clean netlabel highlights

The site Phlow-Magazine is a slick compilation of activity in the netlabel scene.

The netlabel subculture is growing a layer of editorial filters around the inner core of musicians (who came first) and publishers (who came second).

I wonder whether a bigger market would be reached by emphasizing or downplaying the idea of "netlabels." Emphasizing it helps the site stay connected to a healthy existing community, but is a turnoff for people who don't identify with that scene. And if not "netlabels", what? Is there some other way of thinking about this music which is more intuitive?

When are the MP3 bloggers going to discover the netlabels? Why do they still draw on releases primarily intended for the offline market? Who reblogs Myspace, YouTube and blog bands? Or is this already happening and I just don't read enough MP3 blogs to see it?

Category: business 12 comments »

12 Responses to “clean netlabel highlights”

  1. gurdonark

    I do not know the answer to the rhetorical question posed. Netlabel culture reaches a huge group of people, but a group which is very niche and non-mainstream. Given time, an artist or set of artists will arise from netlabel culture that will gain broad mass appeal, but that is also true given time at any form of media distribution.

    Netlabel culture is analogous to its predecessors mail art and tape exchange culture.
    Both these prior movements arose because of a sense that corporate/institutional distribution
    disserved artists and those for whom art was created. Both movements had a co-creator element to them–”fans” tended to be “creators” and not just passive “experiencers”. Both movements ended up being vibrant, and interesting, and very niche. Mail art remains a fascinating international sub-culture, but its participants are anything but a mainstream movement.

    Netlabel culture offered a form of “curation” for the releases that its commercial contemporaries like soundclick and garageband.com lacked. Its ethic is based on releasing things that cannot be released on commercial labels, and proving that there is an active audience for such releases.

    Yet the existence of an international “active audience” for arcane genres of music does not translate to the culture-change required to create a non-institutional music culture.

    I do not believe that the viral marketing via myspace or youtube do the trick, either, particularly as a number of these artists amount to really cool purveyors of covers and near-covers–a ticket to a major, but not a sea change in music.

    The mp3 bloggers, with some notable exceptions (disquiet.com, who is enormously influential in his area), have not signed on to a new GNU/Free Art/PD/CC consciousness. When this sea change occurs, if it occurs, then the old hegemony will be over.

    One of two things is true, and it’s not clear to me which it is:

    a. we are in an era like the early era of cell phones, when it is inevitable that mass distribution via netlabels will come, and it’s just a matter of spreading an awareness of the possibilities; or

    b. netlabels will be another form of mail art, a vibrant arts movement, but fundamentally a small-scale “green” alternative to corporate record culture rather than the replacement for corporate record culture.

    As to the netlabel v. weblog dilemma, let’s take a concrete example. My most popular last.fm song right now is a piece placed on a compilation by Webbed Hand, a popular netlabel. If I released that same song through my own weblog, I would be hard-pressed to find as many listeners.

    When Verian and I founded NSI, we were impressed with how easy it was to find listeners. We’re less active in our second year than in our first, but we’ve still had solid feedback and reasonable downloads. NSI gave us a focal point to market an aesthetic of near-ambient music, which is a “marketing” advantage for viral spread.

    Yet the question remains–is it that we called it a netlabel, or is it that we had a cool place on the web in which we presented a vision.

    If individuals could have all the advantages of a netlabel with only a weblog, wouldn’t that be a better thing? That’s the question.

    I sure do love a lot of netlabels, and do a lot more downloading there than at individual artist sites. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t just download artist-direct, though, if more resources existed.

    Interesting topic.

  2. Brad

    I think artists should group themselves into “collectives” rather than be grouped into “netlabels”.

  3. lucasgonze

    So what’s your own interaction with collectives, Brad? How does it affect things?

    An issue in the back of my mind is the difference between net-native music, which includes yours, and netlabels, which have roots in the old demo scene and which are a different thing.

    I’ve been finding lately that old timey acoustic guitar players on YouTube get clumped together by the site’s recommendations, shared keywords, subscriptions to one another, mutual subscribers, and links in comments. I consciously cultivated those relations after the threads here a couple months ago about labels as collectives, and it did yield some

  4. gurdonark

    Brad, you may be right that artists’ collectives are a better way to go. Right now, the netlabel form creates a way of distributing music which “feels” analogous to the old concept of a record label–Statsisfield or The Resting Bell netlabels release material with a kind of “branding” that is dependable, just as Nonesuch or Philo did in “realspace”. Yet it’s true that netlabel thinking as a construct may should wither–and artists gathering into “collectives” or “schools” or the like may help.

    Brad, you’ve done a great deal to spread your music through your own efforts–and it’s been very impressive to see. I think it’s true, as Lucas mentions, that your work is “net-native” rather than “netlabel”–and that alternative has been perfectly workable for you.

    I think that perhaps “netlabel” and “collective” are old ways of thinking, and that viral music spread will evolve ways of thinking about releasing music which move beyond either idea.
    Tags, links, mutual friends, shared music, social networks–a whole set of tools, and software and websites that aid in their management may be the true tools needed when it all shakes out.

  5. Brad

    Well, the way net-labels are set up these days they don’t really do much other than group a bunch of artists under one umbrella. Maybe you get some sort of organizational or financial help, but that’s fleeting and usually non-existent.

    Labels that work really well are analogous to collectives. Ninja Tune, Wax Trax, Cleopatra, Ed Banger, Elephant 6 — what makes (or made) these labels/collectives valuable to me is that they essentially are a genre. So there’s built-in crossover that happens just by being an Ed Banger artist or an Elephant 6 artist. Fans who like artists under the umbrella will check out other artists due to the endorsement of being included.

    Does anyone get a Warner Brothers album and go “wow, I gotta check out more of these Warner Brothers artists”?

    To me a collective can be greater than the sum of its parts. And there’s no reason why the collective couldn’t hire the same PR/distribution folks that the labels do.

    If I were going to leverage a collective off of Brad Sucks, I’d stick to other artists and bands I thought Brad Sucks fans might enjoy (not necessarily 100% the same, but in the neighborhood) and that way you can have a nice rotating bunch of entertainment for fans. When I’m (as Brad Sucks) agonizing over a new album for three years, there can be other artists in a similar vein for people to enjoy and benefit from me being a slacker. And vice-versa.

    It seems unrealistic to think that one artist or band will be able to organically sustain a tremendous amount of interest over long bouts of inactivity. I think a collective would distribute it out among many different artists and potentially pool more resources and bring in a lot more money than one artist on their own could.

    That was a long reply.

  6. gurdonark

    I think of my favorite netlabels as devoted to a genre or related set of genres–webbed hand for ambient/experimental, darkwinter for dark ambient, wanderingear for field recordings, intelligentmachinery for experimental, earth monkey for quirky electronica, Birdsong for quirky material. So I think that if there’s an “umbrella” it usually is finding artists who work in similar genres.

    Yet I agree entirely that internet release in general, and netlabel releases in particular, lend themselves to collectives and other voluntary groupings. To some extent, CCmixter can function that way. I’d love to see “schools” and “salons” and “collectives” and “movements” arise, because in each of those models there’s the sense of a group interest around a defined goal–which is a cool, non-annoying form of branding.

  7. Janko Roettgers

    I think it’s important to understand netlabels in their musical context – which is mostly electronic music, with some exceptions that usually cover other niche genres. Electronica musicians are for the most part socialized by labels as not just curators, but also epicenters of musical phenomenons. There’s no way to talk about Cologne Techno without mentioning Kompakt, just to pick one example, and it’s completely normal for record stores that cater to DJs to sort their records not by artists, but by labels. At the same time, these “labels” were and are oftentimes just that: Labels for a certain sound or a certain group of people, with the actual physical distribution mattering less than the sound and the people that represent it. Of course you could also call it collective – but that wouldn”t really change much. Not in the context of electronic music, at least.

  8. Lucas Gonze

    I stumbled on disquiet before but never really got it. Just now I hung around a bit and it hit me. I really like the taste, writing, and perspective, and right now I’m listening to something that’s fucking amazing. gurdonark, I owe you one.

    find #1: http://www.zshare.net/audio/14816337d6da400e/

    find #2: http://disquiet.com/2008/07/07/remixed-78-rpm-mp3s-from-alan-morse-davies/

    For an example of his perspective, what other non-musician talks about *music in forums*: “The forums at cratekings.com continue to be a great place to dig for excellent electronic music in the form of beat-heavy, sample-based solo work.”

    P.S. Formatting in the comments is messed up since I moved my blog over to the new home. You might need to do html link breaks. Here’s a test of a BR:
    did it work?

  9. Lucas Gonze

    Hm. the BR did work, but also line breaks were fine when I just did double lines between paragraphs. I think all the comments from the old site will be messed up unless I go and edit them all by hand, which I’m not going to do, and the new comments will be fine.

    The thing about netlabels as the extension of electronica culture, including the offline world like Kompact, is that I think this is too limited a view of net-native music. What Brad Sucks does isn’t electronica. What I and all the other acoustic guitar players posting on YouTube do isn’t electronica.

    Not sure where I’m going with this, except I guess just to say that this issue of electronica as the indigenous music of the internet has been stuck in my head for a while.

  10. mo.

    hey lucas!

    first of all, i would like to thank you, that you mentioned http://www.phlow-magazine.com – it’s an honour that someone like you have a look on our small magazine :)

    i would like to contribute to this discussion:

    i am sure, that in the future there will be more and more netlabels – professional. there are a lot of facts. first of all i define a netlabel like…

    => a netlabel is a musiclabel which distributes music through virtual formats (mp3, flac, ogg vorbis,…)

    => a netlabel is not per se a free music label

    in the future, more and more old labels will discover, that cd- and vinyl-selling won’t work anymore. thusfar more and more professional netlabels will rise. they will spread their music via beatport, itunes and such mp3 shops.

    but more and more musicians will discover, that they have to give their music away for free, because more and more other musicians will do so.

    music as data will be only a promotion-tool in the upcoming years.

    in my opinion, you only can earn money with limited goods and all culture be it text, video, pictures or music can be transformend into infinite goods like mp3s or other digital formats.

    the future of musicians is to do concerts and make promotion via digital free goods to download to drag the people into the club or to visit their concerts.

    i believe more and more netlabels will rise and in the next 2-5 years netlabels will hit the mainstream with fantastic productions.

    @janko: “I think it’s important to understand netlabels in their musical context – which is mostly electronic music”

    => that was true for a long time, but more and more musicians and netlabels distribute indiemusic (with guitars), hiphop and more and more pop music (have a listen to calendar girl on ccmixter)

    i hope you understand my german english ;)

    cheers from germany, mo.

  11. Quarter Bit

    Very interesting discussion here. I might add that netlabels like Thinner have become a standard, not only be the quality of the releases but by the way they work. They are approaching the netlabel market not only by releasing under a CC license but also making hard copies available to the public.
    I also can give the example of PublicSpaces, a small netlabel operating from Barcelona, that has had more than 66,000 downloads of their 4 releases and to me that is a very impressive number since their catalogue is not the easiest one to listen to.
    With the right promotion and finding the right target I think that the future lies indeed with the netlabels.

  12. wet saint

    thank you for your commentary on the netlabel scene. i emphasize the word scene because you actually can participate in any way imaginable. the first comment by gurdonark well illustrates some of the important ideas. in the early days of the mailart/cassette network there were very few outlets and points of reference. this was the fringe of diy, there are only a handful of artists from that scene that “made it” one example is francisco lopez. but this is also an artist who releases works which challenge the very medium itself and this is what i hope netlabels do as well.

    as a musician, when i first began recording myself digitally i found that it really is a new form of radio. i do not want to “own” my files anymore. i do not trust digital storage mediums anymore. i would prefer to upload my material and let anyone use it. by making a code analogy with our music we establish a right to maintain some form of loving relationship with our playback hardware. the netlabel itself is a format. it is a form of macrosample in the world of musical culture. samples by nature are viral, all digitally based musics contains them.

    netlabels are a wonderful expression of the culture of format. the love of the medium. when i think of netlabels, i think of how the tracker scene and various now obscure player formats used to be an interface. the internet itself is now an interface.

    if you were to create a genre, or collective now, would you first consider that you are already a part of one first? if you did, would you promote the people who inspired you? because when i am on the internet, enjoying music, i am actually also turning into a geek. not only finding out about music but math and science. this is a cybernetic age and the machine does not yet speak the human language.

    music is ephemeral and mostly enjoyed yes, for the slice of culture which it gives us. it can transport us.

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