Interview received: March 5 and 7, 2018.
What is your name?
Where are you located?
London / Barcelona.
Do you save any materials – digital files, emails, physical materials – related to your netlabel? Are you interested in organizing or archiving them?
We store both digital and physical materials. Given that we are a netlabel, we try to keep a small amount of physical material, which includes a sample of the 50 physical CDR albums that we craft for promotion and label branding (e.g., label cards). We design ourselves the albums artwork, we save the digital media and text files related to the process. Our webpage and associated social media channels (e.g., Bandcamp, SoundCloud) are our public archival catalogue with the uncompressed/compressed sound files and hi-res artwork. As both Gerard Roma and I are the co-founders and also artists of the netlabel, it is sometimes hard to change the hat, but we try to do our best. When I am the artist, I also keep the editable mastering files. We also try to keep track of the impact of the album in terms of reviews and broadcasting.
How do you define what is and what is not a netlabel?
Netlabel refers to an online music label that usually releases digital albums for free or by donation, often released under Creative Commons (CC) licenses. The production of a release is faster than the traditional physical medium because oftentimes the releases only exist in the digital domain or the listener can ultimately produce a physical copy from the digital material. Netlabels have sometimes been criticized as less demanding with the quality of their releases, but obviously it depends on each netlabel! In our case, we produce little and pursue well-finished products. We admire those who can do it so frequently!
How and when did you first learn about netlabels?
Netlabels started to be heard in Barcelona around mid 2000s together with concepts such as Lawrence Lessig’s copyleft and CC. For example, there was a relevant event in 2005 called “Copyfight” held at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) organized by Oscar Abril Ascaso and Elástico, which included oral presentations by key figures in the CC movement and free legal consulting. Gerard and I wanted to create a music label for our own productions. At this event, we were able to consult an attorney, who explained us the legal procedures to create a music netlabel, which helped us to make it happen.
That is super interesting to hear about the Copyfight event and the interest in Barcelona in Creative Commons, copyleft and open culture. I have been curious why there seemed to be more interest in Spain, and Europe in general, in releasing music on netlabels than there was in the United States and England. I’m speaking about my experiences running my own netlabel, so this is only my personal observation. Do you have any further thoughts or ideas about this? How this interest came about?
I am not sure about the answer to this question, it would be great to see real numbers! The independent music scene in the United States and England has generally been strong and a reference for Europe (in particular I can talk about Spain and Catalonia). At the same time, each European country has its own copyright collectives/licensing agencies, which makes the music market more fragmented compared to the US. The advent of the Internet and the CC movement (ideas and technologies also coming from the US!) came together as new forms of production, distribution and sharing for almost zero cost, which helped to cross geographic and legal boundaries building on the successful model from US/UK.
What was the first netlabel you heard of?
I remember the emergence of small CDR-based music labels right before the explosion of netlabels. For example, Alku, a Barcelona-based experimental electronic music label that started in 1997 that has released works by Yasunao Tone or Hecker, among others. In particular, I remember their initial website design, which was minimal and witty, with big and colorful fonts in plain html. I think it is an illustrative example of the beginning of the netlabel culture in my hometown.
What are some netlabels that inspired or influenced you? Or that you admire?
tecnoNucleo for their perseverance and consistency, Chordpunch for being the first digital algorithmic music label that I am aware of, and Pan y Rosas for their lefty and feminist philosophy, so ahead of time!
What made you decide to start your own netlabel?
The freedom of not depending on others and the desire of creating a new brand of sound!
What were the reasons you had to choose releasing music for free? And why did you choose to not release physical albums?
The decision of releasing our albums for free has been part of the journey with our label. We wanted to sell our music as digital downloads because the production of each album implies many hours of work. However, we also knew that we did not want to make a living out of our experimental electronic music, and we realized that we want to be free to make music whenever we like to. We also thought that releasing experimental music for free helps to reach those interested people at an international level. We still like the physical object (a vinyl, a CD, even a cassette or an SD card!), but we have opted for the benefits of the digital world and free music: the listener decides what format to download, when to download it, from where, and whether wants to financially contribute to the project or not.
What is the name of your netlabel?
Carpal Tunnel (CT).
Why did you choose the name you chose?
Carpal Tunnel was born to promote experimental electronic music that explores the limits of sound technologies. The name reflects the disease of music obsession in its collision with traditional computer interfaces and instruments. We are interested in this new space of exploration where technology and enquiry meet, a tunnel leading to an unknown territory.
When did you start your netlabel?
What is the focus of you netlabel?
Under the umbrella term of experimental electronic music, we are especially interested in the spaces of glitch, abstract, techno, drone, industrial, minimal, dark ambient, noise. With our own productions, we have achieved a label sound (described by Textura as “distinctive brand of creeping hermeticism”). We are open to promote other artists with a both personal sound and similar aesthetic.
Are your albums released under creative commons, copyleft or copyright? Why did you choose the method you chose?
We generally prefer CC-A-NC, although it depends on the case.
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?
Generally we are both the artists and promoters. We take the promotion very seriously and we care about having international impact. It is nice to see your album reviewed in a specialized online magazine or broadcasted in a relevant radio show. We also like to explore the album as a concept. For example, we have recently released Noiselets, a live album from a homonymous concert that we curated with 7 musicians, including us. It has been a collaborative experience where we have shared the whole album making process, from mastering, to design, to promotion. We have been happy to hear from our peers that they were delighted to be part of this project. But we can always do better!
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?
Typically we publish our own work, or curate others (as in Noiselets). We are open to publish other artists in alignment with the label style, however those who have approached us until now had different styles. Gerard and I have a similar musical taste, yet with different voices, which helps to keep a lively discussion about the direction of the label. In any case, the albums that we have released should speak by themselves about the sound that we are after.
What are or were your criteria for the music you curate and release?
We need to like it, simply.
What genres have you never released before, that you would love to release on your label or on a future label of yours?
With Noiselets we have started to explore a live format, which is interesting to us because it brings the freshness and uniqueness of a live act. However, the mastering process is completely different, you need to make more compromises and find the right balance between the music quality and the freshness. We still need to figure out what is the right series name for this kind of release.
We would love to release generative and algorithmic music albums that are different each time you listen to it. This would probably be another CT series. Also, I would like to give more visibility to women’s electronic music work in the form, for example, of a compilation with women-only artists or even a new label.
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?
We are happy that we organized and released Noiselets because most of the people there are friends, some of whom we have known for years, and with whom we share many interests.
How many albums have you released?
Five as of January 2018. The main reason of this small production is that, in the past years, Gerard and I have been doing our respective PhDs and working in academia as researchers, which is very demanding! The good news is that we have established a quota of at least two albums per year from now on. Our next album will be released on April 2018. Stay tuned!
Who are some of your most notable artists?
Including Noiselets, we have released a total of 8 artists: LRAD, 0001, peterMann, scMute, Martin Hug, Faraldo, Miquel Parera, Urge to Kill. All of them notable 😉
Which are some of your most significant releases?
To be honest with you, the four albums from our CT collection (CT001-CT004) have had good reviews from specialized press. We are still promoting Noiselets. We like them all.
Do you release your own work on your netlabel? What do you think of that practice?
We mainly follow this practice because that is the reason of the existence of our label in the first place! We are very demanding with our own productions, and this sets the bar for the forthcoming releases.
What do you enjoy about running your netlabel? What do you get out of it?
Running our own netlabel gives us the opportunity to share our exploration of new musical territories with the audience, while retaining control of all the process. It is difficult to get something more rewarding.
What are some difficult things about running the label? Or what are some challenges?
Two of the most salient challenges are keeping an up-to-date list of the online magazines / radio shows and publishing regularly. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the experimental music world is unsustainable from a business standpoint and the landscape is changing quickly. At the same time, it is a small community that persists, so you feel always welcome no matter how long it takes to release the new album.
Has anything about it been disappointing or frustrating?
A big disappointment is not being able to release more often, given our professional commitments. At the same time, our jobs inform our music, and our music inform our jobs, which makes us feel privileged anyway.
What keeps or kept you motivated to continue running the netlabel when you are or were feeling frustrated?
Looking back and seeing all what we have done, and keep doing good work (or as good as we can).
How much time do you put into running the label? Approximate hours per day, week or month?
It really depends on the time of the year and whether we are working on a new release or concert. There have been times when I have spent 1-2 hours on average per day but other times when there was no time left for the label, unfortunately.
Can you describe all the work that you do on a regular basis in order to run your label?
We do pretty much everything: from designing the online/print artwork, to writing the album teasers, to mastering and audio processing, designing and updating our website and other online services, promoting the albums, networking, organizing concerts, and so on.
In what audio format and bitrate do you release your albums?
We offer both flac (44.1Khz, stereo, 16 bit) and mp3 files (44.1KHz, stereo, 128 kb/s).
Why did you choose that format?
We want to give to the listener the choice between downloading a lossless format that requires more bandwidth and a lighter format that is compatible with most software and devices so that everyone can listen to the music, but we can provide better sound quality to those who care.
Do you zip your files into a package? Or are/were the albums uploaded as individual files?
We offer a zip file for each format including all the tracks in an album.
Aside from the audio files, do you include any other types of files or information with the album?
The album zip file also includes the cover art in low resolution. Listeners can also download it separately in high resolution as well as any other additional material, e.g., booklets, if suitable.
What software programs do you use to run your netlabel? For converting and encoding audio, for metadata, for ftp, for making cover art, etc.
We use flac and lame for converting and encoding the audio in flac and mp3 respectively. We have written a terminal script to run these processes, which also includes the metadata. For the cover art of the CT series we usually create generative artwork. For each new album, we create a program in Processing that generates multiple varied covers. We just choose our favorite one. In the case of Noiselets, we have designed the artwork using more traditional tools, such as Adobe Illustrator, and in collaboration with a photographer, Helena Coll.
Where do you share your releases? On your website? Free Music Archive? Internet Archive? Et al? A combination of these things?
We share our releases on our website, Bandcamp and SoundCloud.
What do you do to promote your label?
We either send a promotional copy or a link of a new release to national and international specialized magazines/fanzines and radio stations. We need to revise the list every time to see whether there are new outlets and whether others have changed or disappeared. We promote each new release through our website and social media (Twitter, Facebook).
Do you send releases out for review? If yes, is it traditional media – review sites, magazines, blogs, etc. Or are there non-traditional methods?
Yes, of course. We look for like-minded sites, magazines, blogs, and so on. We have not tried non-traditional methods yet, but we are curious about exploring album formats.
How much success have you had in getting people to review your releases in magazines, blogs or websites? Any frustrations regarding this?
We are very happy about how our albums have been received so far, given the niche space where we are at. We have received the attention of great experimental electronic music media, such as Textura, D-Side, Bad Alchemy, Tokafi, Cyclist Defrost and Igloo Magazine. Radio stations and programs that have broadcasted (and sometimes repurposed!) our albums include Atmósfera on Radio 3, BiP_HOp Generation on Radio Grenouille, framework radio, Rare Frequency on WZBC, WFMU, Onda Sonora, Störung Radio on ScannerFM and Sismógrafo on Radio 3.
Have you had success in getting people in general to listen to your releases?
We cannot complain, the download numbers keep steady.
Do you keep track of your download numbers and, if yes, how have they changed over the years?
We just keep a yearly track of the download numbers from our website to get an overview summary. We store the log files provided by our hosting service.
How important are/were download numbers and number of listeners to you?
It is always nice to know that listeners are interested in our work, but we are also aware that one size does not fit all. For us, it is important that the music reaches the small community of those who care about this kind of music.
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?
It is difficult to explain the reasons why, but the existence of a physical object helps to materialize an intangible concept such as music. We have not found the formula yet, but are interested in exploring tangible objects that can be ecologically sustainable and compatible with minimalist lifestyles.
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?
The first album with no promotional copy is our latest release Noiselets, so it is early to say whether there has been any problem.
In addition to promotion, publicity and releasing albums do you organize live performances or festivals for your artists?
We have organized performances that are not necessarily linked to album releases (e.g., live coding sessions). We have also released albums that have stemmed from performances (e.g., the live album Noiselets).
How do you finance your netlabel, including the labor you put into it?
The netlabel expenses are afforded fifty-fifty between Gerard and I. This includes the cost of web hosting, online distribution services, promotion materials and transport, among others. We work full-time as researchers, so we do most of the work during our spare time.
What do you think your label’s legacy might be?
The label’s legacy is the collection of releases, which is what will remain after all.
Do you feel that you are or were filling a niche that other labels were not?
The main reason of the label’s existence is to fill in a gap that we did not find anywhere else.
What do you think about Bandcamp and any similar music hosting sites?
Bandcamp suits well with netlabels and the DIY culture as a platform for promoting non-mainstream music and providing artists the possibility of being compensated by their work.
Do you think netlabels are sustainable? If yes, what do you think the future is for them? Should there be more? Are there too many netlabels?
I think that part of the nature of the netlabels is their organicity: each netlabel is different and has a different life span. They provide an alternative, more diverse voice to mainstream music, which is healthy. I cannot imagine a future without netlabels, as long as the Internet exists. At the same time, the format will keep changing over time. I do not think there should be less netlabels, the more the merrier!
Will netlabels be obsolete before 2025?
It is difficult to predict the future of netablels in 7 years time, but we can infer from our history in music technology that different analog and digital record formats (e.g., cassettes, vinyls, CDs) happily coexist. At the same time, there will probably be new ways of creating and distributing music, digitally and physically.
Does your netlabel align with any political or philosophical positions or thoughts? Do you get involved with politics at all as a netlabel?
It is impossible to release music in a vacuum. The work usually speaks by itself about any attached ideologies, and certainly most netlabels are linked to a philosophy of free culture, freedom of speech, and alternative perspectives to the mainstream.
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?
Different artist practices of free distribution can reach multiple audiences and benefit artists by informing about the impact of their work in varied ways.
Are you aware of a chronological history of netlabels? If yes, what is it?
It is an interesting topic that I have never thoroughly thought about before! Perhaps the netlabel scene is mature enough now to reflect on its history, as evidenced by archival sites, such as netlabels.org and this interview project.
Is there anything else you would like to write about that wasn’t included here?
Big kudos for this series of interviews. Thanks for giving our netlabel the opportunity to be part of this project, which can encourage both existing and future netlabels!
What questions would you ask other people who run netlabels?
I think that this interview is very deep and thorough, I am not sure I could add any more questions. Perhaps I would be interested in knowing about any efforts from netlabels to stay in touch with other similar netlabels, whether there is any interest and what would be the expected outcome if there were more platforms that promote exchange of knowledge and content.
That is a good question about a network specifically for netlabels to share information and best-practices, etc. I would be interested in such a thing. I know there are various netlabel groups on facebook, but they seem more about promotion than knowledge sharing.
I imagine a social network platform of netlabels where you could get news about new releases from similar netlabels and share resources. An example is Modisti, an experimental music platform that has been changing over the course of the years. At some point it was possible to follow/have followers and a map of netlabels was provided. A project of these characteristics is useful but at the same the maintainance cost can be high.