Pitchfork.tv Takes a Stab at Music Videos
By Eliot Van Buskirk Email 04.05.08 | 12:00 AM
Pitchfork.tv serves up compelling content in a nifty interface, like A Place To Bury Strangers' Oliver Ackermann giving a tour of his studio-workshop-performance venue.
Sensing a gap between MTV's cheesy reality shows and YouTube's labyrinth of pixelized musical treasures, music tastemaker Pitchfork Media plans to launch a video section Monday that will showcase live performances and other original content.
The video selections won't include the news and reviews that have made Pitchfork so widely read. Rather than meting out ratings, Pitchfork.tv will serve up band interviews, music videos and even feature-length films at higher quality than is standard online.
"There are a lot of people doing really cool stuff with music and video on the web, but in terms of clean, crisp audio and video recordings, there's really nothing out there," said Ryan Schreiber, Pitchfork's founder and editor-in-chief. "[We're] really documenting the music that we like and that we feel is vital."
With more than 60 sessions in the can, Pitchfork.tv will launch with original sessions from Man Man, Liars, A Place to Bury Stangers, The Thermals, Jay Reatard and others. Utilizing a mobile 16-track Pro Tools setup and at least three high-end cameras, the operation is shaping up to be the Peel Sessions of online video.
"Obviously, people are ready for something crisper and better-looking," said Schreiber. "[YouTube] is like sub-VHS quality."
Wired.com got a sneak peek at the Pitchfork.tv site. We watched many videos, and the audio and video quality was fantastic across the board, with an editing style that adapted to the subject matter (faster cuts for faster riffs). The full multitrack recording setup Pitchfork.tv uses makes a real difference, and the benefits of careful editing are manifold. Any fan of a band featured in one of the sessions will be compelled to watch.
Aside from its original basement and rooftop sessions, Pitchfork.tv will feature third-party productions, including more than 300 music videos and a different feature-length documentary each week. Everything is free.
Since its launch in 1995, Pitchfork has become trusted as the final (or at least first) word on the latest sounds, although the site has faced criticism for reviews some call snarky or elitist.
"How on earth they became a gold standard will forever be a mystery to me," e-mailed Conan Neutron, a guitarist for Replicator who described the site's reviews as "poorly researched, disgustingly glib and poorly written."
Even the site's detractors would admit that Pitchfork excels at keeping noteworthy music on its readers' radar. The site's influence is profound, extending from oft-quoted reviews to the increasingly popular Pitchfork Music Festival held each summer in Chicago.
Judging from our sneak preview, Pitchfork.tv builds on all that experience. Rather than criticizing bands, the site attempts to capture them at their finest. To do so, Pitchfork acquired Juan's Basement, a live music show that previously appeared -- somewhat bizarrely -- on the upscale community-television network Plum TV. Juan Pieczanski now records live sessions for Pitchfork.tv in the same Brooklyn basement he used as a studio, while his sound guy handles audio for rooftop video segments called Don't Look Down.
The Pitchfork.tv crew shoots two to four sessions per week, with a small staff of producers, video editors and New York University students handling production. The small video team plans to post at least one original video per day, including clips that can be embedded on other sites or downloaded to iPods, iPhones or any other portable device that plays M4V files (H.264 video with AAC audio). Some sessions will come with an MP3.
Quality and portability aside, this is still not your older brother's video network. Although Schreiber says he respects original MTV host and current Sirius Satellite Radio jock Martha Quinn, Pitchfork.tv will forgo VJs entirely.
"Frankly, we don't really need them," he said. "The closest thing you're going to get to a host is when we do one-on-one interviews [between Pitchfork writers and] artists."