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Giving Indie Acts A Plug, or Pulling It

Ryan Schreiber with colleague Chris Kaskie, left, at the South by Southwest music festival in March. Schreiber's Web site is
Ryan Schreiber with colleague Chris Kaskie, left, at the South by Southwest music festival in March. Schreiber's Web site is "shining light on bands that are taking risks," says one music retailer. (By Amber Novak For The Washington Post)

Says Merge publicist Hall: "I think 90 percent of the music industry logs on to Pitchfork first thing in the morning to see what they've written about your bands -- and to see if you need to massage any of your artists' egos for the rest of the day." He laughs. "They definitely take a lot of shots, but it's usually amusing."

Though not always. Travis Morrison, for instance, is still reeling from a blow delivered by Pitchfork 19 months ago.

Morrison was the frontman for the Dismemberment Plan, a D.C. art-rock band that was adored by Pitchfork's staff -- so much so that they named the group's "Emergency & I" album of the year in 1999. Five years later, though, Morrison released a solo project, "Travistan," that Pitchfork deemed a complete disaster.

The album was branded with a dreaded 0.0 rating (Liz Phair and Sonic Youth are among the other artists who've suffered that indignity), and Morrison's bandwagon quickly emptied: College radio programmers cooled to his new project, a record store in Texas initially refused to stock the CD, and fans suddenly decided they probably shouldn't like Morrison anymore, either.

"I just got the sense [Pitchfork] thought I was a rock star and they wanted to take me down a peg, but I don't think it occurred to them that the review could have a catastrophic effect," says Morrison, who is working on a new album, with a new band. (He's also working a day job as a programmer for Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive.) "Up until the day of the review, I'd play a solo show, and people would be like, 'That's our boy, our eccentric boy.' Literally, the view changed overnight. . . . I could tell people were trying to figure out if they were supposed to be there or not. It was pretty severe, how the mood changed.

"The review isn't the story. The reaction to it is. The seriousness with which everyone takes Pitchfork is kind of mind-boggling."

Privately, some Pitchfork staffers disagree with the rating. Publicly, however, the site stands by its review.

"It's difficult," Schreiber says. "On a personal level, I feel bad. But on a journalistic level, I don't. It's important for us to be as completely honest as we possibly can."

* * *

In person, Schreiber is pleasant and charming and polite, and, dare we say, sweet?

"I think people assume I'm this huge, elitist jerk," he says, though in more forceful and colorful terms.

"I can see people having that kind of reaction, I guess. But there's a separation between your job and how you are as a person."

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