blue
t-shirt


Ansiform was one of my most successful creative projects, at least in the sense of reaching the largest audience. Of course, I conducted the whole project anonymously. I still had to do all of the hard work, but I didn't get to take any of the credit. I don't recommend it.

In the mid '00s I really fell in love with the idea of netlabels. Netlabels are just what the name implies - record labels that operate entirely over the internet. Usually the releases were free to download. Most of the netlabels trafficked in electronic music, which was my stock in trade at the time. It was a great way to get my music heard and a decent community to be a part of.

One of the really appealing things about netlabels was the low barrier to entry and the ability to attract a small yet devoted following based on quality and consistency of aesthetic. Those are two things I could do, as long as I had the final say of things. It wasn't much longer before I'd started my own netlabel.

I love to sleep to sound. Silence at night drives me nuts. About 99% of ambient music is great for sleeping, but that 1% is a real problem, because if your ambient mix CD or radio station starts playing something from that 1% while you're asleep, chances are you're not asleep anymore. I decided to create a netlabel focused on functional ambient music. Music you could count on to stay out of the way completely and reliably. Music for meditating, sleeping, or just calm, positive living. I chose the name ansiform, because I wanted a word that ended in -form, and a dictionary told me ansiform meant "shaped like a loop", which was pretty thematically appealing.

The basic format coalesced quickly. I decided releases would be a single track. This format meant that releases could come out on a regular basis. It also lent itself to distributing the content as a podcast, albeit an unusual one, without any non-musical content. And as I mentioned before, everything would be released completely anonymously, ascribed only to the ansiform collective. Anyone could submit a track for potential inclusion in the ansiform catalogue with the understanding it would be published with no credit and there would be no payment (since ansiform had no income).

At first the releases were about 75% music that I composed especially to be released for ansiform. As the netlabel became more established, though, we began to receive more appropriate submissions, so I wound up releasing less and less of my own music as time went on. The stuff I composed for ansiform was generally pretty different from the stuff I released as blue t-shirt. With rare exception, the blue t-shirt material was very melodic and rhythmically driven, and my ansiform productions were more washes of noise and texture than anything else.

When we got started, there was a fair amount of initial interest based on what little promotional activity I was able to conduct in an anonymous matter befitting the label's image. Eventually, though, the netlabel and its music found a much larger audience through StumbleUpon, of all things. People from all walks of life randomly discovered the site and wound up appreciating the music for all sorts of things - calming their infants, soundtracking their yoga sessions, putting themselves to sleep. It was very gratifying to see the collection used for the purpose it was curated. The most popular "episodes" of ansiform have been downloaded and streamed more than 25,000 times.

This is almost a story without an end. Ansiform died a slow undignified death due to neglect as I lost interest in favour of other projects, especially the band. Throughout the netlabel's last years, traffic to the site remained decent, and episode downloads were higher than ever, but I had moved on. My heart was no longer in it. Rather than killing it and bringing the project to an honorable end, things pathetically dragged on a while before petering out entirely in 2009. 2007 was the last year where I gave the project the effort it deserved; the next two years had only six releases scattered between them. The collection has been preserved by archive.org.


You may have noticed that throughout this reminiscence, I've been using the past tense to describe netlabels as an idea. That's because, to me, netlabels are a thing of the past. They still exist to some extent, but I get the impression that the golden age of netlabels is long gone. The biggest problem of netlabels was exactly their greatest benefit -- if anyone can make a netlabel, then anyone can make a netlabel. Separating the wheat from the chaff was never a great value proposition in a world with so much music to listen to.