Carrie Brownstein does a fantastic job over at Monitor Mix—she cares deeply about the music world she’s been a part of for so long, first as a fan, then as a member of the mighty Sleater Kinney, and now as a writer. She recently lead a roundtable discussion with the owners of five of indie rock’s heaviest hitting record labels— Merge, Matador, Secretly Canadian, Kill Rock Stars and Saddle Creek—about how the role of the record label has changed over the years. It’s real nerd shit, but that’s ok. They talk about all the same things everyone’s always talking about, only their opinions are actually meaningful. Topics covered include file sharing, the relevance of the album format, the rising popularity of vinyl, the definition of indie, and of course, Pitchfork!
Carrie Brownstein: Aside from putting out good music, what’s the single most effective thing a label can do to get people to buy their music?
Matador: Not sure what the single most efficient thing would be (other than, you know, the Pitchfork 9.1), but getting people excited is never easy to quantify or predict.
Carrie Brownstein: Does a Pitchfork 9.1 help?
Kill Rock Stars: Absolutely.
Matador: Sadly, yes. A Pitchfork 9.1 is more influential to the audience and the retailers than a Rolling Stone or New York Times review.
Carrie Brownstein: What does a Pitchfork 4.5 do?
Kill Rock Stars: A 4.5 can kill a record. Unfortunately.
Merge: Agree on the Pitchfork thing, though I do think that a 9.1 helps more than an average number hurts.
Saddle Creek: I’d be inclined to say a high Pitchfork number helps; a low Pitchfork number is irrelevant.
Matador: There remain great things that aren’t even on the Pitchfork radar.
Matador: The Beatles.
Secretly Canadian: Cold War Kids were killed on their debut and did quite well.
Matador: Just having a number next to a review discourages anyone from reading.
Merge: Yes, and often the review will be enthusiastic and then the number is like “6.9” and you’re like, “Thanks for nothing.”
Kill Rock Stars: There’s a difference between getting an average/decent review and being a band who is loved by Pitchfork. We have two bands who are doing well despite being basically ignored by Pitchfork right now.
Secretly Canadian: Anything under a 7.6 or 7.7 is a non-review.
The whole discussion is really worth your time, if you’re at all interested in trying to get a firm grasp on how/why things have changed the way they have. And be sure to read the comments, too, where some dude accuses Matador’s Gerard Cosloy of destroying the underground.