Interview with Thanks For Your Netlabel

We got in touch with the folks behind the conceptual project Thanks for your your netlabel for a chat on what their project was about and the state of the netaudio scene. Mikel Nieto and Blanca Rego were kind enough to answer Filipe a few questions.

Can you tell us a little about yourselves? Who are you, where are you from and what do you do for a living?
Blanca: My name is Blanca. I am from Galicia. I usually work with video but I also do some audio stuff, not really music, only noise, because I can’t make music.

So are you an artist? How do you make a living?
Blanca: I don’t consider myself an “artist”, I don’t like some of the implications of that label. I don’t know if I want to be an “artist”. Besides, it’s really difficult to make a living doing these kind of things, so I have a job. I work as a translator. I didn’t study anything related to translation, but I translate things related to video, photography and sound.

What about you, Mikel?
Mikel: My name is Mikel, I am from the Basque Country. I work with sound, mainly with field recordings, soundscapes and that kind of stuff. I create different projects around those subjects. I’ve worked with Blanca in several projects, like this one, “Thanks for your netlabel”. I like her work because it’s very clear.

So what do you do for a living?
Mikel: We have an art centre here, called Arteleku and I work here on Hots Radio. I coordinate contents and curate, and things like that, working on the soundmap of the Basque Country, which is soinumapa. I also organize concerts to get by.

How did you first come across netaudio?
Mikel: I can’t remember exactly but I think that my first reference in netaudio was maybe addSensor or Plataforma LTW, which I think was the first netlabel here in Spain. I think they are my first references, addSensor is probably one of my biggest references.

Your project “Thanks for your netlabel” is not really a netlabel, is it? Can you tell us a little more about it?
Mikel: We made this project because we wanted to talk about netlabels, we spent one year publishing different posts about netlabels on mediateletipos. And we thought it would be interesting to just make a website with all the information we collected, so we began to make it and to try to put references to different important projects related to netlabels.

It feels like a history of the netlabel scene somehow…
Mikel: Yes, but it’s not like a true history of netlabels, just some references that we consider interesting. We didn’t intend to reflect Netlabels History. All the references that we included are just a proposal.

Fair enough, well, it’s still quite interesting.
Mikel: Thank you!

Can you tell me more about the sound and the artwork of the releases? Is it made using some sort of generative algorithm?
Blanca: I don’t know if you can call it generative really, because I didn’t do any coding or anything like that. If you have a raw file, it doesn’t matter if it’s audio or image, you can open it in an audio or image software, and save it as an image or as a sound. That’s all I did here.

I didn’t realize it was just the raw file of the seed! Did you do any selection, like trying different options and picking the best result?
Blanca: Not in this case, no. You have to make some decisions because the method is not completely automatic, but most of the time you don’t know what is happening, it’s just chance.

So you’re into noise aesthetics?
Blanca: I am interested in that kind of rendering and some glitch stuff, and I also like noise, yes, but not just this kind of digital noise.

There is large divide in the noise and glitch art, between the more conceptual kind of approach and artists who are trying to use those aesthetics for emotional works. How do you fit in this?
Blanca: Most of the time when I do these kind of things, converting one file into another, is just an experiment, so it’s much more a conceptual thing than anything else. In this case I didn’t choose anything, Mikel gave me a list and I just did it. But sometimes when I do it for myself I try it a lot of times and I choose what I like better.

What can you tell me about the netaudio scene in Spain?
Mikel: I don’t know exactly, maybe it’s the same in Portugal or Italy, but here in Spain seems that there isn’t a big stem of netlabels anymore, because there is Bandcamp and that kind of platforms, which are working better with the artists, because they want to sell their music, and that’s it. I don’t know if this means that netlabels are dead or not.

Bandcamp and Soundcloud are currently very big in acceptance, but don’t you think the curational work that the netlabels provide is still important?
Mikel: That’s a good question. I don’t know if it’s important or not, but for example one of our seeds for this project is, which was a great netlabel and now it’s closed. They just published everything. If you wanted to publish some of your stuff, you just sent an email to them and they will publish everything. They didn’t care about it was interesting or not. For me this is a very interesting point of view on netlabels. David Nemeth also talks about this topic, how curation still works on netlabels, and that netlabels sometimes just publish everything, which results in some of their releases not being very good or worth hearing.

I think this topic is very interesting, there was a big boom and after that I think there were a lot of netlabels that were working a lot, publishing a lot of music. And the listeners couldn’t listen to everything, it was crazy. Now Bandcamp and that kind of platforms works better with the artist, without any curator work, directly. On Bandcamp you can publish your music and sell it. But some artists are not mainly interested in selling, they care more about the political position of some licensing, having it available in public domain.

For me it’s very interesting how the netlabels have maybe lost the power on how they publish everything, or how they publish music. Anyway, netlabels are not closing because of Bandcamp, it’s more like a hiatus. It’s an interesting moment. I think netlabels have to change, they need a change right now.

In the boom of the netlabel scene there was always this mention to how netlabels enabled a sort of democratization of the music industry. Providing easy access to the masses to listen to all kinds of indie artists and niche genres. That brought on a wave of releases, as you mentioned, more than anyone could listen to. And in that sense the way netlabels could distinguish themselves was through the curation work. Do you think that has changed?
Mikel: I think the question is for the curators themselves, if they make sense right now, in the netlabels. Because listeners do that work, they are also curators. When we want to find new music we just type in Google and that’s it. Or maybe a friend sends you an email and you listen to that and see if it’s interesting. Then we make that selection. So, do netlabels really need the curators work? Or do the listeners just want make their own selections?

Listeners tend to be attached to what they already know and won’t search out of the box. I think curators still make sense as a reference that people can follow for discovering new music of good quality.
Mikel: It could be.

An experimental approach in this field was this project where a webradio would play music anonymously, so people wouldn’t know what artist is playing, just focus on if they like it or not. And they would just trust if the webradio was good or not.
Mikel: Yeah, that is also very interesting. But then there is the question if we want to listen to music in that position. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good proposal, it works very well theoretically. But not in practical terms, because we want to listen to big artists. We want those names. We like the big artists. We love it.

Anyway, I think when we are listening to music we are already making the curators work, and we just want, for example, to find music that connects with our friends. The socialization of music is possible to function.

Blanca: But that is not something new…

Mikel: No, it’s not new, we were mentioning David Nemeth before and he also talk about this, how we served our music with vinyls 30 years ago, and in the 80s with the cds. We spent a lot of time listening to the same cds with our friends. Now it’s the same, we want to find new music with our friends. The question for me here is if the curator is needed for this or not, and then if it makes sense or not. Because I think the main point of the netlabels is to serve music (and for free, without money). And when you serve music online, it’s very different from serving music on k7 or cds. Online everyone can take your music and make another thing with it, you know? They listen and then they can make something new. And I think that’s very interesting, that’s the most important part of netlabels: listen, no money, take it if you like it and make another thing out of it.

So are platforms like Bandcamp the future for the music industry?
Mikel: Bandcamp is the present. The music industry is different from the netlabels. Netlabels are about sharing music. Music industry is about money. They build very comfortable and pretty websites to sell music. They build an industry around music.

Netlabels are just about sharing. This reminds me of a documentary I recently watched called “Downloaded”, it was about Napster, how they were fore-fronting what people wanted (to easily share music online) and how the music industry completely failed to make any agreement with them to evolve their business model to meet the technology.
Mikel: Yes, it’s just like Napster, we want to share, we don’t care about the money.

And my question is, aren’t we, with the netlabel movement, somewhat forcing the music industry to adapt itself? Making them come closer to what the listeners want in terms of technology? What’s the future for this clash of worlds?
Mikel: Hmmm, We must understand that the music industry is always following new things, new models, new systems, just to get money. They just serve Napster or the way Napster serves music to get money. It’s not related to netlabels or netaudio ideology at all.

So what is the future?
Mikel: In the future all the people will just make their own music and share it. We’ll spend a lot of time making music instead of listening to other’s music. I think this is our future: not to listen to music. For example, 1000 downloads mean 1000 listeners? People download music but they are not listening to it.

Yes, lots of times we just download releases, listen to them once and never listen to them again, there is so much music out there, and everyone is a musician, music is so accessible, you yourself can just make the music you like and listen to your own music.
Mikel: It’s very important to think about this. If people don’t want to listen to others music then it’s ok, just listen to your own music. I don’t think this is a problem. Besides, I think some people just want the downloads, not the listeners, because maybe it’s easier to get more concerts with a big number of downloads.

Don’t you think social networks like Soundcloud fulfil that role?
Mikel: I have a Soundcloud account, but I never use it. Do you use Soundcloud for communication? Or to make more social interactions? How many listeners do you have in Soundcloud? Does it work for you?

I know what you mean, I have a Soundcloud account for the label and yes, I mostly just use it to get more followers and announce the releases. But it’s almost like a fake network, I don’t listen to 99% of their work. I doubt many people do.
Mikel: A fake network? It could be. Like MySpace, and MySpace is over now.

Blanca: MySpace is not over, it’s making a slight comeback.

Yes, MySpace guys have revamped their site and are getting a little community back. It doesn’t have anywhere near the quantity of active users it used to have, but they are still alive. But yes, they went to shit a few years ago and it was all just fake networks spamming each other. Not much real interaction.
Mikel: Yes, that’s the point: if Soundcloud works or not for real interaction. I don’t think it does.

Before MySpace there was, and after MySpace there was, and lot of other other similar websites. Artists built their fake networks of other artists to spam their releases and count the number of downloads. Not real interaction. Not sharing music with friends.
Mikel: Yes. Not real interaction. Not sharing music with friends.

Well, I think I’m out of questions. Thank you for time!
Mikel: Thanks Filipe for your interest in our project, and for this interview, it’s good to talk about netlabels. We like it and we need to find a different way to make what we love to make.
Blanca: Thank you, bye!

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