22 min read

The Goop Hits The Grinch: Music Journalism May Have to Write Its Own Obituary For Free

The Goop Hits The Grinch: Music Journalism May Have to Write Its Own Obituary For Free

At the end of January, overnight, with only eight years of buildup, Pitchfork went from being “The Most Trusted Voice in Music” to being as trusted as a big butt and a smile; with a reduced staff of Jeremy Larson +1 sharing a basement cubicle with Graydon Carter’s wig, the desiccated mummy of the last Details coverboy, and a spec script for a Ghostbusters remake where Bill Murray plays all the characters and is in a May/December relationship with a Japanese girlfriend. 

The facts of what happened are this: Condé Nast, the Anna Wintour-headed global media corporation (Vanity Fair, Vogue, Bon Appétit, etc) which, in 2015, had added Pitchfork to its lifestyle brand monopoly, suddenly laid off the majority of the P4K staff. Further, it was announced that Pitchfork would be folded into the men’s interest magazine GQ, fulfilling Condé Nast’s intentions (as laid out by Condé chief digital officer Fred Santarpia at the time of purchase) to “put the ‘Boys’ back into Talk Of The (the boys are back in) Town.” Setting aside the implication that the readership of The New Yorker wear Unknown Pleasures shirts while not being able to name three Joy Division songs, the facts are pretty straightforward. Insofar as anything sourced from diametrically opposed interests—company flaks on one side, laid off workers and a demoralized union on the other—can be. Outside analysts can only do their best with what access their biases and connections allow. Current CEOs are liars if they’re good at their jobs. Ex-CEOs have their axes. Only so much can be gleaned from chatter picked up by hanging out at the Fishbone “Party at Ground Zero” Mall which stands across the street from P4K headquarters like a giant memorial food court. And there are limits to how much fruit a holiday text from one of Ryan Schreiber’s ex coke dealers might bear. But even an observer as disconnected as this writer received emails containing theories. These theories ranged from site-appropriate conspiracies of an inside job—with the role of the Mossad being played by ex-Fader types bearing grudges—to the possibility of Pitchfork being hurt by a refusal to give special preference to artists/publicists important to other Condé Nast publications. The occasional middling review of Eurovision pablum and diaristic nepo-babies may seem like no big deal to peasants like you or I, but managers and publicists act on their own peculiar morality. Ron Laffitte has been indie rock’s monied whipping boy for twenty-five long years and maybe a 6.2 for Gracie Abrams was the final straw. Theory mongering, in this case, bears the pellucidity of old Pavement lyrics. 

As well the theories should. For most analysts’ purposes, a love for Demolition Plot J-7 was enough. You don’t bring tequila to an Irish wake. So trainspotters of this particular derailing focused on Pitchfork’s supposed pivot towards poptimism (the movement, initially begun to correct the music media’s perceived “rockist” bias, and now a broadly derogatory term for the music media’s perceived overvaluation of pop music), or appropriately rueful Spotify apologia (with music streaming being blamelessly blamed—like an apple-cheeked Frankenstein monster who just gave the villagers what they wanted—for pushing Pitchfork into irrelevance). 

This is not to imply that the more abstract divinations were wrong. Even if some of the (premature) obituaries were written in the wistful tone typically conveyed by a Tom Hanks voiceover and a “Fortunate Son” synch, there was a basic understanding that something deeply unfair, and increasingly typical, had been inflicted upon a staff (a staff whose union had, as late as December 2023, been posting that management had assured them that there would be no layoffs). 

(Here is a good place to pause and say, as clearly as I can: A) Regardless of any criticism and/or jokes that I may make about the site itself, I personally like a number of the writers and admire the writing—on and off the site—of a few more than that. And even if I didn't, I'd still hate that anyone at Pitchfork lost their jobs. B) I consider Condé Nast’s treatment of all its workers to be repulsive, and C) You can stop at any time and go read something else.)

OK. To continue...

Of course streaming and AI are factors. And Inter-Nast-y conflict played at least some small part in Pitchfork’s dismantling. While the pop-ruined-P4K angle had the same anecdotal power as migrant crime wave narratives, shared that narrative’s talent for extrapolating sandcastles from cookie crumbs (and arguably came from a similar impulse), it’s not unreasonable to think that the perception—that Pitchfork no longer cared about Icelandic art-pop and Kid A—affected readership. Even if neither perception nor the perception of the perception were true (Pitchfork never once stopped caring about avant-esoteric bleep bloop music, and—while I have no idea if this is financially relevant or even remotely true—the site’s visitor numbers supposedly remained high, even as This Heat was forced to share space with King P$$Y Eater). 

If one insists on rolling around in the poptimism theorizing, this Freddie deBoer essay was what one would expect from an ostensibly leftist anti-wokester. Exhibiting the reverse scolding tone common of those who aspire to be the next mayor of Cum Town, deBoer lays the blame for Pitchfork’s inevitable (to his mind) decline solely on the site’s affection for Rihanna. While the essay isn’t entirely devoid of points, it’s clearly written by someone who—if they read the site at all—only hate-read Pitchfork’s pop coverage, while being blind to the indie acts/experimental music the site continues to cover. Also deBoer uses the fact that Williamsburg is a rich neighborhood now as evidence of indie culture no longer existing. This is a wild, borderline idiotic, thing to say. When a 21-year old named “Kath” points out that perhaps indie culture might exist outside of a neighborhood that stopped being even hipster over a decade ago, deBoer responds by writing “I'm too old to know about those venues or to go to those shows ergo they do not exist.” 

The lack of effort put into even this glib response runs through the entire essay. Even if Pitchfork’s semi-regular forays into facile Y’all-ism could inspire an eyeroll or three, there are few things more embarrassing than when political culture writers think having a good taste or two (in this case, the writer enjoys Electric Wizard) qualifies them to discuss hipster culture. Men like deBoer tend to be glib about aspects of culture which are fascinating when taken seriously and they tend to be humorless about the absurd. Meaning; poptimism, at its heart, is about reckoning seriously with the incontrovertible truth that disco does not, in fact, suck. And pop music may well be the psy-op crooked finger of militarism and Mamon, but it’s also got a good beat and you can dance to it. Despite deBoer’s nostalgia for a Brooklyn where Neutral Milk Hotel rang out from every open window, hipness—as it does for all his ilk—eludes him. That’s, uh, not necessarily an insult. Hipness doesn’t necessarily crack the Top 100 list of societal virtues. But it’s an unchangeable truth that squares writing high minded versions of the “Queen lyrics Vs. Beyoncé lyrics” meme will produce a slog every time. 

(If it even needs saying, I don’t recommend reading deBoer’s comment section. With the exception of poor Kath, dude’s readership is a Proud Boy rally. With Fred Perrys switched out for whatever shirt you wear if you have strong opinions about George Floyd’s toxicology report but also want socialized medicine.)

If neither innuendo nor ideological ax-grinding is your bag, but the thirst for dirt isn’t satisfied by the most logical theory of “Condé Nast hates unions, period,” this Semafor piece provides a decent enough overview of the known knowns. It has too many unnamed sources (at one point saying “Pitchfork still was furious that…” taking personification up a notch into the realm of mythology). And some of those sources are clearly attempting to set their own narrative (in particular, the idea that Pitchfork began diversifying its staff in 2018 feels like someone trying to erase Jessica Hopper from the story). But, nitpicking aside, it’s probably the best we’re going to get till the NDAs expire.  

With all this nuance in the air, I figure the best option is to not rule anything out. If simply stating “There is Power in a Union” was enough, Pitchfork would have given the Billy Bragg box set a score higher than 7.4. Or maybe 2006 Pitchfork knew something 2024 Pitchfork didn’t. 

We’ll get to that point eventually, but let’s not spoil the mood just yet.

Instead, I’d like to further discuss what narratives were common in the discourse and what was notably absent (or at least under-represented). The three most common threads were the following:

  1. Pitchfork was once pure, and then it fell. The publication rejected the light by metaphorically selling out to popular tastes and/or literally selling out to Conde Nast.
  2. Pitchfork went woke, Pitchfork went broke.
  3. Pitchfork has always been wonderful (though initially with “some blind spots”) and, since embracing diversity in both taste and staff, has only gotten better. 

Acknowledging the varying degrees of truth expressed, and the good faith put forth in at least two of them, all of these ideas work from a premise which is, to my mind, flawed. Because they all (to a large extent) exclude the viewpoint of the community whose labor allows for Pitchfork to exist in the first place: musicians. 

I say this with all due respect to those musicians who publicly expressed gratitude for Pitchfork’s good works. Artists such as Drew Daniel and Damon Krukowski argue from places of laudable goodwill, and an intimidating depth of knowledge regarding both musicology and the precarious state of musicians within (and outside) the industry. 

There were also musicians who expressed solidarity with the mistreated Pitchfork employees without taking a position on the site itself; working from the principle that one needn't be a fan of the factory’s product in order to be on the side of the factory workers. 

None of the above were anomalies. Or, for that matter, pick-me’s. There’s always been artists who vocally loved Pitchfork. Sure, some artists loved the site mainly on account of their owing their very existence to P4K having rewarded the artist’s innovations in the field of vapor-gaze with the designation of Best New Music. (I’m thinking, in an example chosen entirely at random, of the singer of a briefly iconic Kill Rock Stars tribute act taking to Facebook a few years back to scold Crocodiles for reposting an anti-P4K meme, saying that, since a lot of ladies worked there, anyone who didn’t like the website was a white, male, guitar-supremacist who was probably a sex offender to boot. My wife and Dee Dee from Dum Dum Girls told her to shut the fuck up.)  But there have always been other musicians who liked the site for the valid and relatable reasons of their seeing a need for independent music coverage and understanding the shrinking infrastructure for said coverage. Or simply because they—even some of the ones with nice shoes and the kind of bonkers level cheekbones unattainable to most culture writers—are as much music nerds as the rest of us. 

(There is one other reason some/many/all musicians—even those that usually hated the site—were occasionally grateful for its existence: that rare and distinct pleasure which shivered through the nether regions of an artist’s body and soul when an enemy’s new album got absolutely demolished or, equally satisfying, was assigned the dreaded 6.5-6.9, a score which was too low to feel like anything other than a dismissal, yet too high to afford its recipients much sympathy. I don’t care how principled you are or how much you post about art not being a competition; seeing some hack motherfucker, who maybe stole your haircut or made your drummer cry in 2013, get slapped around online is as close to justice as most of us will ever get. In fact, it’s often the “art isn’t a competition” types you need to watch out for the most. Such high mindedness is often made possible by having a manager adept at hiding the bodies of anyone who had their artist’s hairdo first.) 

Musicians are not a hivemind. While, as noted, there were many who, for whatever reason, valued Pitchfork to varying degrees, the majority had/have no opinion whatsoever. I texted a few musicians on the day the layoffs were announced and few had any idea what I was talking about. Most  immediately changed the subject to topics they were more interested in… Their dogs. Their exes. Their upcoming singles. Was I still at CREEM? Did I remember that one time at Lit Lounge, when that guy did that thing? Had I seen the television show Barry? Did I have that $27 they lent me in 2003? 

The indifferent may be the majority but that fact—easily comprehended as it is by such theories as “main character syndrome,” “having a lot on one’s plate,” and “having perspective”—isn’t of interest here. As with non voters, the blissful disengagement from the horse race may inspire envy, but that doesn’t mean we close the OTB.

“Narcissism is a killer / That and no healthcare / Dumb aphorist embrace obscurants / And write in ogham for your final lines / There's the failed lawyer haunting teen-punk shows / He'll explain his top five for '09 and what to eat / But, if you ever saw his bald-skull head / You'd be certain he's been dead for weeks / And that's the story of the happy thief who provided content / To that ceaseless chill-out stream”

-Protomartyr “The Aphorist”

I quote the above not to pick on the P4K writer the song was (partially) aimed at. I quote it more to illustrate that—despite the dismissal of those few musicians with the temerity to squeak out “I always hated Pitchfork”—not every musician, even musicians who were well covered, feels an overwhelming sense of gratitude to Pitchfork. In fact, of the musicians who were willing publicly to express any degree of schadenfreude, I didn’t see any whose grievances were based on lack of coverage. I saw a tweet from Uniform, who regularly got positive reviews, where the band—while granting the high quality of some of the writing— simply declined to feign sorrow over the dismantling of a site which had nothing to do with their lives. From others, I saw posts that ran along the lines of “Pitchfork ruined my life. Here’s the review where they accused me of kicking puppies. Now I’m a hairdresser. Fuck them.” 

Others—not part of the indifferent majority, but still not being terribly interested in being accused of being anti worker or, worse, being accused of never having attained the artistic heights of Fuck Buttons or Neon Indian—said nothing (publicly). 

Being friends/associates with various Panthers, Ninjasoniks, Daughn Gibsons, Nothings, Future of the Lefts, and more 6.8 guys, gals, and non-binaries than I can count, It’s possible that I’m just drawn to people who make music inferior to that of Arcade Fire or Grimes. That’s possible, I suppose. To make that argument, one would have to indulge in the same logic that poptimism is accused of—that the proof of quality is in the popularity of the pudding, but on a smaller scale. 

Which is where my ambivalence comes from. I tend to see the “Most Trusted etc” slogan which Pitchfork took on a few years back as a wry lil’ critic joke. The alternative would be akin to claiming in earnest to be “The Least On-Fire Building in Dresden.” I also have always seen Pitchfork as I’ve seen most music publications; as industry. As a publication with outside demands, fallible editors, and writers of varying degrees of talent and discernments, with no greater claim to objective truth and integrity than that granted to Rolling Stone or SPIN or Barely Legal or Us Weekly or your mom. 

When people wax on about some golden age of the site, I laugh bleakly in a cool and sophisticated way. Do people think there was some sort of trickle down effect, in terms of indie-spiritual fulfillment; that when Wolf Parade thrived, we all did? And therefore I should be either mad or gratified that the Wolf Parades which Pitchfork celebrates in 2024 are marshaled by ladies and/or POC? Am I supposed to see some sort of empirical difference between My Morning Jacket and Big Thief? Between Animal Collective and whatever lowercase vapor-psych is being classified as “haunting” under the Conde Nast regime? Since it hasn’t been a monarch maker/destroyer for over a decade, It’s easy to forget or whitewash the number of musicians whose lives were significantly diminished by Pitchfork, either by negative press or editorially-mandated omission (yeah, sometimes the omission was because of merit or ignorance of the artists, and…sometimes it wasn’t). Artists, of any generation, might be forgiven for failing to quite grok the material difference between being excluded by dint of not doing coke in a hotel room with Ryan Schreiber and being excluded for not being Beyoncé. At least in the latter case, you’re not losing out to a goddamn Canadian. I’m simply saying that those artists, either insufficiently covered or insufficiently praised, and the friends of those artists, are under no obligation to mourn—as some sort of ritualistic rending of garments over the loss of theoretical coverage/context providing—an institution which never did them a damn bit of good. To paraphrase Joe Casey, the artists “ogham” nothing.

I’ve written for Pitchfork, and every time I’ve done so has been a positive experience. As editors, both Jeremy Larson and Jessica Hopper were as charming as they were demanding. I’m proud of and grateful for what they helped me make. Sure, I did have a joke about House of Vans taken out of a piece because the streetwear company had some partnership with Pitchfork (and this was prior to Conde Nast), but I also wrote for VICE for so long that those small compromises run through me as smooth and easy as stepped on coke inhaled in a porta potty at a free Titus Andronicus show.

A wee favor to a sneaker company is fine, in a vacuum. As was a disinclination to disclose the extent of the intermingling—to varying degrees of socialization, cocaine use, smooching, and occasional posting of bail—between Pitchfork staff and the bands they covered (it may be hard to fathom, but there were a couple weird years where a few Pitchfork writers/editors had as much social cachet as your average blackgaze musician). As was the rehabilitation of Pinegrove which was approved on account of upper management feeling like certain aspects of Me Too had gone too far. Fine, fine, fine, and fine.

Same goes for a litany of other stuff: The lack of questioning of PR set narratives? The rote acceptance of obvious horseshit from obvious bad actors, so long as it was appropriately slathered in buzzwords and gestures towards oppression? 

ALL, within the context of an episode of Vinyl, FINE. 

The lack of editorial support and/or long term mentorship which resulted in the XOJane-esque blood sacrifices of writers like Sarah Sahim (the indie whiteness piece holds up imo) and Emma Madden? The scrubbing of Chris Ott from the book of names? The killing of Brandon Stosuy’s positive CocoRosie review and replacing it with a 2.3? Jessica Hopper’s treatment during her tenure, the boy’s club credit glomming on the Pitchfork Review, complete with her being further erased in that Semafor piece? Revisiting old album scores to match the pliancy of cultural winds? Taking Chief Keef to a shooting range? R. Kelly headlining Pitchfork Fest? R. Kelly headlining Pitchfork Fest? 

With the notable exception of that last one, nothing there that VICE wouldn’t do on a day that ends in “y.” And if it all seems excessively damning when grouped together, keep in mind that this is over nearly a quarter century of the site running. The larger point is that, all in all, it’s normal industry shit. In terms of integrity, I have always maintained that equality within the industry will only have been achieved when a total mediocrity from any marginalized group is afforded the same opportunities to be middling as any mediocre cis white male. Nobody should have to be magic to thrive in an industry which valorizes The Killers and considers late 90s SPIN some sort of high critical watermark. I don’t need or expect girlbosses to reform human nature. In an industry built (in part of course) on deceit, competition, and exploitation, a diversification of jerks is as much an inherent good as one might hope for. 

Also, from what I’ve heard, the last Pitchfork regime made specific moves to curb fraternizing between the site’s writers and their subjects. Of course, the moves towards more pop coverage helped this immeasurably. Lana Del Rey doesn’t do cocaine with critics. Taylor Swift only has room for one writer on her squad and Rob Sheffield isn’t giving up his bestie slot for anyone. Kanye West won’t return Pitchfork’s texts until they bring back the Show No Mercy column. And, stan culture being what it is, there aren’t enough superlatives in the world to keep the readership which Condé Nast was pushing for from sending pigs blood and human feces to the home of any writer who might deign to scuff up a parasocial sublimation-of-self with a score less than a perfect 10. So, all this too, is a form of integrity. 

The discourse surrounding Pitchfork didn’t dominate even the music media chatter for long. Possibly on account of the ongoing ethnic cleansing being perpetuated by Israel upon the Palestinian people. Possibly because, within a week, both Business Insider and LA Times performed cullings of their staff as well. Possibly because the conversation was pushed aside by the encephalopathic sweetbread and circus of Taylor Swift’s Superbowl. Or possibly because—aside from a quickly scrapped experiment in paywall (which I can no longer find any reference to besides one tweet) and some tardiness in its obituary for Can’s Damo Suzuki—Pitchfork appears (on the surface) to be running as it ever was. As happened when Elon Musk enacted mass layoffs at twitter, there were expectations of a total site implosion. Some of those predictions were based on the reasonable expectation that a platform that’s staff has been gutted won’t operate at peak efficiency. And some of those predictions were based on the reasonable hope that The Bosses might fall flat on their faces and somehow, somewhere, one of them might learn something. Of course, one doesn’t get to be a boss (or management) by not understanding how a skeleton crew, motivated by resignation and terror, can do the work of dozens, provided that ethical work hours and fair compensation don’t come into play. So—seemingly manned almost entirely by Jazz Monroe, a few of the classic freelancers, and at least one AI-bot with an unusually high threshold for regurgitated trip hop—Pitchfork has continued its mission. 

In terms of predictions of a full scale editorial disaster, there might have even been a degree of wishcasting at play. Without casting any aspersions on either the remaining staffers at Pitchfork or any of the union members affiliated with Condé Nast, the mass firings has elicited reems of online and print outrage, but not so much in terms of material acts of solidarity. No strike, no walkout, and no resignations in protest. There’s no way to write that without seeming cruel and judgemental, and I want to make clear that I make no claims of having any more courage, organizing ability than anyone else. Maybe I’d have gone full Joe Hill. Or maybe I’d be hiding under a desk, emailing lists of disloyal employees to Anna Wintour’s assistant and asking if Ms. Wintour needed her laundry picked up. I am not, and will not, judge any single worker. The union exists so that the worker need not be reliant on their own resources exclusively; because there is the workers plural. So, if the reader’s immediate response to this line of thinking is “what do you expect them to have done,” I don’t have an answer. But it does raise the question that, for understandable reasons, none of the Pitchfork post mortem writers seemed interested in asking: if there’s no leverage to be had, and no threat of repercussions for the bosses, what’s the point of a union? 

If the answer is “to get as much value and protection for the workers as possible, until everyone is fired,” that’s a solid response, which I accept. But I also suspect that few unions would expect to draw members with a mission statement of “it’ll be nice while it lasts.”

I don’t know what place criticism has in the world. Depending on the day, I can believe with all my heart that providing context and critique is Very Important. Or I can believe just as strongly that criticism is a neat time killer and should be treated as such. Same with art I suppose, though art has the advantage of often taking its own lack of utility as a point of pride, if not the point of it entirely. I know people shouldn’t have to work jobs they hate or give up on their dreams. I also know that “should,” in this context, carries the exact weight of dreams. I hope those who were laid off by Condé Nast can find work that fills their spirit. I hope as well that CREEM can get a few thousand more subscribers (we have a ton but need more if I’m ever going to get a third cat). I love it there, count myself lucky, and I hope that working on the magazine might be a thing I can do for years to come. Or at least long enough that I naturally reach a point where I can no longer feign enthusiasm for whatever algorithmic hyper-ska duo inevitably comes down the pike to make me misty eyed about when people made “real” music like 100 gecs. I loved tending bar but I did it for a quarter century and, as Ringo Starr said, my bunions have bunions. My continuation as a rock writer is no sure thing. But, for me, it’s either rock criticism, the great American novel, or the glue factory. 

I know the root problem of the music media industry. So do you. No, it’s not simply “capitalism.” Rather, it is, but not just that. Any more than it’s the rotation of the planet. You can imagine a better world all you want but half that same world has an imagination that goes in the other direction. And a lot of that half are hipsters about their automatic rifles the way we are about Galaxie 500. No, sorry, the problem is that—within this system that isn’t going to change within our lifetimes—paying for music has been de-incentivised, paying for music media has been obliterated, and no matter how much any of us scream “but we provide necessary context!” and no matter how much our friends, loved ones, and bands we’ve boosted tell us that we’re smart, pretty, and essential, the jobs continue to get wiped out by scumbags and the world keeps spinning like a bitch.

I vacillate all over the place on the “nobody wants to pay for music (or writing about music, or writing about anything)” question. If Spotify disappeared, would everybody open their wallets? While there are many who still buy media, still pay to go to shows, and still buy physical merch, I’m not inclined to give all the other perfectly autonomous humans a free “no ethical consumption under capitalism” pass. Because, whether systematically pushed or merely facilitated, enough are content not paying. The click economy has proven to be no substitute for subscriptions and ads; you know, the capitalism we all miss. It doesn’t matter if it’s fair or just; what writers and musicians do isn’t valued very much. And for that there is no solution which allows us all to be employed as music writers. Saying this doesn’t diminish mine or your intrinsic worth (whatever that might mean. If you’re not spiritually inclined… good luck!), the quality of the work, or the feckless evil of hedge fund managers and their brothers in tech. But the historical bulwark against said feckless swine has always been unions. And, guys… I’m fucking sorry. I’m just sorry is all. 

Not that there’s no solution or hope. There’s still the hopefully immortal continuation of swell—financed by (reasonably) non-malevolent forces—print publications such as CREEM, Maggot Brain, The Wire, and Razorcake. Those publications, as standard bearers of a mythic (really) golden age do give me hope, and occasionally money. 

On the “solution” end, there are exactly two. There’s collectives, and there’s hobbies. 

Ezra Klein’s advice to music writers to simply get 5,000 $80-a-year subscribers to their Substacks may just be indicative of deeper issues within the Ezra community, but expand his advice to an online magazine run as collective action and you got yourself a utopian vision of a Big Star ‘n’ Kendrick Lamar University. Like a University of Austin for kids who are bad at coding but good at kissing (or at very least good at making playlists for theoretical kissing). So, if the world is burning for free anyway, get your friends together and put on a blog. The Quietus is the best. Hell Gate is splendid. So is Passion of the Weiss. Flaming Hydra is just getting started but is a stalwart idea. Defector is doing great work if you like sports. If you like pretending ambient music isn’t a scam, Tone Glow has some of the finest writing about listening to wind and crickets since the transcendentalists discovered birch bark. Hell, if MRR’s review section is as good as it’s ever been, just think of how great your punk collective will be, especially since you don’t listen to punk. Organize. Get wild and free. Don’t, for the love of Christ, attach numbers to art. 

Think of the fun you’ll have till the polyamory spins off into factionalism, then a purging of dissident thought, followed by tanks in the streets of Ridgewood. Probably just the first part'll happen, so I say “go for it.”  I think the Last Blog domain name is free.

And, on the hobby end, the number of newsletters I adore is as high as it is economically unsustainable. I won’t list all of them for the same reason I won’t list the P4K writers that I’ll miss reading; cataloging can get cliquey and/or sloppy fast, with omissions—due to either forgetfulness or honesty—resulting in hurt feelings that none of us need. If “hobby” feels like a comment on the quality of the work, it’s not. If the word bums you out, call it something else. Call it a passion, a calling, self care, or a fever to tell which you can’t sweat out (for money). What matters is the work being contingent on nothing, because nothing is what’s on the table. There's getting a job you can stomach and writing for wonderful sites like The Quietus, for the wages they can afford, all the while supplementing that pocket change with a newsletter or two, maybe even an occasional freelance check from Pitchfork or Stereogum or wherever. I’m not advocating anyone work for free, or that anyone stop advocating for higher wages or job protection. But, rather that, should you end up working for yourself, for something you love, for cheap or for free; that’s an entirely cool thing to do. No pressure. No one is as qualified to be the captain of your pain as you are. Only follow my advice if you want to. I’m just saying that, considering the landscape of the industry (and the way that landscape keeps flickering in and out like the final reel of something cautionary they’d show in health class), now might be a good time to start wanting to.

I’m just saying that—absent a change of heart by the ruling class which sees unions as a Rubik's Cube best solved by taking a hammer to it, coupled with a slavering managerial subclass of tech-phreaks who see art as pretty OK insofar as it serves as necessary grist for the actual top quality content (i.e. passable Drake/Biggie mashups and photo realistic tentacle porn) which AI will eventually provide—it might be time for a reframing. As writers are excluded from the process whether we like it or not, questions of poptimism may soon become moot. If, in the end (or sooner), the mainstream coverage of pop music is going to be done entirely by AI, a droid car of aggregate-o-bots still wearing their faded Sports Illustrated jerseys, or just a few token geriatrics interviewing an unchanging micro-roster of late-twenties billionaires—with a sole journalism school intern kept on hand to periodically blow on the floppy disc when the AI overheats from jamming “beautifully rendered,” “toxic relationship,” and “serve cunt” into a single headline—then it’s maybe a good idea to see exile as a choice. If our work being non-essential hurts your dignity, that’s fair, and I’m sorry. But, on the other hand, being besides the point of the market does conveniently (if rudely) push what we do that much closer to art. A hobby (or whatever) that has its own community and gets to hang out just a few barstools down from cats like Van Gogh and Little Richard. We could thrive, in a fashion, like mouthy floozies cadging drinks. Offering our advice to Lemmy as he toils away on the MegaTouch. Brushing up against greatness like it’s not a job, but it’s a living.

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