Grandfather, who was an orphan, immigrated to the United States when he was young and things got confused. My family tree is a bit tricky.
Who are you? How did you become managing editor of Pitchfork?
My name’s Brandon. You know, it was a long, winding, weird path to becoming managing editor of Pitchfork. I started a zine when I was teenager. I was music editor of my college newspaper from my first semester until I graduated, and was still very involved in making zines and putting on shows in my basement and working in a record store. I freelanced a lot after college. This was after working at a gas station in Western Canada and convenience store in New Jersey and a garden centre and an art gallery and with an art dealer and at Border’s in Portland, Oregon, etc.
I started writing for Pitchfork in 2003, after I’d gone to grad school to study literature. At the time, I was working as an archivist at NYU for their downtown collection; I was focused on Dennis Cooper’s papers and later published a book about that realm (he wrote the afterword with Eileen Myles). I gradually focused more on Pitchfork, and less on other outlets (SPIN, Time Out, Village Voice, etc), and started a metal column, Show No Mercy, in 2006. I was made an editor a few years ago, and then became senior editor, and now I’m managing editor. I guess I just got old (relatively speaking), and kept on going, so I kept moving up the masthead.
“I freelanced a lot after college. This was after working at a gas station in Western Canada and convenience store in New Jersey and a garden centre and an art gallery and with an art dealer and at Border’s in Portland, Oregon, etc.”
Brandon Stosuy, Pitchfork
What was your opinion of music journalism when you were growing up?
Like I mentioned above, I started a zine when I was pretty young – like 13 or 14. At that time, I never thought music journalism would be something that made me any money. The first place I wrote for outside my own zine was this punk zine by Jim Testa called Jersey Beat. I did it for free because it was just exciting to get your words out there. That zine still exists; Jim’s a lifer.
Honestly, even when I was in college, majoring in English and Journalism, I didn’t think it was something I could do for a living. I thought of “music journalists” as professionals far removed from my scene at that time. I grew up pretty solidly working class, and writing for a living wasn’t something people I knew did. I saw what I was doing with these zines as more legit, but not as anything that would make me money. That’s an interesting thing about the internet: I know some younger people who submitted “clips” to Rolling Stone via email when they were 16. Before the internet, that whole realm felt very untouchable to me – when I was 16, I would’ve never thought about pitching a “real” publication. It seemed like something outside my life and real-life possibilities.
What can music journalism do now that it never could before?
It can reach so many people so quickly and shift thoughts/patterns immediately. The ability to push something live and get an immediate response is still amazing to me. And, when you think about the average press run of a typical magazine verses how many times something gets retweeted or “liked” on Facebook, it’s kind of crazy. There are just so many people engaged in any given piece.
Today, music journalism also has the possibility to be more interactive and artistic— writers working with images and video and the like. That goes for all writing, though, I think.
What would you do without the internet?
I’d spend more time outside. It’s funny – I have two kids, so my wife and I already do spend a lot of time outside, and on weekends I basically avoid my phone. In that way, I get a taste of that non-internet life (though I do sneak glances here and there to make sure the site hasn’t blown up). But, that said, I lived a large part of my life when the internet was a minor concern, and I read a lot, and put on a bunch of shows, and wrote constantly on paper, and cooked, and travelled. I feel very lucky that what I do for a living is not all that far from what I did when I was a kid- it’s just that the medium’s shifted and I make money from it.
I’ve always been a person who takes on too many projects. So maybe I’d just have more time for those non-internet things. The artist Matthew Barney and I collaborate fairly regularly on live events and we’ve done a couple of small-run books together. I just launched a new experimental/noise live series with my friend Adam Shore, do music curating for MoMA PS1, and curate the annual Basilica Soundscape festival in Hudson, New York. I have an art piece going up this summer in collaboration with Matthew, Dominick Fernow, the chef Brooks Headley, and some others in an old church upstate. So, yeah, I’d stay busy!
How come Pitchfork decided to do a print magazine as well as being a website?
A few of us at Pitchfork came from print backgrounds, and have a fondness for physical objects of that sort— it’s just such a different form that lends itself to other kinds of writing and expression And so we decided to go for it. I see it as an expansion of the site; something that compliments, but also extends it. That, and our Creative Director, Michael Renaud, is a talented designer, one who loves working with paper as well as digital forms, and it’s a great way for him to really spread his wings. He’s not one to brag, but he’s doing amazing work with these magazines. Anyhow, we’re lucky where the site is well-known enough that we can do something like this, and have a bit of a leg-up— it’s not like founding a magazine out of thin air…that would be a very different prospect in 2014.
“I feel very lucky that what I do for a living is not all that far from what I did when I was a kid- it’s just that the medium’s shifted and I make money from it.”
Do you feel you have a pretty good idea of what your audience want?
I think so, though our audience is pretty varied, and you can’t please everyone all of the time. We get hate mail. We get positive mail. We get love letters. And we get more hate mail.
Give us an idea of the Pitchfork HQ – how many of you are there, how do you decide on content?
We have two offices – the business office in Chicago and editorial/Pitchfork.tv in Brooklyn. I’m located in NYC. It’s pretty basic. We have three rooms in a big warehouse. Some coffee makers. A fridge. A conference room. Lots of records. There are, all said, about 20 in Brooklyn, I guess, and the same in Chicago.
As far as content, it depends. Me, Mark Richardson, and Ryan Schreiber (who founded the site) have record meetings each week where we discuss possible scores and what staff are thinking about specific releases. Jenn Pelly runs tracks. Ryan Dombal runs features. Amy Philips runs news. I do Pitchfork Advance with Matt Dennewitz. But it’s all incredibly collaborative— we all talk and work together. Each section involves back and forth and overlap. For instance, Jenn’s out of town right now, so I’m running tracks while she’s gone. If Amy’s out, one of us will run news. We’re a pretty small staff all said – that 20 or so includes Pitchfork.tv and interns – so we all need to handle multiple tasks.
“Our audience is pretty varied, and you can’t please everyone all of the time. We get hate mail. We get positive mail. We get love letters. And we get more hate mail.”
Brandon Stosuy, Pitchfork
In your opinion, what other websites are publishing stuff in a great way?
I asked Renaud this one because he has a really good eye for these things. He says Vogue, Selectism, Bloomberg, Medium, Wired.co.uk, Wallpaper, The New York Times, Quartz. Personally, I’m a big fan of reading Twitter like a book. Growing up I was really into Samuel Beckett; I like how tight the 140 character form makes things. Twitter’s my favourite online publication.
How aware are you that Pitchfork needs to to keep evolving and keep up with the rest of the internet?
Oh, very aware, we have this conversation endlessly. If we didn’t, we’d become dinosaurs. Or Friendster.
Behind the Screens
The “golden era” of independent publishing has seen an awful lot written about magazines; their enduring influence as well as the challenges facing the industry. Sometimes those discussions have overlooked the amazing things happening in online publishing so in November, we plan to rectify that. For the next few weeks we’ll be speaking to the people who have been beavering away at making the internet a very pleasant and addictive place to visit, finding out their secrets and asking them why they do what they do.
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