Vulpiano Records

Interview received: January 11, 2017 and April 1, 2017.

What is your name?

Marilyn Roxie.

Where are you located?

San Francisco, California.

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

I have all files at the highest quality from Vulpiano Records backed up on two external hard drives and all email in a labeled folder. I feel like the Vulpiano site, Internet Archive, and Free Music Archive are fairly sufficient for archiving, while I consider the emails personal.

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

For me, a netlabel is a label with a web presence (website, Facebook, Bandcamp, and/or Soundcloud) that releases music exclusively or primarily online.

How and when did you first learn about netlabels?

I would have been either 18 or 19 (2008/2009) and I’m thinking it would’ve been through browsing music blogs or Last.fm.

Do you remember which music blogs you were reading around 2008 and 2009 that were talking about netlabel releases?

Aside from New Music Strategies and Andrew Dubber‘s writing more generally, I definitely used the MOG Music Network, Hype Machine, and elbo.ws, which are more aggregation engines that collect/ed blog mp3 uploads rather than being ‘blogs’ in themselves, to find a lot of music, which I’m sure included netlabel releases. Phlow was one of my A Future in Noise blogroll links and would’ve been an early spot I saw mention of that, though I’ve not checked it out in a long time; you can see an old version of Phlow here where that’s evident.

Do you feel like more or less or the same amount of blogs are talking about netlabels now compared to 2008? 

I remember seeing a lot more about unsigned artists who were self-releasing music and of course content about mainstream releases, rather than much about netlabels specifically, and I suppose that’s a big reason why I thought Vulpiano would be a good idea: to wrangle up quality unsigned artists into one spot. I feel like there is a much greater awareness and discussion of netlabels than there was in 2008/2009 thanks to social media, archiving sites and directories like Free Music Archive and clongclongmoo, initiatives like Netlabel Day – the list goes on.

What was the first netlabel you heard of?

That’s a very good question. I’m not entirely sure if there was a specific netlabel I was a fan of before starting my own. I had some awareness of 8bitpeoples. I know for sure I read Andrew Dubber’s 2008 New Music Strategies article on netlabels when I was starting to think about it.

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

Again, not too much I can attribute to being inspired by netlabel-wise in the beginning, but at this point: I love M.I.S.T. Records and their Netlabel Day initiative. DMT Tapes FL is another favorite.

What made you decide to start your own netlabel?

I liked the idea of gathering up artists I liked best from submissions and posts on my music blog A Future in Noise and making Vulpiano into a sort of collective representing my own taste and enabling others to find what I considered to be high quality free music.

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

Well, this was at a time when there was a more heated debate about free downloading and piracy than there is now and I thought, well, it’d be great to have a selection of really great music that people could freely download or share without feeling any guilt about it, knowing that the artists wanted to share it for free. I’m not the kind of person to think that releasing music for free is an inherently noble act or that artists shouldn’t ever get paid for what they do – Vulpiano is its own thing where we’re saying “this is free, please enjoy it, it’s our gift to you.” Some artists have chosen to make their releases pay what you want (including $0, if that’s what someone chooses) and releasing limited physical copies in addition to the free download, but these are always optional, not required.

What is the name of your netlabel?

Vulpiano Records.

Why did you choose the name you chose?

Vulpiano means “sly as a fox” in Latin. I came across it randomly when perusing a baby name book for ideas and I felt like it was a kind of sign. Foxes have always been a special animal to me and they seem to crop up at key moments in my life so I took it as a sign.

When did you start your netlabel?

2009.

What is the focus of your netlabel?

Many releases are electronic, experimental, or folk.

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

All albums are typically released under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives though artists may choose another Creative Commons license if they wish. These albums are still copyrighted, since Creative Commons works alongside copyright.

Do you go through the process and officially copyright all your releases? Or is it an implied copyright? I ask, because one of the bands I was in did that one time for our first batch of songs and I found it very time consuming. 

It’s an implied copyright. I feel like the CC licensing which includes the legalese about what that means makes the terms of the releases even more clear, honestly.

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?

I’ve tried to keep in touch periodically with all Vulpiano artists, though there are some I’ve sadly been unable to get ahold of who appear to not be in the music world anymore. I contacted quite a few for our first Netlabel Day release in 2016 and got a great response. I’ve recently been working with an intern for Vulpiano (Abishai) that’s been helping me figure out a promotion plan since it’s been tough to promote on my own, but there are certain online radio stations and music blogs I share relevant new releases with.

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?

I’ve both approached artists and had them approach me. When I had a more active music blog, there were people who found Vulpiano through that and got a good idea of what kind of music I was into and submitted accordingly if they felt like they were a good fit. Now people tend to find it through browsing netlabels on Internet Archive or Free Music Archive, or because they’re a Natural Snow Buildings fan and they’ve checked out their releases on the label. This is how I met my romantic partner of about 3 years now, actually, so that was a good model! The guidelines are really just “do I love this album? Do I feel proud of having it be part of the Vulpiano family?” I do feel like a curator.

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

Simply put, that I like it personally and that I get on well with the artist.

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

People say that vaporwave is dead, but I think that’s because there’s such a glut of junk vaporwave with no care or thought. I’d really like to work with an artist in that genre, or related genre, that I felt was doing something interesting with it still.

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?

There are a few, including some I think might be quite possible, but I’d rather not say and keep it a surprise.

How many albums have you released?

90 releases so far, which includes 7 artist sampler compilations.

Who are some of your most notable artists?

Natural Snow Buildings has been far and away the most downloaded and remarked upon, which is a great honor for me as I had really admired their music before they asked me if I’d be interested in releasing something from them. My partner’s band Vukovar and his solo work Neurotic Wreck have been big hits as well.

Which are some of your most significant releases?

Natural Snow Buildings – The Centauri Agent and Aldebaran. Netlabel day releases Taker 51 – Melanchordia, Enrico Falbo – Il Giorno del Richiamo Estatico, and Neurotic Wreck – Glow Ghosts. Ambient release Veldt from Lately Kind of Yeah has also had a huge amount of listens.

How did Natural Snow Buildings learn about Vulpiano?

I wrote a post on Natural Snow Buildings for a friend’s music blog (SleepWalKing Mag) in 2009; their site is no longer up, but you can still read the post here if you like. I had found NSB’s email on a record label site and asked for their permission to include “Hunted Was My Brother” and “They Are Still Hanging Around” and they agreed. I shared the post with them when it was up and they were appreciative. It wasn’t long after that that I launched Vulpiano and they had seen the announcement of the launch on my music blog A Future in Noise and contacted me asking if I’d be interested in doing a release. They have tended to release their albums by surprise across various labels so I’m sure that element appealed to them at the outset. This was incredibly exciting to me as they’re really one of my favorite bands of all time and I think they make some of the most beautiful music of anyone contemporary in general. Their first release was The Centauri Agent in 2010, a Vulpiano exclusive, then they did a digital release of The Night Country (originally an NSB self-release in super-limited physical quantities) in 2015, and most recently Aldebaran in 2016 for a Netlabel Day exclusive on Vulpiano. I am still incredibly honored for NSB’s participation in Vulpiano and my friendship with them; Mehdi and Solange have been some of the kindest and coolest people that I’ve worked with.

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

I have re-released my older synth albums that were without a label previously just to give them a place to ‘live’ as well as a newer experimental album made up of Creative Commons and public domain samples sourced only from Wikimedia Commons. I think it’s completely reasonable to do. After all, I like all the music I’ve decided to release on Vulpiano, so I’d better like my own too! It’s definitely not something I’ve ever intended to do all the time, however.

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

I love hearing new submissions from artists all over the world. Meeting my partner through music and falling in love with him through his first music for Vulpiano, Natural Snow Buildings expressing their interest, making new musical friends, and getting nice comments and interactions from people who have loved the music they’ve discovered have all been very rewarding.

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

My internet at home is very slow, so every time I have to release an album, I have to leave my house and go to a library or cafe or something to do that. Keeping track of where albums have been added to discography sites like Rate Your Music or Discogs and promoting releases on my own has been challenging, but having an intern help me with this has been a big help. I also look back and note that some releases I don’t have in 320 kbps and wish this was something I had thought about more at the outset of the label as not all artists have retained their files at this quality, or even had them at 320 kbps to begin with, alas!

If the audio files permit, do you think you will go back and re-upload the older albums at 320kbps? Or is it too much of a time/labor burden. I also have early releases that I uploaded at 192kbps and I go back and forth on whether or not to update them.

Some artists actually don’t even have their releases at this audio quality anymore, so it’s impossible. I’ve written previous artists asking about this in cases where I had lesser quality audio and it’s everything from hard drive crashes to files being at their computer at home in another country! I’ve uploaded all possible releases at 320 kbps. This unfortunately means that some releases can never go on Free Music Archive (which requires 256 kbps) or Bandcamp (which requires WAV/AIFF/FLAC) because of their upload requirements. I would definitely say, update them if you have higher quality audio. I wish I would have always required releases to be at 320 kbps and/or requested the original WAV files but I didn’t think about this until later.

How do you keep track of albums being added to discography sites? Do you or your intern do this for all of your releases? Do you see a benefit in having albums in those databases?

In the spreadsheet I keep with the information about all the releases, there’s a field to indicate whether they’ve been added to Rate Your Music and another for Discogs. The goal is to have this done for all releases, though we are closer to that with RYM rather than Discogs; since I haven’t ever personally been a heavy Discogs user it seems to fall on the back-burner, but I hope to get it done this year. As for RYM, I like to rate every album I listen to, personally, and have rated over 4000 albums on RYM since I joined in 2009. There are a lot of other people who love to keep track of their digital collections, do reviews, and rate their music as well. Plus, on RYM it is possible to make recommendations to friends based on what is cataloged on RYM so this enables me to do that easily, myself. All mainstream albums are going to be in these databases, so why not netlabels? It’s another cog in underlining the legitimacy of netlabels, in my opinion. Netlabel content should be easily accessible for reading up on, discussing, rating – the works.

Has anything about it been disappointing or frustrating?

I’ve gotten some really strange or demanding messages from listeners and sometimes artists who seem to not realize that Vulpiano is really one of many different things I do in my life and I can’t necessarily deal with their concerns right away, but these have been pretty few in number thankfully. I’ve also had to alter a lot of information about me indicating that I am a woman or a female netlabel owner or whatever and it has been exhausting sometimes. That said, I don’t have any complaints more generally.

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

Wonderful, surprising music submissions and the great friendships I’ve made through running Vulpiano.

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

Hmm, I’d say 1-4 hours per week depending on what’s going on. With Netlabel Day or other busy times, it could be more like 8 hours+ per week, which is still not huge.

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

I have a spreadsheet that I keep maintained with details about all of the albums such as title, release date, links to downloads, etc. The artists’ locations and bios are also noted. Every time there’s a new release, I post a preview track from Soundcloud and write a post about it for http://vulpianorecords.com/ The post includes my own description for the album, the streaming and download links (Internet Archive, Free Music Archive, and Mediafire), and typically the artist bio and links to find them on social media and, if available, Bandcamp and Soundcloud.

I maintain contact with my intern who has been a big help in getting releases listed on Rate Your Music and helping me with proofreading and streamlining changes on the website and elsewhere. I respond to any new submissions if they’re there. I occasionally retool the terms of release for Vulpiano artists so people are aware of what it is they need to provide for me in order to release something. I update the Vulpiano Records Facebook and Twitter. Some artists seem to do better promoting their own releases but I have a pool of contacts that I alert to new releases that I think they’ll enjoy. Apart from the main body of the promo content, I always write a personal email instead of a blast when sharing something like this, so that can take some time.

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

Nowadays, everything is available at 320 kbps mp3s, sometimes with the addition of FLAC/WAV. Previously, it’s been as low as 128 kbps and I wish I would’ve had the foresight for it to be more!

Why did you choose that format? 

MP3s play conveniently across audio players and not everyone knows what to do with a FLAC or WAV. That said, optimally all music would be available in MP3/FLAC/WAV.

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

Always zipped. Now Vulpiano releases are also uploaded as individual files on Free Music Archive and Internet Archive.

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

Always a cover image, but otherwise this is down to the artist’s choice. Sometimes a back cover or a text document with information about the recording process, dates recorded, or lyrics have also been included.

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

For audio conversion I use Audacity, for metadata I use Kid3, and for when I make cover art I use Adobe Photoshop or GIMP.

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

All of the above, plus a ZIP on Mediafire. If the artist has made it available through their Soundcloud and/or Bandcamp, I include that also.

Why did you decide to host your releases on Mediafire instead of hosting them yourself on your site? Any advantages or disadvantages to this?

Vulpiano Records’ website is on Tumblr which doesn’t allow for hosting of ZIP files at all, so this was the main reason for that. Also many people are familiar with downloading albums, illegally or legally, using file-sharing sites like Mediafire. More people choose to download from Free Music Archive or Internet Archive, but I like having it available because it’s still more familiar to a lot of folks than either of those sites, especially if I’m sending something on to a friend or someone requests a simple download link. If I switched to a self-hosted WordPress in the future, I would still likely have the Mediafire mirror anyway for this very reason. I still consider Internet Archive and FMA to be the ‘primary’ hosts, which is why I always call the Mediafire link a ‘mirror’ in the new release posts.

What do you do to promote your label?

Facebook and Twitter through the label’s profiles as well as my own, the Netlabel Day initiative, reaching out to contacts with music blogs and streaming stations. Free Music Archive has managed to be like a promotional tool in itself, they make it so easy for people to find Vulpiano’s music.

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

Music blogs and streaming radio, not much beyond that; seems to suit the netlabel format.

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

As someone who had spent more time running a music blog previously, I know promotional blasts can be quite annoying, especially if they seem to be totally not targeted to the right audience and are being sent out randomly. Also, someone may review an item or you sent them or add it to their stream long after the period of its initial release, so waiting or following up can be necessary. I figure that in every batch of emails I sent out, which include the promo content as well as a personal message always, a very tiny percentage will get back, but I accept that’s the reality of the situation.

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

I would say so. Like I said, Free Music Archive has been an incredible boon for Vulpiano. Friends of mine will regularly listen to and remark upon releases and it’s always greatly exciting when there’s a good response elsewhere on music blogs or stations that I love.

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

I do occasionally track Mediafire downloads, Free Music Archive stats, and Bandcamp for the small number of releases on that platform. The addition of Vulpiano to FMA in late 2015 has increased the listener base by many thousands, so that’s been the biggest change.

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

Of course, I want people to hear the music on Vulpiano because I believe it is quality music, however I’m not obsessive about tracking analytics.

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 does seem like it’s become increasingly common for what otherwise has been a netlabel to have cassette or vinyl releases, particularly of a limited edition variety. I’ve considered looking into this option more. I think there’s a tendency for some to view digital files as less “real” or “human,” though I don’t feel that way personally. Also, netlabels are huge in number though not many carry on through the years, which is why there’s something like Netlabel Archive. Continuing to exist and putting out new music on a regular basis seems to go quite a long way in standing out as a netlabel at the bare minimum, then with quality and diverse content and reaching out to people who might be into it, it can go even further.

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?

Not so much a problem as artists interested seem to have an idea of what we’re about. Some artists have had questions about resources to help them do their own physical release and I’ve done some detective work finding out that information. I’ve considered figuring out a way to formalize this process if there becomes more of a demand.

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

I haven’t done this before but I would really love to in the future if there was a good opportunity and a group of artists in physical proximity where it would make sense.

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

Not one dime has been spent on anything Vulpiano-releated, apart from the $10 a year domain name. I have had various periods of no or underemployment where I’ve put more time into the netlabel and otherwise, when working and going to school, have made working on it into a thing I do early in the morning or late at night.

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

For Vulpiano, hopefully the fact we’ve stuck around for 7+ years with no plans to stop and have continued to maintain the same level of integrity. Many early artists have come back to release music later on, which I think is a very good sign of what Vulpiano means as a collective. There is still much more I’d like to do in terms of Vulpiano, such as the possibility of events or physical materials, but we’ll see.

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

I think Vulpiano’s main niche might well be restraint in careful selection. There are a lot of netlabels that release such a high volume of material, I’m not sure I could really listen carefully to everything they’re putting out and I wonder if the owners / collective members of the netlabel really are listening carefully either. I think quality material is much more important than just flooding the web with music that may or may not be any good.

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

I think Bandcamp is quite cool and well-designed though the 320 kbps/WAV/FLAC only limitation has meant that older Vulpiano releases could never go on there. I’m still in the process of adding applicable older releases to Bandcamp. Selling merch if that’s what an artist wants to do appears to be quite easy through Bandcamp as well.

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

I do, as long as there’s enough interest to keep going and artists and curators are excited about what they’re doing. Having an eye to archiving and promotion is critical as these things don’t happen on their own. Netlabels getting along with one another and unsigned or independent artists making connections is really important to the sustainability as well. I’m not sure if there should be more so much as there should be high quality netlabels, there are a lot of fly-by-nights and disappearing netlabels and that’s really sad to me.

Are there too many netlabels?

No. The only thing I’d add to this is that there are perhaps too many netlabels that don’t stick around or that disappear without explanation.

Will netlabels be obsolete before 2025?

I don’t see why that would be the case, unless there is a huge sea change in music curating and people’s response to it.

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

This is an interesting question for me. I’d like to hope that people who are interested in Vulpiano Records and our stance with sharing and Creative Commons emphasis would have progressive ideals in regards to modifying, or overthrowing, arcane and limiting copyright law and that might extend to other politics as well. I am a non-binary person and, while I’ve not emphasized that with Vulpiano per se, there have been other queer artists on the label as well and that’s an area I care a lot about and I hope listeners would as well.

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?

I feel like there is absolutely an overlap; I have an interest in all of the things you’ve mentioned! It’s a DIY mentality and a tendency to harness the power of the internet to create and share.

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

I’m more aware of this now than when I started, but the sheer number of them and the low-profile of the majority makes it hard to keep track of the chronology of it all, so I don’t think I have a special knowledge in this area.

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

I added some information about it, but I was surprised there wasn’t talk of file formats and bitrate since a lot of netlabels and fans are into that.

What questions would you ask other people who run netlabels?

I’m always interested to know in netlabel owner’s criteria for what they curate.

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