After 23 years, Ryan Schreiber is stepping down from his post leading Pitchfork Media.
In a memo to staff on Tuesday (Jan. 8) sent by Condé Nast President Bob Sauerberg, Schreiber announced that he would officially be departing from the publication he founded and its parent company, telling staff, “I am immensely proud of all we’ve accomplished with Pitchfork. Its journey has been thrilling every step of the way, from its dial-up roots to its present-day status as an award-winning media company whose name is synonymous with the best in music journalism and events.”
He added later, “I’ll always treasure what we’ve created and the wonderful friends I’ve made along the way. It’s been a wild ride for all of us and I’ll miss it, but looking to the future is a thrilling prospect. I’m excited to get to work on what’s next.”
Speaking with Billboard, Schreiber, 42, says his decision to leave Pitchfork has been about a year in the making, and involved ensuring that he left the publication in good hands — both under Condé Nast, which acquired the company in 2015, and with new editor-and-chief Puja Patel, who has overseen all general operations since joining in September. As for the timing, he explains he wanted to leave when he still feels like he has time to create something new, beyond launching one of the most prestigious music publications of the digital age. Without divulging too many specifics, he says he will be focusing more deeply on the intersection of technology and music.
“I’m at a point in my life where I feel I have more to offer … and the idea of giving myself over to something new really excites me,” he says. “I don’t want to be defined in my life by just one thing. I feel like, in a sense, I’ve kind of beat the game. Pitchfork has evolved from just a seed of an idea to become a giant in music journalism and in the publishing world and in the events world and in the festival world. I’ve done so much with this platform and it’s been super rewarding and it’s been really amazing, but I feel like this is the time if I want to do something else and this is a particularly great time in terms of technology and how things are evolving.”
Schreiber came up with the idea for Pitchfork in November 1995 — three years before Google, he points out — while working in a record store in Minnesota, officially launching the site a few months later. Over the years, the digital publication grew to become the leading voice in indie music coverage and criticism, before expanding its scope to include coverage of more mainstream genres as well. Over time, the company grew to produce annual festivals in Chicago and Paris, along with a variety of other initiatives that have ranged from printed quarterly magazines to branded radio pop-ups and more. (Most recently, Schreiber notes excitement over the Midwinter festival inside the exhibit rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago coming next month and a reissue series with the Vinyl, Me Please subscription record club.) Pitchfork’s influence became so synonymous with indie culture that Fred Armisen parodied Schreiber and the publication on Portlandia in 2012: Reviewing an avant garde rock band with a cat and a gun-toting psycho for members that was lauded as the “band of the century” with a coveted perfect 10.0 album review rating, Armisen proclaimed, “Everything that can be said in music has now been said,” and they could now shut down the site, packing up their laptops and turning off the lights.
But rather than succumbing to its own hubris as the web’s de facto indie tastemaker, Pitchfork continued innovating in the changing media space and cultural climate. “Pitchfork has evolved by staying current and always looking to what’s progressive — not just on the music front, but I think also in the political and social arenas,” says Schreiber. “Change is good. Change should be embraced.”
He continues, “We really experimented a lot and a lot of our experiments really succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. The festivals were a really good example of that: It was kind of a situation where we just decided that we were going to try and pull this thing off with a partner of ours. We actually had originally planned on it being a 5,000-capacity park and then we ended up having to move it to Union Park, which is like 25,000 people, because instantly ticket sales went just through the roof.
“There have been a lot of those types of moments over the years and I think experimenting and pushing forward what the conventional limits of the company are is something that Pitchfork has always done exceptionally well … We never stopped trying to branch out to see how far we could take it.”