Pitchfork Music Festival: some research

I’ve been thinking about the Pitchfork Music Festival, for which my wife and I are securing travel plans. (Hooray, Chicago!)

So far, the lineup is really solid, with Spoon, the National, the Mountain Goats, Band of Horses, Aesop Rock and Tapes ‘n Tapes among the highlights (at least for me) so far. But it got me thinking: How did Pitchfork select its lineup (which still is not officially filled out)? More specifically: What bands would agree to play at a festival organized by a music publication notorious for its acerbic, snobby and sometimes ridiculously vicious (did I get them all?) album reviews?

In an attempt to answer my own question, I delved into some admittedly surface research. I went to Pitchfork’s site and used its search engine set to “Reviews” and plugged in each band and recorded the rating given to each album. I didn’t bother looking at the authors of said reviews, although that certainly could be a tell of certain consistencies across an artist’s catalog. So, keep in mind here the, ahem, science is a bit crude.

The results are somewhat revealing, if not totally expected: Of 60 albums reviewed from 13 artists (not including Hot Machines, for which there were no reviews) booked so far for the festival, the average rating is 7.64 (458.6 total divided by 60 reviews).

The highest-rated artist with more than one album (Band of Horses drew an 8.8, and well-deserved, I might add) is Silver Jews at 8.76. The lowest-rated artist is Ted Leo and the Pharmacists at 6.92; a 4.0 on Tej Leo (?), Rx/Pharmacists was a killer.

The highest-rated invdividual album (full-length) was the Silver Jews’ American Water, which scored a 9.9 (ooooh-so close to that iconic 10.0). The lowest-rated full-length was the aforementioned Tej Leo. (Although, Mission of Burma’s Accomplished best-of collection got a shabby 1.9, which was more a product of the reviewer’s distaste for Ryko’s packaging and not so much the group itself.)

So, what does this all say, other than that I struggle to use my time wisely? Well, you could argue (as I would) that a conflict of interest exists. A publication that (supposedly) objectively critiques the work of musicians has no business putting on a festival with those same musicians. It implies (perhaps on a subconscious level) a quid pro quo is in place.

Because I work in the media as a sports copy editor at a major newspaper, I think of the old sportswriting adage: “No cheering in the press box.” In other words, writers must, above all else, remain objective in their coverage of a team. Same goes for music.

However, the obvious needs to be stated here: If the Pitchfork honchos are going to organize a festival, they’re not going to invite musicians or bands they don’t like. But think about it. Do bands who have been reviewed favorably feel an obligation to return the goodwill and agree to play the festival? On the flip side, will Pitchfork be swayed in future reviews to look kindly upon artists who performed – not to mention helped raise money and awareness for the site in the process?

I think it’s an interesting topic to explore and should be examined as more bands are announced. I may be oversimplifying the whole thing. But I’m confident in one thing: Travis Morrison will not be invited.

(Here is my crude Excel spreadsheet.)

12 thoughts on “Pitchfork Music Festival: some research”

  1. ehm.. if you think that way, no publication in the world would be allowed to sell ad space.

  2. I love that you did this.

    Couldn’t care less about Pitchfork, though. I find their reviews, at best, annoying, and at worse, completely unreadable. Of course, I think I’ve only read two.

  3. I think Pitchfork’s gotten a lot better since they hired on Plagenhoef as managing editor. There were a lot of lone gunmen running around when it was just Schreiber running the show (Dahlen, Dicrezenzo and some guys no one’s ever heard of), writing reviews that only barely referenced the material, snarking it up and dropping 10s and 0s like nobody’s business. Personally, I think that a lot of their current writers are pretty good (Breihan, Stosuy, Leone, Howe, and yes, I like Nick Sylvester, too) if not a little too Christgau for my blood sometimes. But I do think they’ve grown up quite a bit. I’ll find a good feature on there a couple times a month, and I think the news writers are holding the snark bag, FTMP. However, PF does paint themselves into a corner with that 100 point scale they use–it’s so easy to quantify their tastes. But it’s nearly universal: even the Onion’s AV Club (which I read faithfully long before PF) has now adopted some form of ratings system, instead of just writing about the music and leaving it at that. Most of what’s written about PF in the “mainstream” media deals with their ratings system and its subsequent impact on sales (over an 8.5=golden), which, I guess, is good for PF publicity-wise. It would be very interesting, though, to be a reviewer, and know that one scribbling could launch 25,000 album sales. I mean, just look at the gushing fan-boyness/reference dropping on Brian Howe’s CYHSY review…and look what happened there…But I don’t think they owe anything to the artists they review, nor are they being hypocritical by inviting them to play the summer show (which will be great). I’d imagine they invite all comers over a certain popularity level, and have to deal with conflicting tour schedules, etc. It will be great to see the Jews twice in three months, though! And that Ted Leo record did suck.

  4. …and you should add a “boss button” to your post that allows us to switch over to the spreadsheet!

    by the way…my word verification here is the brilliant:


  5. Anonymous makes a good point, and I thought about that. At the same time, though, bands or whomever are paying Pitchfork or other magazines to be in their publication. In this case, Pitchfork is asking (and paying) bands to play for them. A little playful discussion never hurts.

    M-Packs, I agree — I read Onion AV Club religiously. I find their reviews to be some of the best, even among print music mags.

    The one word I forgot to use to describe Pitchfork: “self-absorbed.” I guess that’s two words. Anyway, the rating scale is totally bogus and arbitrary. What’s the difference between 8.8 and 7.6, really? Silver Jews got a 9.9 on one record. I mean, come on. Out of sheer arrogance could Pitchfork just not bump it up that extra .1? The rating scale is too wide to be concise.

    Also, agreed that Pitchfork has to invite artists that have reached a certain popularity level for the festival to be a success.

    Well, whatever, we’ve gotten our festival tix and cannot wait to see the National (whom we’re seeing this week in LA), the Mountain Goats and Aesop! Woooot!

    UCOCKLY. That’s friggin’ great. I’m going to start calling you that.

  6. They’ll eat some crow when Travis’ new CD comes out… I saw him in June here in Milwaukee and he only played the hidden track of “Travistan”; everything else was brand new and 1000000x better than that record. Can’t describe it; it’s just astounding.

    Love the blog. Keep it up.
    – Jim

  7. You’re a sports copy editor? Dammit. Why the hell haven’t you threatened someone to hire me?

    just kidding. But if I ever move to AZ, then I’m not.

    Great article btw.

  8. Excellent points about Pfork and nice work on the spreadsheet. That’s something my geeky self might do. I’ll be at Pfork for sure.

  9. Eat some crow about what, Jim? His new record could be the sacred love child of Sgt. Pepper and Kid A and it still wouldn’t make Travistan any better. That 0.0 was a rating for that one album, not an anti-Morrison vendetta. They’ve given D-Plan Album of the Year honors before, for crying out loud.

    By the way: at the show, did Travis explain how great it was that we invaded Iraq, too? He has rather interesting views on the subject.

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