Mpfree Friday: Aphonia

By VFS Web Team, on October 19, 2007

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"1550","attributes":{"class":"media-image","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","title":"Sound Design grad Andrew Senna","alt":"Sound Design grad Andrew Senna"}}]]We all know that traditional music distribution is at a tipping point. Amid the usual questions about piracy, digital rights management, and the future of the old major label model, it's the little guy who's been able to experiment. Indie labels and unsigned acts were the first to turn to MySpace, embrace DRM-free downloads, and sell MP3s without a middleman.
So if you're Sound Design grad Andrew Senna, a Seattle-based musician and producer, the digital world is your oyster. Andrew co-founded Aphonia Recordings, a home for "experimental music, sound art, and the more bizarre aspects of pop music." Boasting a full stable of innovative artists, Aphonia has built a sleek online store for digital downloads.
Check out the three free tracks Aphonia assembled for us!
1. All of Our Dances by Marriage + Cancer (San Francisco, CA)
Download MP3 File
2. Autumn in Los Angeles by Desolation Wilderness (Olympia, WA)
Download MP3 File
3. Induction Cuts by darwinsbitch (Oakland, CA)
Download MP3 File
We caught up with Andrew to talk about Aphonia Recordings, his VFS experience, and his thoughts on the shape of things to come in the music industry.

What originally drew you to Sound Design at VFS?
Well, to be honest, it was partially the lack of a real film-based sound design program anywhere else. Well, that's not the only reason. But it did seem that Vancouver Film School was the only school that offered an actual certification program and that actually specialized in audio for film. It also seemed rigorous about the fusion between practice and theory, which was something I wanted. I wanted a program that was going to barely let me come up for air - basically I wanted the emulation of an actual career in sound design and the technological training to back the experience.
After graduating, you returned to Washington State. What led you to starting the label?
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"1551","attributes":{"class":"media-image","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","title":"Aphonia Recordings","alt":"Aphonia Recordings"}}]]Friendship and boredom. I moved to Seattle, fresh out of film school and unemployed, so I had lots of time to burn. A good friend of mine, whom I had played in bands with and had known for years, called me up one day and said, "Dude, let's start a label." And I said, "Okay."
Since I started recording my music, I think the idea to distribute it eventually was a natural thought. Given the sometimes schizophrenic and varying quality of my work, I kind of knew I would never be signed to a "major" label. After all, I could never afford serious studio time.
We also just happened to know a lot of people who are musicians and composers. We thought that if we could somehow release their material alongside ours, that everyone would benefit. Part of our motivation was the notion that there was all this great work out there that wasn't being heard, much less available to buy. That was the genesis of Aphonia Recordings.
Has your time at VFS informed your work with the label?
In some ways it has been indispensable. In other ways, I am not sure where it fits in. I know that very specifically and practically that the business classes were of great import. All those courses in terms 5 and 6 were really important. Although they were difficult to go to, because I had temp mix deadlines, Foley sessions, on and on. In addition is the fact that the label has a podcast. To start we have released live shows, but some of the show formats we are working on now require a much higher level of execution. We are currently editing together two podcasts that delve more into the storytelling and expository side of "radio" inspired programming. This has drawn upon the skills developed at film school.
Ironically, as the program is called Sound Design for Visual Media, our podcast includes sound design in the absence of visuals! It is interesting how the medium of radio, which has always been an opportunity for sound design, has had a bit of a resurgence because of podcasts. I think it is fantastic.
Lastly, and this one is up there as being one of the most important things you can learn: communication and collaboration. With the label this has been absolutely indispensable. All of the shows that we have set up, all of the advertising or artwork associated with the label, our general aesthetic - all of it, has been a result of collaboration through communication. Not the least of which, the collaboration between myself and the label's co-founder Ben L. Robertson.
Now, I already had the liberal arts education back in the States. I graduated from the Evergreen State College with majors in Theater Sound Design and Music Composition. I had worked on theater productions both in school and in the professional world, so my experience working with people I felt was intact. VFS continued and enriched this passion I have for collaboration.
The distribution model of the label, high-quality digital with printable artwork and so on - is this where you see the market going? Direct-to-consumer, no middleman at the retail level?
The market must go this way! The notion that a bureaucracy thousands of miles away in some ivory tower has a thumb on the pulse of music is an antiquated and condescending concept. Although labels and distributors have been keen in the past to "discover" talent, they are rarely instrumental in actually fostering and encouraging talent to be creative.
The age of prohibitively expensive distribution and promotion is over, the result being that this current middleman is diminishing in purpose and function. The internet and the advent of music as a form of ones and zeros has definitely shifted the model as well.Hand in hand with this is the means of production. Readily available computers and software make it possible for musicians, especially electronic musicians, to produce their own high-quality material.
All of the elements are there: production and distribution. What perhaps isn't there is the reach of small bands through performing and touring.
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"1552","attributes":{"class":"media-image","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","title":"Aphonia Recordings Show Flyer","alt":"Aphonia Recordings Show Flyer"}}]]Touring requires a lot of money and the only way that bands seem to be able to get their music out there is this new, low overhead thing called the internet. It certainly isn't a replacement for touring, though.
Although it does seem that now, more than ever before, people surfing the internet are willing to seek out that which they are interested in. Rather than choosing from what is provided by the labels, you can seek out like-minded independent artists and buy their work directly from them. I think this is a fundamentally different way that the music business is going. It used to be you had to get airplay, DJs, payola... All of that, I think, is coming to an end, and I think the record labels are not sure what to do. Nowadays you can get at least rudimentary exposure on the internet with just the investment of your time, which, if you love what you do, is a small investment.
Aphonia Recordings' role in all this is probably, most accurately, one of a filter. With this filter, we sort through and release the experimental, electro-acoustic, dark folk and pop that we enjoy. And the model specifically works for the artists - we are their advocates. We believe in the work we release and when people seek us out they will find a whole collection of artists worth listening to!
Aphonia Recordings
Aphonia on MySpace