Interview received: December 26, 2016; January 5, 2017; March 30, 2017.
What is your name?
Where are you located?
Los Angeles, but when I ran a netlabel, I lived on the East Coast, in my hometown of Staten Island in New York, and then Boston, Massachusetts.
Do you save any materials – digital files, emails, physical materials – related to your netlabel? Are you interested in organizing or archiving them?
I’ve kept catalog downloads for as many of the releases as I could track down, as well as most of the working files from the site itself, and I’m sure e-mails are still floating around as well. I ended up deleting the blog that powered the site though, and all the comments that went along with it.
What made you decide to delete the label’s blog instead of just letting it exist indefinitely?
The blog was run on an old WordPress system that was absolutely littered with spam, and the large majority of the posts had always been releases anyway, so it made sense to scrap the whole thing and just present the releases for posterity.
How do you define what is and what is not a netlabel?
A label without a brick and mortar location, whose home is the internet.
How and when did you first learn about netlabels?
Probably back in 2005 or 2006, when I was first starting to write electronic music.
What was the first netlabel you heard of?
Probably Megatwerp, 8bitpeoples or Inpuj.
What are some netlabels that inspired or influenced you? Or that you admire?
At the time my colleague Eirik and I were releasing chipmusic on a label called Megatwerp, and one day the head person randomly shut it down, and so we sought to create a space where we could release our music and the music of those we thought had interesting things to say musically.
What made you decide to start your own netlabel?
There were some other labels in the chipmusic space, like 8bitpeoples, but none really captured the aesthetic that we felt we were about, and so I think we saw an opportunity to create a unique community of artists in the chip scene.
So, you were filling a niche that other labels were not?
That is the whole reason we started, to fill a void we felt existed in the chipmusic space.
What were you doing with your own music that made it have a different aesthetic that needed a home?
We were creating a very specific kind of 8-bit music that I think honored and acknowledged game music but also wanted to be something unique and contemporary. We also wanted to create interesting, challenging music with about being overly virtuosic/showy sounding.
What were the reasons you had to choose releasing music for free? And why did you choose to not release physical albums?
We generally released albums digitally for free, but we ultimately left the onus up to the artist – some wanted to also do physical releases, and some wanted to charge. In those cases, we left that responsibility with them. We didn’t do any handling of money or physical distribution ourselves. That allowed us to continue to operate not as a business.
What was the name of your netlabel?
Why did you choose the name you chose?
I’m not sure actually. I think it had something to do with stopping what you were doing in order to check out we were doing.
When did you start your netlabel?
What was the focus of you netlabel?
Our focus was on chipmusic that both Eirik and I liked. This tended to be chipmusic inspired by external influences, whether it was prog rock, jazz, IDM, or classic game music.
Were your albums released under creative commons, copyleft or copyright? Why did you choose the method you chose?
We left it up to the artists to choose which license they wanted to release under.
What was your relationship to the artists that you released? Did you maintain any contact once you’ve released their work? Did you help promote them outside of their release itself?
We had some voices in our group who wanted to push us to do more promotion, etc (ie. operate like a more typical label), but we were adamant about staying fairly hands off. Eirik and I always saw the site as a side project and so we felt it best to do only the bare minimum that would be valuable – in this case, maintaining a website of curated works, giving artists a home on the internet where there music could be discovered. We would announce releases on some of the relevant message boards to the scene (8bc.org, chipmusic.org, etc.), but that was about it.
How did you decide what artists you want to release? Did you approach them? Did they approach you? Did you have any specific guidelines that you follow? Did you act as a curator or was it all luck of the draw?
We were often approached with demos, some of which we would release, but we would also reach out to certain artists who we liked. Eirik and I had somewhat different taste. Early on, we made curatorial decisions collectively, but over time we began to curate unilaterally. In that way, there are releases in the second half of the catalog that one of us likes very much and the other doesn’t care for so much.
What were your criteria for the music you curate and release?
Personal enjoyment and quality.
How many albums did you release?
Who were some of your most notable artists?
Alex Mauer, ilkae, Phlogiston (Eirik Suhrke), Disasterpeace, Zan-zan-zawa-veia, 4mat, GOTO80, The J. Arthur Keenes Band, Animal Style, Chromelodeon, temp sound solutions.
Which were some of your most significant releases?
The success of our releases was generally fairly modest, but we did release a few well-known game soundtracks (FEZ, Spelunky).
For the game soundtracks, were the composers people who you already worked with, or were they new people to you? How did that come about?
Both. Eirik (co-partner) wanted to start releasing game soundtracks, and so he went about contacting composers to garner interest.
Did you release your own work on your netlabel? What do you think of that practice?
Yes. That was the whole point of starting the netlabel, so we didn’t have a problem with it. Maybe others did, but from the very beginning we saw the label as having a core roster of members, which hovered around 6 to 8, and Eirik and I were always a part of that.
What did you enjoy about running your netlabel?
I enjoyed all the music that came our way that I got to check out, and I enjoyed empowering artists by giving them a platform and a place to share their work.
What were some difficult things about running the label? Or what are some challenges?
There were times where we were pressured by artists to do things we didn’t want to do, like book tours, make merchandise, do promotion, etc. There’s also a baseline administrative responsibility, but it was never too big of a deal. We intentionally kept the website fairly simple.
Was anything about it disappointing or frustrating?
It never really ‘blew up’ in the traditional sense, but people in the chipmusic community knew who we were and we had a respective following. We even won an award for ‘best chiplabel’ one year.
What kept you motivated to continue running the netlabel when you are or were feeling frustrated?
The value it created for the artists.
How much time did you put into running the label? Approximate hours per day, week or month?
It was maybe anywhere from 1 to 10 hours a month.
Can you describe all the work that you did on a regular basis in order to run your label?
When the label was up and running, we were answering and listening to demo submissions, moderating website comments, prepping new albums, which sometimes involved working w/the artist on tracklisting, artwork, basic promotion to forums, etc.
In what audio format and bitrate did you release your albums?
I think we experimented over the years, but generally offered FLAC and 192kbps VBR MP3s.
Why did you choose that format?
Something good enough for the average human, and a high quality for the audiophile.
Did you zip your files into a package? Or were the albums uploaded as individual files?
Aside from the audio files, did you include any other types of files or information with the album?
Sometimes there were tracker files (the raw files used in production) included, extra artwork, etc.
What software programs did you use to run your netlabel? For converting and encoding audio, for metadata, for ftp, for making cover art, etc.
For FTP, Transmit. For artwork, Photoshop and Illustrator. For web development it varied over the years, but generally it was Coda and CSSEdit. For encoding, I used a batch converter for a while called Max.
Where did you share your releases? On your website? Free Music Archive? Internet Archive? Et al? A combination of these things?
We would upload our releases to our site via FTP, unless the artist had another place they preferred to share (ie. Bandcamp, towards the end of the label’s run).
What did you do to promote your label?
We relied on the artists primarily, and the forums that were relevant to the chip community from 2007 – 2013.
Did you send releases out for review?
Why did you choose not to send releases out for review? Aside from it just being a project for yourselves, why was that not important?
None of us wanted to get on the slippery slope of promoting our artists. None of us had the bandwidth to turn what we did into a full time job, and we were happy to focus on releasing music for ourselves, and our small, niche community.
How much success did you have in getting people to review your releases in magazines, blogs or websites?
We’d have reviews occasionally but we didn’t really try. We created the netlabel for ourselves and mostly did it for free so we didn’t care much about getting press.
Did you have success in getting people in general to listen to your releases?
In the years since, some of our artists have gone on to be very successful, and some were already so. When we were running the label, we on average had a few thousand unique visitors every month.
Did you keep track of your download numbers and, if yes, how did they change over the years?
Yes – downloads generally increased slowly as our viewership increased, though every release had very unique stats.
How important were download numbers and number of listeners to you?
Important but not painstakingly so – we never went out of our way to force growth
Do you feel that the lack of a physical object – vinyl, cassette, eight track, etc. – was a hindrance to building an audience? To getting any media to pay attention? If yes, why do you think that was the case?
I think it segregates your audience somewhat. The chip space was very digitally oriented so it was fine, but there are of course those who want a physical item to hold.
Was the lack of a physical object a problem for any of the artists that you have worked with?
In addition to promotion, publicity and releasing albums did you organize live performances or festivals for your artists?
I curated an iteration of Pulsewave using the Pause name once, which is a regular chip show in NYC.
How did you finance your netlabel, including the labor you put into it?
We did it out of the kindness of our hearts. I already had a hosting cost that I paid for my other projects, so this folded into that.
What were your reasons for doing shutting down your label?
Tools for getting music out there, like Bandcamp, took over a lot of the responsibility we felt we needed back in 2007. We were never an overly community-focused label, we primarily existed as a repository for music, so Bandcamp in a lot of ways provided people with a better option.
What do you think label’s legacy might be?
We put out chipmusic with a very particular sense of style, often a contemporary take on music inspired by old video games and prog rock among other things; our legacy is reflected in the artists we chose to release work by.
Do you think netlabels are sustainable? If yes, what do you think the future is for them? Should there be more?
Absolutely. I think people are busy and value curated material.
Are there too many netlabels?
Will netlabels be obsolete before 2025?
Netlabels live on even as the growing accessibility of toolsets has migrated many to sites like Bandcamp.
Did your netlabel align with any political or philosophical positions or thoughts? Did you get involved with politics at all as a netlabel?
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?
It seems to go hand in hand with those practices. We had a podcast that supported our label by regularly playing music from our catalog and advertising where to find it.
Do you have any of your podcast episodes archived anywhere?
We didn’t personally create podcast episodes, but there was a podcast called ‘Gamewave Podcast’ that played a lot of our music. That podcast is still around: http://gamewave.yays.co/
Are you aware of a chronological history of netlabels? If yes, what is it?
What questions would you ask other people who run netlabels?
Why did you start, and if applicable, what keeps you motivated to continue running the netlabel?