Way, way back in 1995, when the first dot-com domain name was celebrating its tenth birthday and the World Wide Web was still an incredibly young four years old, the Internet was truly unchartered territory. But for Ryan Schreiber, then a 19-year-old record store clerk, it was the perfect Petri dish for a new music experiment.
With no publishing or writing background, Schreiber took to the net and created an online shrine to the indie bands he loved, cold-calling record labels to secure artist interviews. “I was calling up labels out of the blue like, ‘Hi I have this music magazine on the Internet,'” Schreiber said, “and people were like, ‘On the what?'”
Pitchfork’s early years were scrappy and shaky, but the site has solid footing now and is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative voices in the industry. Today, Schreiber has an entire editorial crew and a bevy of contributors to assign and write reviews but, with 99 percent of his workday dedicated to finding the next indie music sensation, he still has the best job in the world.
Going back to when you first launched Pitchfork, what was on your mind when you decided to break out and do your own thing?
Well, a friend of mine had introduced me to the Web pretty early on, around ’94. So I had been on it for a while by the time that I started Pitchfork, and there was just not really a lot out there for independent music. There were not a lot of music publications or anything like that online, but especially for independent music it was really just a blank slate. And I had always been interested in publishing and music writing and criticism. I read a ton of music magazines at the time — I just consumed them voraciously — and it seemed like it would be kind of a fun experiment. It was the height of 90’s ‘zine culture at that time too, so there were all these sort of DIY fan-zines floating around. And it just seemed really manageable to do something like that on my end. So, I just started writing. I started a Web page, and from there I started to try to get interviews with artists through reaching out to record labels.
“Be willing to put in the work for a long period of time for just the love of it.”
When did you know that you had something big?
I guess at the point where it felt like it was starting to be realistic for me to make a living off it was probably around ’99 or so. We had, especially comparatively, a really tiny readership; it was maybe something like 2,000 readers a month or something. But at that point it had sort of become, in this very, very small, niche way, the main, online resource for independent music. So, I felt like maybe I could start to experiment with advertising or something like that. And I was done trying to make ends meet in other ways and really wanted to find a way to make it work. So, I essentially started calling labels and local businesses asking if they would want to advertise for a very small amount. Eventually I got some takers.
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