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Scene Dynamics

This is a response to a recent article titled Speaking Free, written by my friend Dylan Orchard, on the uncertainty of the direction and focus of the netaudio scene.

In respect to order and chaos

A scene or movement is always a dynamic entity, it forms itself out of people with different backgrounds and interests that atoned to a common goal or characteristic. It doesn’t mean they’ll all play by the same rules. It definitely never implied they shall all get along and share the same visions and values.

But this is a good thing. Diversity implies a greater ability to rapidly adapt to changes. Considering how fast technology evolves and how transient the human interest in new music can be, these characteristics bode well to the indie music scene. Which explains the exponential growth the netaudio scene has had and why so many models that have been prototyped first in the netaudio scene are only now getting adopted by the mainstream artists and indie label owners tired of the old models.

I don’t see the netaudio scene as having lost focus or a common ground at all. Just an ever-increasing expansion and sustained evolution and reanalysis, which every label and artist has to do for themselves and try things out to find their soft spot.

The audience

But one thing I do entirely concur with is that there is a lack of audience reach within the netlabel scene, and that we seem to cultivate a certain underlying fetishism for the introspective underground. Which is kind of ridiculous if you ask me since we don’t even know each other all that well and probably never will, since there are so many labels and artists out there. Yet we keep focusing on releasing more of the unknown to an unknown “cyberspace” audience. Casually ignoring the lack of feedback on new releases as a personal stance holding the flag on the democratization of music releasing.

Yeah, it’s a lot easier to put a new release out there these days. But you still have to build a reputation for yourself, get a network and promote the releases if you want to get anywhere beyond your circle of friends.

Free music is free

Amidst it all we have the freeness of it all, which, rightfully noted, has different meanings to different people, and for some they even change with time, i’m sure some folks can think of a few artists and netlabels who suddenly forgot their netaudio roots in a fleeting ephiphany that they might be able to achieve more notoriety if they renounce the cult of the free.

Guess they slightly ignored how many indie labels and artists have done the exact reverse path, but that’s subject matter for a whole other series of articles.

More important then the discussion of whose version of free is the most accurate and should be scribbled down on all our guidelines of standards and rules that only a few in our scene would actually abide to; is the subject of why should members of a scene atone to a single definition to begin with? Different people release in different ways, if they still have a download for free, it’s netaudio else it’s not. Each label and artist must follow their own path of figuring out what works best for them.

There are several views on whats free, some more legal than others. Some legalities more moral than others. But people will keep making, listening, promoting and distributing music regardless of all that. Monetization is a parallel paradigm. Netaudio simply removes that issue for the listener.

Free but not netaudio

Another interesting phenomena are artists, labels with albums that despite being free for download don’t like using the term netaudio applied to them. It has a negative connotation. As if the release being announced in those channels as opposed to the authors social network would suddenly get lost in a sea of unknown authors and confused for something which might or might not be mediocre.

I think this is symptomatic for the lack of trust in quality the general audience and media still has in netaudio releases, despite lots of very good efforts against that image having been made in the past few years. And this is serious food for thought which unsurprisingly ends up influencing netaudio artists and labels to try out “the dark side” once again.

[originally written for netlabelism.com]

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Categories: Netlabel Reflections

Enough Manifesto (Part 6)

‘To push into other audiences.’

Know your enemyViva La Revolucion

In the final part of the Enough Records Manifesto series I’m pushing into what, to some, is the most contentious point of them all – ‘to push into other audiences’. As a general rule this one should garner fairly obvious approval – no one, no matter how in love with the intricacies and eccentricities of tiny hobbyist corners would deny at least some desire to spread the word of good music to ever more people and on that level this part of the manifesto doesn’t bear up to much scrutiny. That said though there are arguments brewing around it, not because more people listening can ever be considered a bad thing but because the source of those new listeners can always draw a line between two major schools of thought within the free music movement.

On the one hand you have those who look at the scene and, finding it to be a very good one, want it to exist in isolation from the rest of the cultural world – not isolated from new input and influences but very definitely not attempting to usurp existing models, the most notable of which is the commercial mainstream. For those in this camp the main message seems to be that what we’re doing is good, undeniably so, so why frame it in any relation to the opposition? Why even call the mainstream model ‘opposition’ in the first place when their existence and ours are so obviously juxtaposed? Even if business led systems garner more listeners and more influence in most peoples cultural lives our mere presense as an alternative, albeit an understated one, proves that there are other ways and that, vastly succesful or not, those other ways are always valid in their isolation. It’s an approach which I can understand and it’s certainly the more comfortable option as far as most aspects of what we do goes; it allows us to negate the demands of competition and focus solely on the music without worrying about the wider context it takes within society. We don’t have to proselytize, promote or compare ourselves to the work being pumped out by those whose main motivation is profit and through that we don’t have to compromise an inch in search of wider acceptance. That most people beyond our still very insular world will never hear much of the music which we love is a side note, in time those who want to hear something new will, perhaps, come across it on their own or by the actions of a self-sustaining movement without our having to move into enemy territory to spread the word. And it’s a belief which will always hold sway within the movement because, as ever, no one ideology can dictate the progress of such an incredibly diverse community of musicians, listeners, writers and miscellanious others. But – and there’s always a but – there’s at least one other school of thought working away on the issue. And it’s the school that I belong to. Read more…

Enough Manifesto (Part 5)

‘To push into other models.’

There are half a dozen different ways to look at today’s point from the Enough Records Manifesto, whether you head in the direction of expanding netaudio into other structures and models of distribution, sharing and community; to create new sound structures under the aegis of absolute freedom offered by the basic concepts of what we do or, as I myself am probably most enthusiastic about, taking the free model that we’ve created and extending it beyond the boundaries of music and into, well, anything and everything.

It’s easy to see why music stands at the forefront of the free and open culture movements – after all the technology which makes these new structures viable is the same technology which has opened up the creative process to a vast swathe of people who, previously, faced the choice of either investing endless amounts of money into the equipment and training required to put together even the most rudimentary of sounds or accepting the limitations of traditional instrumentalism, learning to use one tool at a time and, more often than not, defining your musical evolution by that initial path. The latter of course still applies as even the technology we have today can’t offer absolute mastery over sound even if it makes the process of learning vastly more egalitarian and open. At any rate, the musical revolution of home producing hit just at the right time to make this vast scene of ours an inevitability – a sense of timing which hasn’t extended to other arts for whom digital mediums, especially in their free or open form, remain something of an odd fit. Read more…

Death metal and netlabels

First of all, hello everyone, as it’s my first post here, and hopefully ps won’t regret letting me touch the WordPress after reading it :)

I’m maintaining Enough releases on Bandcamp, and as it’s coming slowly and painfully (converting mp3s to WAV, then uploading those huge uncompressed files takes about five hours per album – quite a lot, when you want to keep your daily job and private life intact), I hope that after some time Bandcamp will be a new way to deliver Enough music (sorry for terrible pun) to new listeners. End with chit-chat, let’s talk about heavy metal music and netlabels.

Some years ago, after my first exposure to netlabel music, I was wondering why there’s no such a thing for metal music. There was, same as today, plethora of netlabels releasing various types of electronica, but nothing for fans of constant headbanging and guitar riffs. Sure, some of the bands or solo artists were offering their works for free to download, like Burzukh, Dimaension X or Umbah, but let’s make it straight – those are quite experimental sounds, not really for a taste of your typical longhaired mofo w/ Cannibal Corpse tee. After failed attempt at making a death metal-centered netlabel (let it’s name cover in dust and never get mentioned again), I gave up on ever finding a place with fresh and free metal music.

Boy, I gotta say, I was a man of little faith. Read more…

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Enough Manifesto (part 4)

The next step in my often disrupted series on my interpretation of the Enough Records manifesto. At this rate I’m almost in danger of reaching the end within the year.

Pondering the present and the future are always, for obvious reasons, obvious facets of analysing and following the free music movement. With the chaotic freedom offered to those artists involved this corner of the musical world more than any gives way to experimentalism or even simply messing around with sound. Everyone from avant garde, near impossible to get into sound-scapers to more traditional instrumentalists is free to modify and manipulate their efforts without the looming demands of a commercialised or dictated crowd. Infinite choice leads to infinite variety, a fact which the framework of the commercial mainstream belies in it’s insistence on moulding the path of musical progression in tune with manageable, predictable trends. Indeed even the greater freedoms of the Indie scene can’t afford to indulge the truly eclectic given that, nine times out of ten, the experiment fails regardless of the hope behind it – but that odd one out, the time when an unthought of musical structure works to the point where it becomes a foundation from which to launch even greater explorations is well worth the jarring attempts which fall short. It’s a liberty which from genre to genre calls for a ‘sonic squirrel’, eclectic enough to indulge the oddities but also aware enough of where musical paths lead to know what’s worth following. The next album, the next track, the next EP – the future’s an easy pre-occupation to have. Read more…

Categories: Netlabel Reflections

Jamendon’t

It’s rare, these days, for me to pay real attention to Jamendo. Way back when I first tripped over free music I treated the place as a hub, the first check-in point whenever I felt like finding something new and for the most part it worked. An hour wading through the dross and I’d usually be able to come up with at least one album worth hearing and the detritus surrounding it seemed like a fairly marginal issue. Over time though that marginal issue of the bad stuff started to define the site for me, facing the vast jumble sale of music I increasingly decided not to bother trying, instead shifting my attentions to the net labels. There was still shit music about but finding the one good album out of 10 on a label’s catalogue took far less devotion and patience than finding the one good album out of 200 on Jamendo. It’s a ratio of good to bad which is always going to be part of the equation when it comes to free music. Not necessarily through self-delusion or a lack of talent on behalf of the artists but the ease of releasing stuff incites some musicians to include the stuff that they know is only a step on the path to the final project. Especially when it comes to those, like me, who have only just started fiddling with sounds – the second you get to grips with the basics there’s an immediate desire to be involved, to add your work to the whole, to see it standing alongside the artists you admire. A good thing, to some degree, given that it frees up the creative process and means people can learn and explore what they can do with an actual audience to guide them but the overall effect on a site as welcoming and all inclusive as Jamendo can never be an entirely positive one. Read more…

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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