Botnit sounds off on his short but notable stint making synthwave — from record labels that don’t pay their artists to the highlight of releasing his debut album and the joy of having devoted fans.
“I felt like sort of a fraud… I wasn’t even listening to synthwave anymore.”
Boston-area producer Jim Govoni announced a couple weeks ago that he’s retiring Botnit, the popular synthwave project for which he first became known about two years ago.
Although a shock to some, the retirement of Botnit was in the making about as long as the life of Botnit. After his second album, To the Max, he released standalone singles like “1991” and “No Drugs,” but that was “literally the end of anything creative I had at the time,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about shutting it down.”
“I felt like sort of a fraud when I wasn’t even listening to synthwave anymore, I was listening to Gin Blossoms and Matchbox Twenty, Kris Kross, and the Killer Instinct soundtrack,” he said. “I haven’t listened to much synthwave since about early 2014.”
He likened it to what has happened to him in the past: Back in the day, he loved a local arcade so much that he got a job there. However, “it became mundane, much the way Botnit went.”
Govoni first began dabbling in synthwave in 2012, when vaporwave somehow led him to the synthwave/chillwave brilliance of Com Truise. Eventually, the rabbit hole took him to the synthwave of Mitch Murder’s Current Events album and Betamaxx’s offerings. The retrosynth of the Drive soundtrack was, of course, an influential part of his education, he said.
“I’m a huge nostalgia nut anyways, and I really dug the sound,” he said.
By that point Govoni had been crafting some cuts in FL Studio — on the recommendation of a friend named Roburai — but the songs were mostly “joke tunes,” Govoni said.
“… I was… taking audio of my friend Bill yelling at video games he was losing at, and putting his yelling over funny, quirky songs,” he said. “Eventually, I started making more serious tunes, and tried making what I was listening to at the time.”
Govoni lives in Quincy, a suburb of Boston, a city that ended up serving to inspire him once he got the Botnit project going.
“We have the oldest subway system in the country here, beating out NYC by a few years,” he said. “It’s very old, and creaky, and smelly, and in a lot of ways — signage, tiles, lights, and fans — it’s exactly the same as it was in the 80s when my dad would bring me to Red Sox games. I don’t mean stylistically — I mean like it’s the same damn sign hanging from 1986. It’s like one of the few tangible links back to those days I can readily access.”
Crappy Record Labels and a Tight-Knit Scene
After he began releasing songs online, he started to gain support from the welcoming, international synthwave scene. He said “scene mayors” Marko Maric and Rick Shithouse, who runs Synthetix.FM, along with the various YouTube channels, and devoted fans made Botnit a fun experiment.
The highlight was the completion of Vivid Memories.
“I was really proud of that collection of tunes, and seeing it all come together was really fun,” Govoni said. “I was barely known, so it was nice to see people repost tunes, make videos, [and] tweet about it — that was really quite rewarding seeing that.”
Govoni also enjoyed the heartfelt messages he received from people who enjoyed his music.
“I consider myself to be a consistent D-list artist in terms of exposure, and I’m genuinely interested when people are listening to my stuff,” he said.
He also ran into a couple notable valleys to match those peaks.
One of them involved well-known synthwave record label Future City Records, which he says stiffed him on sales of his second album, 2014’s To the Max. The album was listed on both his own Bandcamp page and that of Future City Records.
“Money is not the major point here, but that record label version of the album sold 17 copies, and I have not yet seen any compensation from those album sales,” Govoni said. “It’s not about 50 percent of 85 bucks or whatever. It’s a respect thing.”
He said he has never heard from the label with any status reports or follow-up messages, such as “Hey, I’m gonna use your tunes on follow-up compilations and not let you know. Nothing. I had to visit the Bandcamp page to see how my own album did.”
[Editor’s Note: Future City Records’ lengthy rebuttal is published at the end of this story. Among other things, the label says Govoni has never contacted them for the money, and said other artists who have complained have not contacted them either. The label also says it’ll be shutting down after the next cycle of releases. See below.]
Another low-point was a failed collaboration with Betamaxx, the well-known synthwaver whose work has been featured on Internet phenomenon Kung Fury and in Amazon’s new 80s-centric show, Red Oaks — and who earlier this year announced his own retirement before making a comeback.
Betamaxx sought him for a collaboration, but “I totally bombed on that tune,” Govoni said. “It didn’t sound good.”
That hurt because Govoni was a huge fan.
“I was really excited because this is a guy I listened to on the train before I even started making tunes, and it was a dream collaboration for me,” Govoni said. “He ended up releasing the tune on his own, and it sounds much better.”
“This has happened before,” he continued. “I can make a decent tune, but if there’s someone else’s vision involved, I have a hard time with it. It wasn’t his fault at all. That’s one that got away that I wish I did right.”
He had some success with his collaborations, too, though. He did a cut called “Runaways” with Future Holotape that he thought was “really fun” and which has been a fan-favorite.
“They added some kickass vocals and a solo,” he said.
Govoni also found Apollo Zapp a blast to work with, and praised Overglow’s album art.
On Facebook, Govoni announced the death of Botnit on Oct. 5, 2015, a day shy of one year after the release of his second album. Fans posted their lamentations.
A person going by the name of Daft Rebel said: “DAMN! I’ve just found you! xD Is this bad luck or what?!”
Nestor R. Grajeda said: “Thanks for giving us those fun tracks [and] influences. You always have a fan in me, Botnit. Thank you.”
Without having to devote eight to 11 months on an album, Govoni will have time for the other stuff he likes to do, such as working out, trying out new food and drink places around Boston, and collecting old video game ROMs and ISOs. He modded his Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 to play those disc images from an SD card.
There’s also major life events: He’s getting married next year.
There’s still some desire within him to make music, he said, but with all the rest that’s going on retiring Botnit is truly a bona fide chapter close.
“I liked how ‘1991’ sounded,” he said. “There’s a ton of great 90s sounds I didn’t use with Botnit because it wasn’t ‘80s enough.’ I could take those out now, but I think the inspiration to just sit down and try to make tunes is the problem. I just want to do other things with my time.”
Statement from Future City Records (Edited for punctuation):
In regards to Botnit, we haven’t heard from Jim in forever. He could have sent us a message about this issue, but instead chose to talk shit to you instead. Thanks Jim! Glad we could help you with your release! Jim was all too happy and capable to send us numerous messages when he wanted us to release his album, but then disappeared and we hear nothing when he has an issue. Of course.
Let me point out that Jim never said we denied or refused him payment or that we cut communication, all he says is he never got his money, well all too often we have artists just like Botnit who casually drop off a release to us, let us do all the work for it, pay to promote it (which they don’t do). We promote it on our pages which we have worked for years to build a solid following for, which they do not have, gain exposure for them, and then they completely disappear MPM style, and no, it is not our job to track them down. Many don’t even have valid email accounts or Facebook pages. It would drive one to insanity.
All they have to do is ask if they have a concern. If they can make an album on the computer, then I would hope they can figure out email. They certainly have no issues getting in touch when they want us to put out their music, though.
We make nothing from releases and run this label out of pocket and in our spare time from our real lives, and do our best. We don’t even make much sales anyways.
Anyways, the only reason I’m even responding to this is because I don’t want people to think we don’t give a fuck, because we do and love this scene.
When an artist is concerned about his profits from a release, all they have to do is message us and we are more than happy to address their needs and take care of them. We respect our artists, and we take their needs seriously.
You will never have an artist of ours say, “They refuse to pay me.” That has never happened. If anything we are occasionally late with a payment, but that is because *surprise* we do this label as a hobby and in our free time between our real jobs and family and personal struggles. We have no help either.
We do it because we want this scene to grow, not because we get a paycheck. Otherwise, we would have been gone a long time ago. None of you have any clue what it’s like to manage 120-plus releases by yourself.
In response to this, we will be finishing our already scheduled releases for November and then shutting Future City Records down for the foreseeable future. Most likely for good. As I mentioned this has been a labor of love, and not feeling much of that anymore. Apologies to all of those who have been working so hard.
If any one has an inquiry about profits etc please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to take care of you.
Alex M and the FCR team.