Sunday Sitdown with Pitchfork’s Chris Kaskie on plans for Chicago

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Chris Kaskie, president and part owner of Pitchfork, at Pitchfork’s Logan Square offices. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Chicago’s pride of the indie music scene, Pitchfork Media, known for bringing acclaim to artists such as Bon Iver and Arcade Fire and for its wildly popular festivals in Paris and in Union Park on the West Side, is keeping its Logan Square office and intends to keep growing in Chicago after its acquisition last month by New York-based publisher Conde Nast. Founded in 1995 by Ryan Schreiber, it employs 42 full-timers out of its loft space at 3317 W. Fullerton, producing a website, music festival and quarterly magazine, the Pitchfork Review. Chris Kaskie —  Pitchfork’s president, first employee and founder of the main iteration of the website — spoke with reporter Sandra Guy about its plans in Chicago and more. A condensed transcript follows.

Question: What happens now that you’re joining the Conde Nast stable, which includes Vogue, Wired, Glamour, GQ, The New Yorker, Architectural Digest, Bon Appétit and Vanity Fair?

Answer: They think about brands the same way we do. We see growth. Our goal is to have more people, not less. What’s next is a lot. I’m going to be around to oversee it. You will see a greater video presence, more festivals and a broadening of our editorial purview in how we approach what we do.

We’re building a new media world for ourselves and our peers here within Conde Nast.

You will see more “white-label” offerings, in which we work alongside brands and agencies to fulfill creative roles. Already, we worked with a beer company to do “music hunters” and with a large car company in Serbia to produce videos.

Q: What’s the secret to Pitchfork’s success in a survival-of-the-fittest environment?

A: At first, it was finding people who believed in what we were doing and aligning their interests, goals and experience. It took about two years to feel there was a business strongly there.

Q: How is Pitchfork operationally?

A: We operate to be a profitable business, and having stability is the goal. The range is $8 million to $20 million annually, which is broad but accurate.

We’re getting nearly 7 million unique visitors a month and 40 million page views on the website; 65 percent of our audience is in North American and 35 percent is international. We see 15 percent to 20 percent growth in traffic annually.

The music festivals are about 10 percent to 15 percent of our revenue. We find ways for brands to come in and augment the experience for people. It feels like my first child. Pitchfork, in many ways, is my first child.

We do radio. We did a book in 2007. Anything we do, we rotate around the core of music and the culture that might surround it.

For me, it was important that Chicago is our home. The city has fueled a lot of our identity and our perspective.

Q: What happens in the next five years?

A: We’re building a new media world for ourselves and peers here within Conde Nast. Where I will be, I’ll be 40. My kids will be old.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: My fun exists in doing what my kids — Cecilia, 7, and James, 4 — want to do. With a busy job and hectic travel schedule — I travel three times a month — family time, including with my wife Amy, is the important time. I’m looking forward to seeing “The Last Dinosaur.”

Q: What kind of music do you like?

A: I like different kinds of music. Over the last six months, I’ve played exclusively the Grateful Dead. There is a lyric in the song “Althea” about trying to think a lot about less and less.

Q: Who’s your favorite performer? And what’s the song that you put on when you are in a great mood — or an awful mood?

A: Grateful Dead all the time. Song I would put on to be happy: “People” by the Silver Jews. Awful mood: “Scarlet Begonias,” as it’ll put me in a good one.

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