Home > Netlabel Reflections > open source netaudio managment?

open source netaudio managment?

A couple weeks ago i saw this talk at video.google.com titled: How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People (And You Can Too), a very interesting presentation on the do’s and don’ts of properly setting up and maintaining a momentum for successful open source projects.

I started drawing some parallels, not only with running a netlabel, but also sustainability of other creative communities that i been involved with through the years, i’m talking of the portuguese demoscene and more recently the hacklab that i’m involved with (xDA). All of these being social projects around a common goal. All of them having suffered from typical problems mentioned in the talk.

This is an extremely complex subject, first of all because you’re dealing with human factor: lots of different personalities, lots of egos, lots of mood swings. Even when everyone is highly motivated and sharing a common vision it can become very complicated to manage clashing personalities working for the same goal. Not being motivated or dispersing into personal interests makes things all the more interesting to deal with.

Setting up a communitary project with a given goal is not at all difficult, plenty of good ideas and interesting goals around, but if you want it to become successful you need to give it momentum, get others involved and have them give it momentum. And when the momentum is created you need to sustain it until the goal is met.

Problem 1) Lack of right people. You need to find them, explain to them the whole purpose of the project and get them motivated. Some will not be interested at all, others will find it fascinating but never get involved due to lack of time or confidence they can contribute to a common goal. Others will find it interesting but be reluctant to contribute pending if it truly gains momentum or not. Others will even boycott your efforts behind your back.

One lesson i learned from the video is about who controls the project. The video has a clear opinion on the matter: companies open sourcing their projects should set the goal but not control the development, the community developing the project should democratically decide that.

It’s very hard to extrapolate that concept to running a netlabel. Even though i have seen examples of that concept somehow working (Soulseek Records anyone?) it can also crumble into a situation where no one in the community is happy (or feels the project is theirs) which leads back to lack of motivation and interest.

On the other hand, this point of theirs completely resonates with how hard it is to find long lasting collaborators to help you run a netlabel (or netaudio portal for that matter). The enthusiasm comes, and goes, and you’re left yet again with the project on your own hands only. I believe it to be because new collaborators don’t ever truly feel like they own a part of the label. In commercial projects i guess it’s easier, you don’t need to feel like you own it, you just need to get paid for your work.

So my questions to the netaudio thinker community at this point are:
a) is it possible to run a netlabel for years on end in a truly open source manner? soulseek records is the only example i can think of, and it eventually closed shop.
b) how to make new collaborators feel like the label is also theirs? share a very specific common vision / aesthetic taste? or are we destined to always run netlabels as a closed source venture?

I’m also interested in hearing back from netaudio alliances representatives on the matter :)

Categories: Netlabel Reflections
  1. 10/09/05 at 12:41

    Man, you must be aware Ive put p&j on hiatus for few months and I’m still trying to dig ideas about how to get it back and rollin’. Seriously, I still haven’t found anything. My best idea so far about it is to make a website, give all musicians an account on it so they can post news and make the website look alive when there are no important releases and well, keep on working like we always did… wait for people to join, release their music and… see them releasing somewhere else eventually.

    I think the better way to run a netaudio project is to act like a crew, back to how it was working years ago. Just ask to your label mate the right dedication. For example, ask them if they are sure they want to be a part of the project as in, don’t you just want to get released here to get released somewhere else after, do you want to organise compilations with us? do you want to help us spamming etcetc

    A netlabel is easy to set up. Just get a website, free host, spam stuff. Doing it the better way requires time. You gotta write down nice texts (not too pompous, not too honest eheh) to present new releases with nice cover so basically, you have to find illustrators as part of the crew and the most important, stick to a line, a way to behave, a vocabulary even?
    I believe many “real labels” are acting this way, it’s just being a crew, doing gigs, organising events, having fun, releasing new stuff and GOTO 0.

    Do you remember the disciple of ageema blues? No rss, just a website, visit, get new tunes or not, that was all but damn, it worked pretty well as well.

    Ok, my answers are a bit far from your questions but its mostly because I don’t give much about “open source” and all, to me it always has been putting music online, no matter what people really want.

    Answer to b) give them an editor access on the website AHAHAH

  2. chunter
    10/09/05 at 13:28

    I agree with kaneel. If there is no connection between the artists, and if the netlabel doesn’t do any promoting as a “team” or sponsor any gigs (even in some artificial non-monetary way) then there is no difference between an individual filling a website with music downloads and a netlabel.

    If you are feeling experimental, start a netlabel as a wiki page, or a wordpress blog where all artists can post. Perhaps start off with a sample or template release so that the artists don’t make things that are too different at first and then see what happens.

    I would hope to hear an answer from someone like Transient (who has been on many netlabels) and Nullsleep or Minusbaby (who have basically only been on one) to see if their answers contrast.

  3. 10/09/05 at 13:50

    I believe that any collaboration, open or closed in source, poses these kinds of challenges. In the long run, it’s not clear to me that the netlabel model is the
    best model for open source music, as I suspect that other forms of curation of
    releases will evolve, and I suggest that releases, like tortoises, can “carry their homes on their backs” and be made free of the need for an umbrella netlabel, using the “album page” and “album URL” concept that Lucas Gonze has suggested.

    That said, I think it is not that hard to build an aesthetic (a look, a feel, a style of music, even a sense of community) for a netlabel. I think what is hard is the same thing hard for any charitable or small business endeavor–time and the discipline to keep going.

    I find in netlabel life there are a lot of statements made long the lines of “we are superior because we do not do x like those inferior labels”, but to me the
    real test of time is “we have had a good run because we have consistently released in our aesthetic a set of songs we like”. Any netlabel regime that can say that has accomplished something.

    I am intrigued, too, that netlabel life already mimics indie label life, because wonderful labels like Comfort Stand are lamented more after their departure than celebrated during their life. I love a good story, and life is full of wonderful narratives, but sometimes I’d rather put the hero-worship, elitism, and myth-making aside and download a good tune.

  4. psenough
    10/09/05 at 14:04

    thanks for the input guys! some nice food for thought.
    come to think of it sites like 8bitcollective and rhymetorrents also follow this open source model of running, to a certain degree… but it’s hard to regard them as a label per se as opposed to a portal / community site.
    and we return to the point of the article: needs to have a very specific goal / focus in order to attract and prevail.

  5. chunter
    10/09/05 at 15:08

    I think I need some more detail to understand what will make a netlabel “open.” In the software sense, “open” means that anyone is free to submit alterations to the code, but it carries an addendum that although the person in charge of the codebase may reject your change, you are free to release your changes elsewhere without repercussion (besides the odd status of not being “official.”)

    Is this copied in the netlabel by saying the proprietor may reject any submission, but any submission may be sampled and remixed? Is the experience from either artist or listener’s point of view expected to be different from the experience at any other netlabel?

  6. psenough
    10/09/05 at 15:22

    chunter: well, there are several ways to run oss projects. some are totally open, others are controlled by a leader or group of leaders (self-proclaimed or democratically elected). some project leaders only mediate the community, in others they redefine the roadmap and approve submissions without regard on the opinion of the majority of the development team. they each have pros and cons, but the bottomline is, the more your entire contributing team has control of the project the more likely they will be motivated and contribute (keeping the ball rolling and getting more people involved). the video goes deeper into this issue.

    99% of the netlabels i know run on 1 or 2 guys calling the shots and others very ocasionaly helping out when help is requested. i’m trying to find ways to get people involved in a netlabel without a leader being required to go around asking favours for “his” netlabel all the time.

    my aim/dream is actually to create an “our” enough records netlabel without destroying in a couple months the good reputation earned from 9 years of invested hard work, by new people pushing in “bad” releases and ideas :) i want new people involved, but i also want to retain some sort of quality control, what i’m concluding is that perhaps it is not possible to have both.

  7. chunter
    10/09/05 at 15:48

    In a basic sense you are correct, you cannot give up control and keep it at the same time, but how about the Linux kernel for a model: there are people in charge of specific parts of codebase while Linus himself has the last word on all changes. Since you do not want to compromise quality control (unless there are a particular few you trust to do this) what aspects would you delegate? Organizing publicity events perhaps?

  8. psenough
    10/09/05 at 16:12

    typical delegatable tasks usually involve cover design, writting reviews, compilation organizing, general PR, event organizing/promotion, printing and shipping material. but they all still involve a certain degree of inner knowledge on “the scene” and quality control / validation. which is a typical turn off for helping hands.

  9. chunter
    10/09/05 at 18:47

    Yes, it could be a turn-off if all those tasks are implied or requested all at once.

    I’m not trying to be too nosy or prodding, but how much do you know about the people you would delegate the tasks to? Are they extremely busy all the time? Do they like the idea of running a compilation? Is there a task you could assign someone to test that his or her idea of quality is close enough to yours?

    There is a chance that the only requisite needed is to be close friends with the people you work with, which carries all the weight of any other interpersonal relationship. The reason is because these decisions are easier to make when you’re asking something of someone you know very well.

    I should disclaim that I haven’t heard from a certain friend of mine since I quit playing in his band, which may have a slight effect on my opinion ;)

  10. psenough
    10/09/05 at 20:52

    running the label for 9 years now you can imagine i have run into all of the above :) both with people i know very well ending up flowing away from their ocasional duties, and random strangers offering to help.

    i’m trying to approach this issue top-down instead of bottom-up. perhaps it is not all about meeting the right people at the right time and knowing how to manage their quirks and time schedules, but more of how the project itself is presented.

    project in this case can be simply running a label, to a community/portal dedicated to netaudio, or even a festival of some sort. all of them typically suffer from motivation exodus in a matter of months.

  11. chunter
    10/09/05 at 21:52

    I think I understand the question now, I’m partly sorry for spending so much of your time on it, because I’m realizing that it’s not completely aimed at me. I like a good problem, however, so I’ll give it a little more thought.

    Yes, there is something to be said about presentation of the goal.

    The advantages to being on a classic netlabel are that the reach is global and cost is not a barrier to reaching the audience. Because everything else is completely variable, I think the most important thing is to present your goal clearly and show a strong sense of focus on that goal in your own work.

    In truth, I think your goal isn’t going to be met in a top-down or bottom-up style, but somewhere in between as a result of all the people you have already worked with joining you in conjunction with the top-down thinking.

    I’ll give this a little bit more thought later, and see if I can get some better-qualified people to give some answers.

  12. 10/09/05 at 22:02

    Telling you guys, let’s go oldschool. NSE PS! NSE :)

  13. psenough
    10/09/05 at 22:12

    kaneel: NSE didnt really last long either, now did it? :)

  14. 10/09/28 at 08:54

    No indeed :)
    Anyway, see what I mean? Your article has been posted, twitted, shared, read even… some weeks after? Nothing more. I’ve been coming back at it in order to read something new and didn’t. Seriously, this is internet, this is nowadays scene, nothing last more than a week. We gotta take less time working our songs, less time writing our articles, less time making websites because people will only care for a week or so.

    Sorry if it all sounds emo and all, but this is making me sad.

  15. psenough
    10/09/28 at 10:34

    it does sound emo :)

    it’s a complicated issue, these days you need to invest almost as much time in self-promotion then content creation in order to safe-guard your voice is heard. everyone has access to everything, you need to prove them you’re the one worthy of their time :)

    oddly enough human relations grow ever more important in the digital age :D

  16. 10/09/28 at 11:34

    You know about how much I’m emo.

    Anyway, I would like to react on what chunter says about “sponsoring gigs even with no money, just by saying you’re here”… I’ve tried teaching that idea to some of the musicians who released on p&j. It’s a tuff one, when the guy’s name is released on the flyer, you just hope he would think about putting “petite&jolie” right under but fuck, I won’t give nay names but once, I’ve heard one guy didn’t want to do it because there could be label guys at the party and he wanted to sound “free for their label”… I can understand that but at the same time we have to admit these people don’t make a part of the crew.

    An other thing I’ve noticed is about compilation musicians, you ask, they give, they almost never contact you back so well, I’ll avoid contacting people I never talked to, it’s giving me good tunes for sure, not the kind of relations I’m expecting with people on the other side.

    Now, what happens uh? Petite&Jolie will come back and won’t be called a “netabel” (afterall, it’s only a name right? tracking group anyone?) and may only focus on the “crew” thing because it seems obvious that’s what I was already trying to do before and I lately received some emails from followers who despise the fact it went on a hiatus but still understand my point of view.

    Yet, I don’t know how I’ll manage to do the spam thing if I get rid of the netlabel stamp… it always have helpt a bit to be honest and I couldn’t say we release “ccmusic”, THAT IS NOT A GENRE :)

  17. chunter
    10/09/28 at 12:34

    Do what you want with P&J,kaneel, as long as you’re satisfied with the results.

    I suppose all the microbloging web 2.0 stuff has introduced even more of the flash in pan effect (I hope that people reading will understand the analogy,) but there is another effect the internet brings- as long as someone continues to host material, it will be here whether it is read or not.

    As long as this blog isn’t erased, in ten to fifteen years, some teenager searching in the engine that ousts Google can stumble on this and maybe download all the releases in Enough and listen to them. I know this can happen because I remember that my own exploration of demoscene was (mostly) after the 90s, and that I keep finding blogs and such from teen an university-aged people that collect, listen to, or play with things that clearly came out when they were babies or weren’t born yet. I am only speaking for myself, but that is what is most interesting about free releases for me: the chance for your work to have a posterity.

    Embarrasingly for me, that means my target audience technically does not exist since my work does not deserve the same posterity as something like the HVSC, but it’s fun enough for me to carry on with it.

    This property of the internet means that we may never notice the full impact of things we say and create. I’m sure most of it passes like yesterday’s wind, but Google’s spider isn’t discriminating.

  1. 10/09/04 at 21:08
  2. 10/09/05 at 01:31
  3. 10/09/12 at 01:55

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