The Passenger
The Passenger Interview: Pitchfork Founder Ryan Schreiber
With Graham Webster

Graham Webster: How’d everything start up?

Ryan Schreiber: This was in probably like late ‘95 when I started it, and I just started it out of my parents’ house, out of my bedroom. I wasn’t planning on it being, you know, anything huge. It was like a vanity thing almost, you know. And it sort of got more serious.

Did you have any experience with writing or journalism?

That’s sort of the funny thing. I had no writing experience, and oh my god it shows. I’ve written like 500 reviews on the site, about 1 percent of which were written in the past three years. So if you go and read any of my reviews on the site they’re all just fucking shit they’re just atrocious. I can’t even look at them. They make my fuckin’ brain explode.

If Pitchfork is sort of an underground thing these days, and has been kind of forever, how big can it get before it’s not underground anymore?

That’s a really good question. It could be argued pretty well that it’s not really underground anymore, being that 80,000 people read it every day. And that’s not accounting for people who don’t check it every day. I mean we have like 500,000 people over the course of a month. It’s insane. It’s not underground anymore.

You know, we cover that music, and one thing I worry about is that I know a lot of people have this opinion of underground music that it should stay underground, and as few people should know about it as possible. And I’m not of that mindset. I think that as many people should know about it as possible, because I guess I just want people to like music, you know what I mean?

I’m such a big music fan, to me it’s not, like, giving a shit whether fucking somebody knows about my favorite band and I can’t be cool anymore ‘cause it’s just exclusively me who knows about them. It’s like, I love this music and everybody should love this music.

Have you ever had any ambition to sort of take the site into a music-and-other-culture realm?

I did, sort of briefly, but I sort of realized that, outside of music, I have no interests. I have none. My interests extend to music and video games, and nobody wants to read about video games.

I have huge ambitions for what I want to do with the site, but it’s all music-related, and it would all take several editors that would be full time positions.

So, what sort of ambitions do you have?

You know, some people would debate this, but five reviews a day? Not enough. Not enough. There’s too much stuff that comes out that gets ignored. And we need to cover it. Basically my ambitions are like more of everything. I would like to do a lot more features. Our features are so sporadic.

It’s just like my time is so split. There’s so much shit that needs to be dealt with in a day with this site. It’s just unfathomable.

How long do you work most days?

I work my whole life. I have maybe two or three hours off a day that I spend with my wife, and then the rest of the time I work, and then sometimes I sleep if I’m lucky. But sometimes I don’t sleep. Like, there’s so much to do, you know what I mean.

And I feel like I need more people but I’m weird about it, you know. Things won’t get done the right way. I just- I need to let it go. It’s a problem. It’s a serious problem.

What about the people who say that you’re all elitist jerks?

Well that’s a good question. That’s one I’ve never been asked before.

[Pitchfork’s one-man advertising department, Eric Carr, swivels on his chair and coasts across the hardwood floor into view through an open doorway to watch Ryan formulate a response.]

What about those people? Umm, yep. What can you say? You’re putting yourself out there. Any time you put your opinion out there, someone’s gonna disagree with you. Someone’s gonna judge you on it, and that’s the nature of it.

You know, as being a critic, who’s constantly criticizing people’s music, you have to have thick skin about it. You can’t be just like, “Oh, it makes me so mad when people talk bad about me.” It’s just like - it’s totally hypocritical, you know.

And it’s probably fair. I mean we are, you know what I mean? We totally put ourselves out there with that kind of personality, with that kind of attitude.

And as much as we’re trying to move away from it, the reviews are still like - I don’t like to think that they’re “holier than thou,” but they’re definitely maybe arrogant in some ways, and they definitely think highly of themselves. So you know, what can you say? I think it’s fine. Let people think whatever they want to think.

With the reviews, how much control do you exert? You know, who picks the number that goes on the thing?

The writers pick the number. I can debate that number with them if I care, which I usually don’t. And the only times that I’ll really debate with people on ratings is when the review reads differently than the rating lets on.

So how did you pick the notion of using a number rating, anyway, in the first place?

It was absurd. When we started it was percentages. It was weird. The problem with that was that anything that got below like 60, people thought it was like an “F.” I mean people were just so used to that kind of grading system that it was like, “Well, this isn’t working.” So then I changed it to just “point whatever.” It turns out that people still think anything below six is a dis, which it kind of is - you know, we’re not saying that it’s great, for sure. But I think like a seven, especially a mid-seven, is like a recommendation to me - even though most people don’t see anything as any kind of recommendation unless it’s an eight.

There are people who trust us a little too much sometimes, which is fair I guess, and nice. I like that trust, but at the same time, it’s like I wish people would be a little more independent than that.