Avantwhatever

Interview received: December 4 and 5, 2016; January 27, and April 3, 2017.

 What is your name?

Ben Byrne.

Where are you located?

Melbourne, Australia.

Do you save any materials – digital files, emails, physical materials – related to your netlabel? Are you interested in organizing or archiving them?

I save pretty much everything – all releases are archived with the National Film and Sound Archive here in Australia but I am still open to having them archived elsewhere.

Is the Australian National Film and Sound Archive open to anyone who wants to contribute? How did your relationship with them come about?

I believe anyone can submit material to be considered for inclusion but one of their curators contacted me to ask that I provide copies – digital and physical where possible – for their collection.

How do you define what is and what is not a netlabel?

I guess to me it’s a term people self-identify with – I don’t see the need for strict boundaries.

How and when did you first learn about netlabels?

I suppose with my involvement with community radio in Australia early this century, sourcing music and having links sent to me.

What was the first netlabel you heard of?

Alias Frequencies – a now defunct Australian netlabel.

What are some netlabels that inspired or influenced you? Or that you admire?

Alias Frequencies, Impulsive Habitat, Factorvac, Crypt Designers Guild…

What made you decide to start your own netlabel?

A lot of the musicians whose work I love most weren’t releasing anything or, if they were, their releases weren’t getting heard.

What were the reasons you had to choose releasing music for free? And why did you choose to not release physical albums?

I’ve released physical albums, online only and everything in between but I am planning to go online only from now on. I find physical releases unnecessary and prohibitively expensive given the costs of post to, from and within Australia. All I want is the music and for me the point of releasing music is for it to be heard, so that is what I concentrate on.

What is the name of your netlabel?

Avantwhatever.

Why did you choose the name you chose?

I happened upon it and it seemed to communicate my interests.

When did you start your netlabel?

2008.

What is the focus of you netlabel?

Contemporary experimental music – particularly involving the use of media and engagement with environments.

Are your albums released under creative commons, copyleft or copyright? Why did you choose the method you chose?

Creative Commons – to protect author’s rights while making the work freely available and shareable.

What is your relationship to the artists that you release? Do you maintain any contact once you’ve released their work? Do you help promote them outside of their release itself?

Complex and varied – everything from close friends to virtual strangers. Generally we maintain contact and I do all I can to promote their work.

How do you decide what artists you want to release? Do you approach them? Do they approach you? Do you have any specific guidelines that you follow? Do you act as a curator or is it all luck of the draw?

All of the above and everything in between – most of all I try to keep my ears open.

What are your criteria for the music you curate and release?

Chiefly just vital contemporary experimental music but particularly that which is focused on creative uses of media and engagements with environments.

What genres have you never released before, that you would love to release on your label or on a future label of yours?

Black metal.

Are there any artists that you have yet to release that you would like to work with? Or that you always wished you had been able to work with?

More telling to me is the people I have worked with that I would release more from in a heartbeat – Peter Blamey springs to mind.

How many albums have you released?

Eighteen.

Who are some of your most notable artists?

None of the artists are mine and they’re all notable.

Which are some of your most significant releases?

For me personally, Peter Blamey’s Forage – recording of his open electronics. One of my favourite releases ever.

Do you release your own work on your netlabel? What do you think of that practice?

I have once. I wouldn’t want to too much. I guess it depends on the label’s focus and goals.

What do you enjoy about running your netlabel? What do you get out of it?

Hearing amazing music and helping to get it to others.

What are some difficult things about running the label? Or what are some challenges?

Expenses. Disorganised artists. Disappointing responses.

What are some of the expenses you have in running your label?

When I was still doing physical releases media, packaging and mail were the big ones. Now it’s mostly paying artists and advertising. I do the coding of the website, all the design and so on myself so they don’t cost anything accept my time.

Has anything about it been disappointing or frustrating?

I’ve had to get used to it and attempt to adjust my expectations but I find the lack of proactivity on the part of most listeners disappointing.

What keeps you motivated to continue running the netlabel when you are feeling frustrated?

I still hear amazing music that wouldn’t get released otherwise.

How much time do you put into running the label? Approximate hours per day, week or month?

It varies hugely so I really couldn’t say – quite a lot.

Can you describe all the work that you do on a regular basis in order to run your label?

All sort of things but predominantly listening, communicating with artists, editing, mixing, mastering, working on the website, sending out copies for press, ‘doing the socials’ and more.

In what audio format and bitrate do you release your albums?

320kbps MP3s, FLAC and, more recently, WAV.

Why did you choose that format?

To attempt to provide the work in as much detail as possible while also making it accessible.

Do you zip your files into a package, or are the albums uploaded as individual files?

I use zips whenever a release contains more than one track.

Aside from the audio files, do you include any other types of files or information with the album?

Yes, occasionally images and/or text files.

What software programs do you use to run your netlabel? For converting and encoding audio, for metadata, for ftp, for making cover art, etc.

Audacity, Filezilla, Gimp and some custom shell scripts for batch encoding, along with other programs from time to time.

Where do you share your releases? On your website? Free Music Archive? Internet Archive? Et al? A combination of these things?

Avantwhatever.com

What do you do to promote your label?

Send out press copies, use social media and organise concerts.

Do you send releases out for review? If yes, is it traditional media – review sites, magazines, blogs, etc. Or are there non-traditional methods?

Traditional media, blogs and websites.

How much success have you had in getting people to review your releases in magazines, blogs or websites? Any frustrations regarding this?

Reasonable but the critical writing culture around music seems to be dwindling now.

Why do you think the culture of music criticism is dwindling now? 

Anecdotally, my experience is that the blogs that were very active even five years ago are dwindling in number – this could of course just be the one’s I’m engaged with but it feels bigger than that –  and my guess is that is due to time pressures on those that have written in the past and a lack of people taking over, which I wonder could be linked to people’s time going into social media rather than blogs or more traditional review websites and publications.

Have you had success in getting people in general to listen to your releases?

I suppose – people often commend the label – but how do you measure that?

Do you keep track of your download numbers and, if yes, how have they changed over the years?

Only roughly and I would say paid downloads are generally gradually decreasing while other downloads are steady.

How important are download numbers and number of listeners to you?

It’s most important that the work is available but bringing new listeners to it is still a priority.

Do you feel that the lack of a physical object – vinyl, cassette, eight track, etc. – is a hindrance to building an audience? To getting any media to pay attention? If yes, why do you think that is the case?

Yes but less and less so – there are some people that still want CDs, particularly among experimental music folks, but most seem to be adjusting to the idea of files.

Has the lack of a physical object been a problem for any of the artists that you have worked with? If it has how have you responded?

Yes – some have declined to release with me as a result.

In addition to promotion, publicity and releasing albums do you organize live performances or festivals for your artists?

Yes – both regular concerts and a festival.

How do you finance your netlabel, including the labor you put into it?

I provide my labour without charge – I am a lecturer at RMIT University and can, to a significant extent, include it as part of, or least as an extension of, my work there. I cover the web costs too. Physical releases are financed through sales, regular gigs through door charges and the festival by applying for arts funding.

What do you think your label’s legacy might be?

To me that’s something for others to decide, or not.

Do you feel that you are filling a niche that other labels were not?

Yes.

What do you think about Bandcamp and any similar music hosting sites?

Bandcamp in particular I find quite positive. It’s great the way it makes it easy for non-techy artists and labels to release online. I worry, however, about the homogenisation and control of online space – increasingly we seem to inhabit a series of large scale private intranets rather than the internet.

Do you think netlabels are sustainable? If yes, what do you think the future is for them? Should there be more?

It depends on the model but I think online distribution is the future.

Are there too many netlabels?

No.

Will netlabels be obsolete before 2025?

All labels will be netlabels by 2025, if they aren’t already.

Does your netlabel align with any political or philosophical positions or thoughts? Do you get involved with politics at all as a netlabel?

It stands for free, open, diverse and sustainable culture.

How do you feel that netlabels as a phenomenon overlap with any other artist practices – cassette trading, mail art, etc? Is there any overlap with podcasts, podfiction/netfiction, or any other art that is distributed for free?

All are democratic and participatory ‘many to many’ cultures.

Are you aware of a chronological history of netlabels? If yes, what is it?

I would place netlabels as part of a tradition in which they were preceded by and overlap with mail art, cassette trading and the like.

Is there anything else you would like to write about that wasn’t included here?

I wouldn’t define Avantwhatever as a netlabel but am happy for others to – the point for me is about getting the music out there in a way that is consistent with my values.

Why do you not consider Avantwhatever to be a netlabel? 

I’ve just never thought of it in those terms. I’m happy, of course, for others to and see that on some level it is one. I guess the fact that I did physical and online releases for a long time made it seem less clearly a netlabel, even though I was always committed to online distribution and saw it as the future. Now that I am only doing online releases, digital releases are increasingly the norm so for me Avantwhatever is just a label.

What questions would you ask other people who run netlabels?

What makes a netlabel as opposed to a label that uses the internet, if there is, in fact, a difference?

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