So my blog's subtitle is vague enough that I can safely stretch the subject matter of my posts every now and then. Today, the open-source phenomenon of a netlabel is my subject.
The netlabel is an online record label. Quite often, netlabels give their music away for free and could be seen more as a promotional tool than a money-making business. The most common netlabel is the Creative-Commons licensed netlabel, as the freedom associated with the Creative-Commons license allows for easy distribution of artists music.
The Internet Archive is a wonderful resource for netlabels; it catalogs and backs up the offerings of netlabels on a regular basis (some even utilize it as a hosting service). Furthermore one can search through the netlabel section of the IA at the main netlabel page: http://www.archive.org/details/netlabels though its services are only available to Creative Commons licensed labels (for obvious legal reasons). Their listing also gives a nice means of estimating the growth in the netlabel trend; the number of "sub-collections" can be translated to be number of "labels" and the number of "items" is the number of albums (of any length) released. As of this writing there are 896 "sub-collections" and 12,788 "items"; I read an article written just over three years ago, that claimed the numbers were 170 and 3,000 ish - which gives a bit of perspective on the growth rate of the netlabel phenomenon.
The benefit of Creative Commons music freely available online is huge. Radio producers can use them as backing-tracks for any commercial, movies can use them as soundtracks, etc.. without worrying about the royalties and legal issues normally involved. Also, these songs are available for other artists to utilize as a vast array of sampling options in their own music. Of course there are various versions of Creative Commons licenses and not all allow for commercial use of the song without the artist's consent. But, most importantly, music is becoming a legally shared commodity and artists are realizing that money isn't what they do this for - more would be happy to reach thousands of people than to earn $20 for selling thousands of iTunes downloads (just an exaggeration - not actual earnings numbers). In my personal opinion art should be open for people to hear/see/experience it, though I also realize that financial restrictions are a part of life.
A few labels that I personally enjoy and listen to regularly (your tastes may vary) are:
Sutemos - a somewhat avant garde, but high-quality, electronica label from Lithuania.
20kbps - a genre-defying label whose acceptance requirement is that every song needs to be encoded at 20kbps or less. I don't enjoy all of their stuff, but some is brilliant (this may just be the computer audio nerd in me appreciating the worship of lo-fi).
CCMixter - probably the most famous netlabel (soulseek records might also take that title), it's full of various genres and quality artists. It's major interest is not in releasing an end product, but rather in the continuing evolution of their projects and songs.
Clinical Archives - an avant garde, experimental label, open to all forms of sound art. They have a fairly extensive collection from many talented experimenters.
EVIL Records - an electronica label based in Spain. They don't have many releases, but they're fairly good.