Response to Silent World of Netlabels

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

There is, in this mini essay by Mixgalaxy Records, a discussion we should be having in the netlabel underground.

Clearly, yes, there is very little intracommunication between netlabel artists who do not already know each other… there is very, very little community-wide feedback. This is something I’ve been saying for years. I had the great pleasure of having participated in the final ‘golden years’ of the cassette underground. With each tape trade there was an exchange of letters, and often there was a follow up once both traders had a chance to listen to the other’s work. Sometimes this led to a friendly connection. Other times just a polite comaradery, or in some cases a dismissive ‘nice try, just not my kinda thing’. For what it was, there was at least some feedback, even if brief.

The author of the Mixgalaxy essay is correct to accuse the netlabel underground of ‘silence’. It’s shameful the total vacuum that people’s efforts disappear into. I may not necessarily be composing my own music for an audience, but I do feel it’s part of the experience to occasionally have someone contact me and say “Hey, really weird stuff… I dig it.” As Gurdonark says in the comments to the Mixgalaxy post “A listener need not spend 16 dollars on a CD to download a netlabel album, but spending 30 seconds on an e mail or 5 seconds on a tweet is a form of ‘payment’ netlabel owners crave.

My biggest beef with the netlabel underworld has long been that although I myself am constantly listening to netlabel releases by artists that I frequently know little about, and recommending them via email or Twitter or through this blog (check out this post, or this one, or this one, this, this, this, or this one for example), I see only a small minority of other netlabel supporters doing the same. Most of the time the only interaction some netlabels/artists have with anyone is a promo blurb about some new release — or ten new releases. There may as well be a mechanoid behind some of these labels. Do they listen to their peers? Do they even know their peers exist? Who knows? But hey, they have several new releases this month. Why even participate in a community if you don’t want to communicate?

Where I disagree with the author is the false dichotomy of netlabel with commercial music. I don’t see that the average artist in the net underground is at all ‘hoping for that big break’ that’ll help them cross that supposed thin line that separates the two worlds, and they’ll suddenly be rich and famous. Net artists have embraced obscurity, and why not? Obscurity is a virtue. Yes; we all want more listeners, yes; we even want fans, but the kind of music most of us make is just never going to have a hope of being popular, and we all know it. I for one am happy to reach more and more listeners, but I am happy with a slow and small accumulation of appreciative listeners. I feel like I can be honest to my own creative direction (which is something I take very seriously), with this approach. I may be misreading the essay, but I simply don’t agree with the diagnosis that netlabels’ problems have to do with money not being involved. I think the free aesthetic is one of the strongest bonding elements we all have.

I want a more inclusive and supportive community of netlabel artists than there is currently. Perhaps this can change. I have seen signs lately that point to ‘scene boosting’ activity… the Mixgalaxy Records blog post itself is a pretty good sign of this.

It occurs to me, perhaps, that what the community might have a need for is a more centralized method of communication. Mail art had some central hubs… Ashley Parker Owens’ Global Mail filled that role for a while. The cassette underground had Gajoob, and later Autoreverse (among others)… the net underground is completely de-centralized, which can be a strength, but it definitely doesn’t lead to a sense of community. Right now, it’s every man/label for himself. I may not be the chummiest guy in the whole wide world, but I sure as shit reject that kind of isolationism.


  1. Hello C.Reider.

    Thanks for joining these debates and especcialy for writing your own esse.

    I expected more negative reactions or strong disagreements when I wrote my article. But then I found out that many of us feel that something important is needed in netaudio scene.

    Maybe we can debate with each other about methods, but it’s good to see thet people over there are agree about the main thing.


    Posted by Mixgalaxy Records | November 4, 2010 9:06 am
  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Leonardo Rosado, Mixgalaxy Records, c. reider, Mixgalaxy Records, c. reider and others. c. reider said: For better or worse: My 2 cents about that Mixgalaxy essay I read earlier today: Response to Silent World of #Netlabels […]

    TrackBack by Tweets that mention Vuzh Music Blog » Blog Archive » Response to Silent World of Netlabels -- | November 4, 2010 9:35 am
  3. Hi there,

    I’ve posted in Alexander’s post and I’ll continue here some of my thoughts after reading your post and having thought a bit more about Alexander’s, and I would like to throw in a couple more ideas.

    For starters, I know little about the netlabel / netaudio scene because I wasn’t here when it boomed. But like any boom / scene the excitement drops as soon as it is not new. So the only option is to evolve.

    My second argument is that has C.Reider says quite well we live in a decentralized world (more and more) and that is a GREAT THING (excuse my All Caps) if you look at energy management, everyone is thinking how to implement decentralized systems, to ensure better quality of energy and security of supply, and this metaphor is equal for things related with the web (at least from my perspective) When C.Reider mentions this marvelous hubs (large infrastructures) that manage the system he mentions that when they cease to exist we get a void.

    So, by advocating the existence of hubs or central systems we are advocating (at least theoretically) the existence of dependence on something that if it stops to exist means we go back to the dark age.

    I say we have to build a network with as much connections as possible, because if one is lost the others compensate. It takes a lot of work to do, yes it takes, I don’t think that there is a golden fast and magical solution. So we keep doing what we do best, reach out to others, share with them our interests and hopefully they will pass on to others. If someone only advertises their releases, they are bound to be isolated – that is probably a fact. So engagement, word of mouth, collaboration are in the end what truly matters, and things happen naturally.

    Though I don’t think Alexander meant to say that he was waiting for a hub to solve is problems, I truly hope that no one thinks that way.

    just 2 cents more added to my account… and I’ll soon be out of money 😉



    Posted by Leonardo Rosado | November 4, 2010 9:54 am
  4. I agree that there are big advantages to de-centralization, but I think one of the netlabel scene’s big weaknesses is that it’s not as well networked together as it could be. Most of the forums / twitter posts / facebook groups are all a bunch of people saying listen to my thing, listen to my thing, listen to my thing, listen to my thing… over and over again. It’s redundant and if I tune it out (being sympathetic to netlabels and the need to self-promote) then how’s a casual, potential listener going to react to that?

    I am using twitter a lot, and my first impulse was to find every netlabel I could and follow them, but I found that most of them were just doing that kind of promotion. I can’t handle that impersonal approach, I have too little free time, and am exposed to too much advertising as it is. So, instead I’m being far more selective about which ‘communicados from comrades’ I will read regularly.

    If more netmusic people don’t start talking up each other more and do less “me, me, me” then the whole scene will disappear up it’s own butt.

    An honest recommendation is worth way more than self-promotion anyway.

    Posted by C. Reider | November 4, 2010 8:41 pm
  5. I agree with you that the dichotomy need not be “netlabel v. commercial”. I like to say
    the choice is instead “netlabel v. silence”.

    A lot of the debates are really beside the point, as you and I each know lots of folks who do indeed listen to netlabel releases, and are an audience for the various genres. I know those folks appreciate netlabel works.

    I’m amused, though, that I get perhaps 1 e mail every 2 months that lets me know that a song has been used in a video, while google video will show me x videos each month using my songs. In this way, google video is my best way to get feedback. Go robots and spiders.

    Posted by gurdonark | November 4, 2010 2:43 pm
  6. Guys, please note dichotomy “netlabel vs. commercial” is still important for artists. I mentioned it because artist have to choose: either they should try hard and get a real record deal or they should trust a netlabel and make some self-promotion simultaneously.

    What can I as a netlabel curator promise him? Solid download numbers? Ok. We have ’em. What else? Some reviews? Yes, very probably. Internet radio promotion? Sure.

    Feedback? No. I just can’t guarantee that. I want, but I can’t.


    Posted by Mixgalaxy Records | November 4, 2010 3:13 pm
  7. I just find that artists with commercial ambitions to make it big & famous have motivations that are so far removed from any creative commons artist I’ve ever met that comparing the two, or finding ways that they mesh together feels completely pointless.

    …and by the way, thank you for writing that essay, it’s sparked a good discussion that I hope continues on…

    Posted by C. Reider | November 4, 2010 8:45 pm
  8. I think I should express my thoughts about netlabel vs. commercial more carefully, cause I see that you and a few other debate participants interpret it as “big & famous” ambitioned guys vs. cool & fun & openminded people of netaudio world.

    No, it’s not about those ambitions. I can assure you that modern young artists/producers are not that naive, definately not that naive. Even I was much more naive when I started (2003) than they are now.

    They see the picture and they completely understand how low their chances are to become ‘big & famous’ these days.

    They even understand that there are less, less, less money from song sales nowadays and there are no money at all from outsider genre tracks sales.

    So going back to context, their choice is based on following factors: size of potential audience and again – feedback. They spread their music and want reactions. They are waiting for it. It’s not about big ambitions or huge ego, but a NATURAL psychological thing. It’s not that fun and not that cool if you don’t get the REACTIONS.

    And after measuring all benefits and lacks from each side – what conclusion can they make?

    1) get a netlabel release, with 100’s (ok sometimes 1000’s) of downloads and less feedback


    2) get a commercial release, get some cash, get some pro-reviews, get ALL THE SAME 100’s and 1000’s of downloads in illegal p2p works and the most important – get responses from listeners.

    And it’s true. That’s why a lot of netaudio artists sooner o later go to commercial industry. They don’t make money there. There is just more gain.

    Posted by Mixgalaxy Records | November 4, 2010 10:34 pm
  9. […] Vuzh Music Blog – “Response to Silent World of Netlabels” […]

    TrackBack by Curator’s Corner: Silent World of Netlabels - Mixgalaxy Records | November 4, 2010 11:29 pm
  10. One of the reasons I still do a lot of work for free is because, as soon as you ask someone to pay even a penny, they tend to refuse. What can I say– I am the same way? I must say, I don’t think too many “free” artists are in danger of being lost to a commercial world. Income is so hard to come by as a musician nowadays, that it would take a big break for that to succeed– something viral, maybe, or a contact “inside”. Actually, my best paying gigs have come directly from my free releases– for example, the PBS special I am doing music for found one of my releases on Treetrunk Records netlabel and contacted me through the netlabel.

    Lately, it makes a lot of sense to me to release good stuff and to do it for free. It is an act of generosity, and more people, I think, respond.

    It would be nice if someone started a good netlabel e-mail list. Chris? I would do it, but I don’t love moderating. . .

    Posted by Thomas | November 7, 2010 7:00 am
  11. The Netlabel Group– Free List To Join!

    This is a free list for posting about music released on netlabels. The focus is on free and cc-licensed music. Promotional posts are permitted, as well as reviews, project invitations, and similar posts. Any rudeness/threats will not be tolerated and will result in immediate banning. In general, feel free to use this list to build a communication network in the netlabel community, informing one another about topics relevant to netlabels.

    Posted by Thomas | November 13, 2010 5:46 pm
  12. Great posts, both the original and C. Reider’s commentary. I agree that there is a problem with a lack of community amongst netaudio artists and fans, but want to point out that there are people who are doing something about it, and in fact have been for quite some time.

    As the owner of a netlabel (Earth Mantra), I understand with and agree totally with the assertion that feedback is the artist’s only real payment in making a netlabel release. Netaudio artists simply want to be heard, and the only way to know if one has been heard is for a listener to write in and say so. Download counts don’t really help, because they are so inaccurate and impersonal. So communicating with folks is the only real way.

    But I disagree that there are no mechanisms for this, and that no feedback occurs. I have worked my tail off for many years building artist communities in a variety of ways. For the past several years my primary community has been at Granted, this is just for one particular genre of the netaudio scene, but it is example that there are places for artists to become part of something and get direct and even immediate feedback for their work.

    My experience with StillStream shows that yeah there is a problem with getting listeners to provide feedback. But there is also a problem with getting artists to make themselves available for feedback. Communication is a two way street. It’s not enough for an artist to put a release in a bottle and throw it into the sea. The distance between the listener and the artist is too great, and it is rare for a listener to bridge such a gap. I would instead encourage artists to not only make releases but be an active part of a community relevant to their music that includes both artists and listeners. It takes some searching to find these communities, but they exist.

    And if they don’t exist then create one. Seriously. If your music is in a genre that has no community online, then that should be a signal that such a community is needed. Be patient – it can take months or years sometimes to reach critical mass. But it can happen, and it can happen organically.

    Anyway just wanted to suggest that there are ways to overcome being in a vacuum and without too much work artists can find both each other and their listeners online. It does take some time and effort, but it is well worth it.

    My $0.0001 worth ….

    Posted by Darrell Burgan | November 13, 2010 8:14 pm
  13. I appreciate and admire Stillstream quite a lot, even though the majority of my own music is a bit too spiky to be played on their normal programming (although is played on dedicated programs).

    And I must applaud anyone trying to build community in the netlabel world. So kudos to you!

    My opinion is just that netlabels have existed for a decade or so, and the community is still pretty insular, what’s up with that? Come on folks, support each other a little bit.

    Posted by C. Reider | November 13, 2010 8:45 pm
  14. One of the specific reasons for regarding taking a sabbatical next year is te lack of time I’ve been facing lately. Not having the time I used to to promote, share and give back to the community as I feel I should. I’d rather choose to become silent then to just ‘drop and run’.

    Ok, that clearly makes no sense without a short introduction. In 2008 I’ve started Just Not Normal, the netlabel. It birthed from an ongoing weekly net-radioshow Not the Normal Shit radio that nowadays can be heard through several netradiostations.

    Now, I feel I give back a lot through the radio. I have the unique opportunity to pick 9 albums each week from the world of CC. But yes, these are prominently from the field of experimental, abstract and avant-garde. In the near 4 years I’ve done this show I’ve come across quite a few ‘communities’ or such that mystified has now started earlier in this thread. I applaud all these efforts to create some kind of centralized place where listeners and artists and netlabel owners can find each other. Don’t get me wrong here that there is a slight sarcastic undertone in these words, but like Darrell stated earlier in his building of Stillstream; the bigger problem in getting something out there that works takes years and years, but most of all it takes a very special kind of devotion. It is a giving and taking, where the taking may have to wait a couple of years, yet we need to give and give to eventually reach that two way street.
    Now that part is understandable; a devotee is needed to start and build. Let’s move on with the other part; the listener/appreciator. How to attract them? And once attracted, how do we keep em here. The networld these days is so fleeting and moving ahead in lightspeed, how can we even expect that these people come back. Another kind of devotion is needed here, or at least we need to feed them with enough interest to keep em coming.

    I’ve had the fortune to come across a few devotee’s; knowing them personally or not. But they are out there:
    Inq-Mag by Mikel Aremania ; Disquiet by Marc Weidenbaum ; Modisti by (I should know his name, but it escaped me) ; NoCo..mment (unfortunately defunct) by Thierry Massard. A handful of names with their ‘base’ and then a few more names: Thomas Raukamp, Mika Martina, Sven Swift, Mystified, Displatypus, Leonardo Rosado, John Koch Northrup, John Kannenberg…….. etc etc….

    I am sure I’ve forgotten a few. These be the people that need the communal appreciation. And there is where ‘centralization’ needs to birth from. The network is allready out there. All it takes is a bundling of forces, but most of all what it really needs; communication!

    And I guess with that I hope to share my 2 cents in contributing in this discussion and step off the ‘silent’ bit. Let’s say goodbye to silence and join!
    We allready have the power.

    Posted by Mark Stolk | November 14, 2010 3:30 am
  15. You, and the people you mention have been heroes of the netlabel movement. I understand what you mean by “devotee” — there need to be some people who devote more time to shining a light on the work of others than they do making & promoting their own work.

    I am sorry to hear that you are taking a break, because I think you fill such an important role for the experimental music community… but I can imagine your need to do it, and I think it is well deserved.

    Posted by C. Reider | November 14, 2010 10:57 am
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