Netlabels: Release, Remix, Repeat

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(Photograph contributed to the Boing Boing Flickr Pool by BB reader Josh Koonce)

If there's a more robust realm of music more closely simpatico with the Creative Commons philosophy than netlabels, please let me know what it is.

Netlabels are online record labels that actively release music for free download, with the full and enthusiastic participation of the musicians involved.

The vast majority use a Creative Commons license that allows for free download, attributed redistribution, and remixing. They are largely enterprises invested heavily in electronic music, albeit a wide and disparate range thereof -- from phonography (darkwinter.com) to sound art (stasisfield.com) to techno (monokrak.net) to instrumental hip-hop (dustedwax.org) and beyond.

As just one sign of the phenomenon's ever-increasing popularity, there are various competing curated lists of netlabels available online. The one I refer to primarily is maintained at disruptiveplatypus.wordpress.com/netlabels. As of this typing, it contains 13 scrolling screens of active netlabels (OK, I'm on a netbook; your scrolling may vary), from the Guadalajara, México-based amp-recs.com to the Modena, Italy-based zymogen.net (plus a bunch whose monikers start with numbers or symbols).

Since these netlabels exist almost entirely online, they're pretty much known solely by their URLs -- though there are several, like the estimable Portugal-based Test Tube, that have less mnemonic-friendly addresses (it's at monocromatica.com/netlabel/). Some, like the Switzerland-based insubordinations.net, sell lovely collectible limited-edition physical artifacts.

The Disruptive Platypus list also maintains a helpful set of netlabels that while having ceased operation still archive some or all of their back catalogs for continued consumption, including what was if not the first netlabel then was certainly one of the first, Monotonik (link), which ran from 1996 through 2009. The operative word is "archive," as a lot of these netlabel websites are really just wrappers around archive.org-hosted files. Another popular free hosting service is the netlabel-dedicated sonicsquirrel.net.

Since these netlabels sometimes disappear for periods of time with no formal announcement as to why, the Disruptive Platypus archive defines inactivity as a label that's been silent for more than six months. But you never know when one will reanimate. The promising yoyo pang! netlabel (ambulatore.com/yoyo) ran steadily throughout 2008, and only released one single song in 2009. And then just last week, on December 8, it popped up again -- like a sudden, brief signal on a forgotten numbers station -- with three tracks of glistening glitch.

Who knows what will come of netlabels? It's possible that true micropayments will turn them into commercial enterprises. If streaming actually manages to replace downloading, perhaps they'll become indistinguishable from online radio stations. In the meanwhile, the netlabel is a prosperous undertaking, and our ears and sonic imaginations are the beneficiaries.

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