US business mag Advertising Age has a column by Larry Dobrow laying into Pitchfork. Ordinarily this wouldn’t get a link, but the specific example of really awful writing they’ve chosen is by me! – my capsule review of Groove Armada ft Mutya Buena’s “Song 4 Mutya (Out Of Control)” (quoted in full at the link above).

Now, it’s not the best – or worst – review I’ve ever written and I’m not going to sit and parse the whole thing, just reply to the specific criticisms made.

i. “Just tell us whether you liked the damn song!” One small clue lies in the feature title – Pitchfork Top 100 Tracks of 2007.

ii. “At least I hope it’s an XTC nod, as the dictionary definition of “skylark” is “to run up and down the rigging of a ship in sport”. Not an XTC nod. It turns out the first definition the dictionary gives is about playing joyfully and frolicking, which is the meaning I had in mind. I expect Dobrow must have asked himself a few times why XTC chose to name a concept album about joyful frolicking after an obscure nautical term though, so I’m happy to clear that one up.

Anyway, Dobrow’s purpose in writing the article isn’t just to rubbish me! It’s to warn advertisers off Pitchfork. But as luck would have it my day job is in marketing, so I can make informed comment on that bit too.

“Gizmo makers aren’t a good fit because the site’s ahead-of-every-curve-ever-always-4-life influentials are already onto the next big thing by the time marketers get around to touting the previous one.”: this rests on a pretty common marketing fallacy – that “influentials” in one category (music) will also be influentials in another (gadgetry, in this case). Wrong: being ahead of one curve relies on putting in a certain amount of effort, and the more you spread that effort around categories, the less ahead you are in any given one. (And in any case, Dobrow’s assuming that Pitchfork’s readers ARE ‘ahead of the curve’, not just that they aspire to be.)

“Music labels can’t get anywhere near the site, lest that one of the bands it hypes winds up on the receiving end of one of Pitchfork’s meanie-pants barbs.” – obviously, every music publication above fanzine level since time began has relied heavily on label advertising. The system works like this: labels buy music rag adspace because not only do they want to get the word out, they want to be associated with whatever level of trust and authority the readers place in that site’s brand. Obviously a bad review for an advertiser in some ways reinforces that trust: editorial interference, or the rumour of it, helps to kill it.

This relationship of course only holds up if labels create one kind of content (music) and publications run another (writing). Once publications start acting regularly as curators and distributors of music – the MP3 blog model, which Dobrow seems to endorse – the potential for label influence gets a lot stronger as leading blogs need a stream of exclusives to maintain their position. This may be Dobrow’s hidden point – ad dollars, keep away from Pitchfork, because the blog model is a lot more biddable and advertiser-friendly – if so I wish he’d made it a little more clearly.