Netlabels are platforms for online distribution and promotion of music released for free under Creative Commons or similar licenses. They are part of the free music scene, which has been developing dynamically since the advent of the Internet and digitalization. The article employs the concept of democratization to analyze the emergence of netlabels and their impact on the dissemination of music. This paper shows that although the democratizing potential of new technologies is to a certain extent disappointing, grassroots free music movements, such as netlabels, spontaneously build institutions that fulfill focusing and filtering functions to help artists and listeners find what they are looking for in the hyper–abundant musical marketplace.
Nature of the traditional recording industry
The concept of democratization of the music industry
The Internet and the promise of democratization
What do netlabels do?
Participation and access
Decentralization of media technologies and organizations
Collectivism, collaboration and co–operation
More equal patterns of rewards and status
Diverse and innovative forms of expression
To understand the concept of the democratization of the recording industry we should try to imagine an average, aspiring artist who wants to self–release his or her records without the mediation of a record label. At which point in the history of the recording market did this become possible? In other words, without assuming that the system is more democratic now than it used to be: has the concentration of power and resources in the music industry ever been so weak as to enable individual artists to enter the market on their own without needing to invest fortune upfront?
Certainly this was difficult in the early days of phonography. For almost four decades after Thomas Edison discovered methods of storing sound in 1877, the power was concentrated in the hands of a few companies that controlled patents in the recording technology. Record companies concentrated strongly on technology and believed that it was more important than the musical content of the records (Tschmuck, 2006).
When basic phonographic patents expired in 1914 more companies entered the recording market but the vulnerability of shellac records prevented small companies (not to mention individual artists) from building large distribution networks. In the absence of independent distributors, it was extremely difficult for small companies in the U.S. to have a national hit record (Peterson, 1990).
The introduction of vinyl records in the late 1940s and changes in the radio market brought more competition to the recording market in 1950s but prices of the recording studio time were still prohibitive for most artists. Technological progress (e.g., the introduction of cassette tapes and CDs) and the falling prices of the recording equipment and growing numbers of recording studios made self–releasing music affordable for individual artists in the 1970s. This, however, as I show in the next sections of this paper, has not made wide distribution of self–released records easy or reduced the power of major record companies.
Real changes in the concentration of power and resources in the recording market started to become realistic with the advent of the Internet and digitalization. This paper uses the concept of democratization to analyze the development of netlabels (virtual record labels ), which deal with the distribution and promotion of free music on the Internet. The first part of the paper presents the structure of the traditional recording industry, the concept of democratization and the development of do–it–yourself (DIY) record labels in the 1970s and 1980s. The second part of this paper employs empirical research on netlabels to discuss how virtual record labels take part in the process of democratization of the recording industry.
Whenever we speak about the “music industry”, we should specify which part of the music business we are referring to. During the second half of the twentieth century the most important part of the music industry was the recording industry (Williamson and Cloonan, 2007), leading to the common belief that these terms mean the same thing. But the recording industry is only one of at least three parts of the music industry, with music publishing and live performance business being the other two (Hull, 2004; Wikström, 2009). The advent of the Internet and falling sales of tangible records (e.g., CDs) have influenced the music industry’s structure. The central position of the recording industry is no longer obvious, since other sources of income are becoming more important (e.g., live performances) and new players, such as the legal download industry (e.g., iTunes Music Store), have appeared on the music market (Kusek and Leonhard, 2005; Williamson and Cloonan, 2007).
The problems I discuss in this paper mainly relate to the recording industry. It is not a consequence of the more democratic nature of the live performance business or the music publishing (although it may be argued that the former is indeed more democratic) but a result of the dominant position of the recording industry in the past and the interdependence of all the parts of the music business. Not only is there a direct financial dependence between various parts of the music industry (e.g., record labels often own publishing companies) but in most cases there is also a relationship between an artist’s success as a recording artist and as a songwriter or live performer. In other words, being a successful recording artist helps someone to earn money as a songwriter and increases the audience at live shows. Consequently, the historically dominant role of the recording industry as responsible for “breaking” new artists is understandable.
The simplest definition of record labels is that “[t]hese organizations employ artists to make recordings that they hope to market in some way to the public” . In general record labels finance and monitor the recording process, and once the product is ready, they distribute and promote it. The relationship between an artist and a record label is usually regulated by a recording contract, which often stipulates that the copyright to the recording is retained by the label. In practice recording royalties are usually only paid to artists whose recordings sell enough copies to recoup the money invested in them. Since most of records released by the traditional record labels do not break even, recording artists in most cases rarely get any royalties from their record labels (Albini, 1993; Passman, 2000). Nevertheless, signing a recording contract with respected record labels brings artists other benefits, such as access to mass media, promotional support, access to retail stores, and the possibility of working in decent recording studios, etc.
During most of its history the recording industry had an oligopolistic structure, with only a few companies controlling the market . Market power being concentrated in the hands of only a few major record companies is caused by economic factors, namely several types of economies of scale and “winner–take–all” demand patterns, which offer an advantage to big players (Rosen, 1981; Kretschmer, 2005). According to Burke (2003), a large firm can be more efficient when it comes to manufacturing, distribution, marketing, spreading the risk of investments over several artists and speed to market (being able to penetrate markets rapidly).
Since success in cultural markets is hard to forecast (the “nobody knows principle” described by Caves (2000)), record labels risk releasing several albums in a row without earning any profit. Estimates show that only between three and 10 percent of records released recoup the money invested in their production, promotion and distribution . This gives big players significant advantage, as they can cope more easily with a series of market flops (Hesmondhalgh, 2002). The economic properties of the business model of the major record labels were summarized by Burkart as:
to make many small financial commitments to artists and bands as a way to search for the big hits, which will be more heavily financed, and tightly controlled by contract. The economies of scope and scale required to sustain this business model required bureaucratic hierarchies with gatekeepers at every level. Therefore, new artists’ access to channels for financing, music production, distribution, and marketing is highly restricted. 
The restrictions mentioned by Burkart applied not only to new artists but also to a certain extent to small record labels. In the traditional music business model small labels could invest in their own distribution network, use the services of independent distributors or employ major record labels’ distribution networks. For most of the new labels investing in their own distribution network was prohibitively costly, so they had to co–operate with external distributors, which reduced their profits. Since economies of scale favored companies with their own distribution networks, small record labels faced competitive disadvantage. Consequently, new entries into the sector were limited, another factor that favored big record companies.
What are the consequences of market power of four major record companies? Economists pay most attention to the relationship between the structure of the industry and the prices. In this case fewer companies means higher prices paid by consumers. Indeed, there are several examples of attempts at price fixing made by the major record companies or their subsidiaries (Elahi, 2000; McCourt and Burkart, 2003; Hull, 2004). However, I would like to move away from a strictly economic point of view and emphasize other potential consequences of market concentration: reduction in the diversity of products available to consumers and the political power of media conglomerates.
The relationship between the number of players on the recording market and the diversity of music has been discussed in the literature for a long time. Peterson and Berger (1975) argued that periods of high concentration on the recording market resulted in periods of product homogeneity and less musical innovation, while periods of high competition resulted in increased product diversity and innovation. Their article inspired several scholars to analyze this issue, who to a certain extent reached similar conclusions (Ross, 2005). It can be argued that the music market today is completely different from the one analyzed by Peterson and Berger, and a simple relationship between market concentration and market diversity may not hold anymore .
On the one hand, it is true that the major record companies are much more open to niche music genres than in the period analyzed by Peterson and Berger, so market diversity is guaranteed despite industry concentration. Whatever people want to listen to, major record labels will sell it or at least will distribute it if any other (small) company takes the financial risk of releasing a recording.
On the other hand, the domination of major record labels now goes beyond deciding which records will enter the market and concentrates on controlling the rules according to which music is distributed and consumed. Today, with the proliferation of new methods of communication, this is achieved by introduction of Digital Rights Management (DRM), the development of surveillance techniques and implementation and execution of several legal solutions aimed at restricting access to recorded music (Burkart and McCourt, 2006). Consequently, the question should not be whether the major record companies reduce the variety of music available on the market but if it is possible for individual artists and small record labels to create an alternative to the “Celestial Jukebox model” . To discuss that question I will use the concept of democratization, which is explained in more detail in the next section.
Hesmondhalgh (1997) applied the concept of democratization to analyze British post–punk record labels of the 1980s. Drawing on the works of such thinkers as Benjamin, Brecht, Enzensberger, Negt and Kluge he proposed several notions that are vital to a democratic media system.
First, the democratic media system is characterized by participation and access. This means that, in contrast to the mainstream media system, artists who are unskilled, under–confident or belong to minorities are not excluded.
Second, technologies and organizations in the democratic media system are decentralized. Market power and access to new technologies are not concentrated in the hands of a few companies. Artistic activities are not located in only one geographical area and local scenes thrive.
Third, the democratic media system is characterized by “collectivism, collaboration and co–operation amongst media workers”, which results in “more equal patterns of rewards and status for participants” . Structures of the democratic media system are less hierarchical and the division of labor is less rigid. Consequently, talented artists have fewer problems with being noticed, appreciated and rewarded.
Hesmondhalgh argued that democratization of the media system has aesthetic consequences. Democratization benefits not only artists and producers who have easier access to the market. It also results in diversity and innovation, which also benefits consumers of artistic works. Consequently, democratization of media system can be regarded as highly desirable — more participation and diversity, easier access and availability of rewards for innovators benefits the society as a whole.
Hesmondhalgh (1997, 1998) applied the model of media democratization to analyze the British post–punk record labels of the 1980s and the British independent dance music industry of the 1990s. Several other authors wrote about the development of DIY cultural production in the context of democratization of the media system. Although they did not apply the same model of analysis, they reached similar conclusions.
Spencer (2008) described several small British and American DIY record labels that released and distributed punk or alternative rock music performed by amateurs and recorded with low–quality equipment. These artists and labels were driven by the punk rock ideology of authenticity. They did not rely on the attention of the mainstream media and mass popularity. Instead, they praised “doing–it–yourself” and argued that “the importance did not lie in the end product but in the very means of production” . Earning money was not as important as self–expression and independence from the mainstream media and music business.
Spencer illustrated the policy of DIY record labels with the example of the Kill Rock Stars label. The label was launched in 1991 in Olympia (Washington), and its:
primary concern was not to make a profit but to offer a wider choice than mainstream rock stars were offering. The very name of the label expressed this vision that you did not have to be a rock star to produce music. This celebrated the amateur approach to music making: that you did not have to be a rock star to take a professional route but could instead successfully operate on the independent music scene. 
This clearly corresponds with Hesmondhalgh’s notions of participation and access, decentralization, collectivism, collaboration and co–operation.
Analysis of attempts to democratize the music industry would be incomplete without paying attention to the economic aspects of DIY and independent record labels’ activities. Development of the independent music scenes in the late 1970s and 1980s can be explained with the growing availability of music production technologies. Easier access to professional recording studios was a direct consequence of technological progress and recording equipment becoming cheaper (Rowe, 1985; Goodwin, 2006). Lower costs of music production would not result in fast development of small, independent record labels if not for effort put into setting up an alternative distribution network. Obviously, apart from recording music it was necessary to get the records to the public. O’Connor (2008) showed that organizing the distribution of records was for punk record labels an important element in their struggle for autonomy from the mainstream music industry. Although building a distribution network was difficult and costly, it allowed these labels to make their own, autonomous decisions. Therefore, what defined the independent music scenes in the 1980s and 1990s was the ability to produce and distribute records through networks that were a viable alternative to the mainstream, oligopolistic music industry (Hesmondhalgh, 1999).
However, economic constraints of traditional phonography put some limits on independent record labels. Both more successful independent record companies and small DIY labels faced situations when their records did not sell well and their owners had problems with financing daily operations (Lee, 1995). It was quite common that to help pay the bills labels supplemented their operations with running a recording studio, retail store, distribution and other services (O’Connor, 2008). Analysis of British micro–independent record labels conducted in the early 2000s by Strachan (2007) showed that it was extremely difficult to make a living out of running a label. Consequently, it was not uncommon for people involved in small DIY labels to have a daytime job.
Paradoxically, labels that achieved commercial success also faced significant dilemmas. Independence was very difficult to maintain in the long run and commercial success or cases of partnership or collaboration with major record companies were seen by some as a “sell–out” . Anti–establishment attitudes were especially strong in the punk rock scene, which “has always relied heavily upon authenticity as a form of legitimization” . In other words, prestige gained by artists and other members of the scene thanks to “doing–it–yourself” was easy to lose once they started to achieve mainstream success, since it was seen as giving up their DIY ideals.
Consequently, democratization of the music industry according to principles described by Hesmondhalgh (1997) in the traditional model of phonography was limited by contradictions faced by the independent record labels. They had to face economic constraints of the music market even though they did not want to play according to rules created by and for the mainstream music industry. Despite difficulties, they managed to create their own alternative networks of distribution and promotion of records, which gave several new, amateur artists access to the music market. Even though most of these artists never became massively popular (and many of them did not have such intentions), for several people involved in DIY music scenes their music was an important part of their lives.
If, however, an independent label became commercially successful, it automatically risked being bought out or at least having its most attractive acts taken over by the major record companies (Lee, 1995). Therefore, despite significant achievements and several top–selling artists, the attempts of democratization made by independents in the 1980s and 1990s were only partially successful (Hesmondhalgh 1997, 1999).
Before the advent of the Internet, discussion on democratization of the music industry concentrated on the distinction between DIY labels, independent record labels and major record companies. As releasing a record required some investment and significant organizational effort, most of the analyses had to take into account artists’ co–operation with some sort of record label. As mentioned in the introduction, even if artists self financed production of their records, distribution of tangible products (CDs, LPs, cassettes) had to be organized with the help of record labels or external distributors.
The advent of the Internet and digitalization reduced the significance of major record labels’ competitive advantages in at least two ways. First, they reduced the benefits of controlling a distribution network. Although labels’ own distribution networks will continue to be the source of competitive advantage as long as tangible records are bought by consumers, it is no longer a barrier to entry preventing individual artists and small labels from selling their products globally.
Second, the advent of the Internet enabled low–cost, direct communication between artists and listeners, which helped build promotion channels outside of the mainstream media. For most of the twentieth century, exposure in the commercial radio, television and print magazines was virtually impossible if an artist was not supported by a record label (Price, 2008). Although radio airplay is still essential if an artist wants to become a global star, social networking sites, YouTube and blogs provide musicians with a cheap and accessible alternative. DIY musicians of the 1970s and 1980s, who had to spend a significant amount of time and money preparing and distributing zines (small circulation self–published magazines), could only dream about reaching such a wide audience at such a low cost.
Although it is difficult to overlook the impact of the Internet on the music market, researchers are unambiguous when writing about the prospects of democratization of the recording industry. On the one hand, they notice that artists have unprecedented possibilities of engaging in direct communication with their fans and selling their records without the mediation of big record labels (Fox, 2004; McLeod, 2005; Kusek and Leonhard, 2005; Frost, 2007). Kasaras summed up these arguments by seeing new technologies as “weapons”, which help artists “regain creative control over the content” and ”control their own intellectual properties rather than surrender them for marketing and distribution costs” . Some scholars show case studies, which confirm that there are artists who manage to make a significant income from selling records without having a recording contract with a record label (Belsky, et al., 2010; Benkler, 2011; Panay, 2011).
On the other hand, doubts are raised about the democratizing potential of new technologies and consequences of democratization for artists. Two types of arguments are used to justify this skepticism. First, there are researchers who believe that the combination of recent changes in the copyright law (e.g., Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA)) and development of surveillance and copy protection techniques (Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and DRM) will help the major record companies to maintain their dominant position (McCourt and Burkart, 2003; Burkart and McCourt, 2006). In other words, the combination of economic and political power of global entertainment corporations guarantees their domination in music and other cultural markets despite the democratizing potential of new communication technologies.
Second, it is argued that record labels play a crucial role in the process of music marketing. As well as financing recording and distributing music, they also “provide expertise in determining which songs and artists will appeal to specific groups of consumers, and invest significantly to market and promote their selections” . Even though the advent of the Internet and digitalization reduced barriers to entry and made it easier to record and distribute music online, the fact that each and every artist tries to make use of the new technologies, results in an overwhelming supply of music. The “noise of creative ambitions” makes it difficult for aspiring artists to get noticed . At the same time, for listeners the Internet becomes “a site of noise and chaos”, which overwhelms them with millions of tracks potentially worth listening and buying .
Additionally, in the case of music genres that have low costs of production (e.g., electronic music), increase in supply of music is so dynamic that it leads to a dramatic fall in the income of musicians and other people involved in the dance music scene (e.g., producers, DJs). Goldmann wrote that “[i]n 2000, an average vinyl single generated a return of a couple of thousand Euros, while in 2011 the same single generates a loss of a couple of hundred Euros” . The situation is not much better in the case of digital formats as:
only an established artist backed by a strong physical release experiences significant digital sales. The overwhelming majority goes by unnoticed. The average “digital only” dance single generates around 100 Euros of profit, for both artist and label, now most often being the same person. 
Even if his point is too pessimistic, it is difficult not to notice that democratization comes at a cost, namely a decrease in income of some artists and listeners’ confusion about what is worth to listen to.
Surprisingly, both sides of the debate may be right. As examples such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails show, the Internet and digitalization give the most established acts the chance to self–release their music without becoming financially worse–off (Wikström, 2009; Belsky, et al., 2010). Even if such artists do not decide to leave their record labels, the fact that they can do so increases their clout when negotiating a new contract. In this case the influence of new technologies may be described as of a democratic nature.
On the other hand, however, as shown by Day (2011), it is extremely difficult for new artists to reach superstar status without the help of a record label or professional managers. Even Arctic Monkeys and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, British and American rock bands respectively, which are often shown as examples of the successful use of the Internet to launch mainstream careers without being signed to a record company, were supported by “management teams who had strong major label connections” . Although these bands may have been good enough to gain popularity on the Internet on their own, they decided to hire professionals who would make a difference. This is understandable if we take into account that in the absence of barriers to entry, new music on the Internet has grown significantly, while time that listeners may devote to listening to music remains constant. Consequently, new artists may find it easier to enter the market and sell music, but achieving massive popularity and sales is probably even more difficult than in the past. Sales reports seem to confirm that observation — in 2009 only 2.1 percent of albums released in the U.S. sold more than 5,000 copies . Other reports show that among the most popular albums sold in the U.S. only very small numbers were released by independent, unsigned artists .
Arguments presented above show that it may be difficult to evaluate the process of democratization of the music industry solely on the basis of the record sales numbers. The reason is that large numbers of artists who release their music on the Internet do not do it with the purpose of entering the charts or even selling any records. My argument is that the advent of the Internet and digitalization made it possible to distribute recordings that were made for reasons other than profit. Democratization of the recording industry in this context could be understood as a process in which amateur and aspiring artists gain — at least in theory — access to listeners all around the world without the mediation of the profit–oriented record labels. Obviously this results in an oversupply of music and listeners’ confusion but surprisingly, as I show in the remaining part of this paper, even the grassroots free music movements involved in the democratization of music, spontaneously build institutions that act as gatekeepers. The remaining part of the paper uses data gathered during empirical research, which was conducted from 2008 to 2011 to show how the process of democratization is taking place in the case of free music scene.
Since the term “free music” is very broad and embraces several loosely linked music scenes and phenomena, the research project concentrated only on institutions that describe themselves as netlabels or virtual record labels. In the absence of literature on netlabels, their definition was built on the basis of the information provided on netlabels’ Web sites and on the case study of two netlabels conducted in 2006 and 2007 (Galuszka, 2011). Consequently, netlabels can be defined as platforms for online distribution and promotion of music released under Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/) or similar licenses. This corresponds well with the definition which was published after the research project was started and describes netlabels as “non–commercial platforms, on which music is offered for free download on the Internet” . Phlow, the Internet magazine devoted to free music, suggests that the model netlabel should distribute online free, quality music in the form of at least two releases made by at least two different artists (Phlow, 2010; http://phlow-magazine.com/). All these definitions emphasize that the music available on netlabels’ Web sites is free for downloaders. Consequently, artists who release music with netlabels cannot expect them to pay them any royalties. At the same time, unlike major record companies they allow artists to retain the copyright to their recordings and cannot prevent an artist from leaving a netlabel.
Empirical data was gathered using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods. The quantitative part of the research was conducted to get a more general look at this part of the free music scene. The data was gathered from September 2008 to January 2009 with a complete enumeration–based Internet survey consisting of a questionnaire with 26 questions, sent to 569 netlabels. The number of respondents consisted of netlabels registered in the Phlow Netlabel Catalogue (http://www.phlow.de/netlabels/index.php/Main_Page) and Rowolo netlabellist (http://www.clongclongmoo.org/)  and supplemented with information gathered from three other sources: Sonicsquirrel.net (http://sonicsquirrel.net/), Last.fm (http://www.last.fm/) and Archive.org (http://www.archive.org/). Analysis of these catalogs identified 650 netlabels, however 66 of them could not be contacted (no contact information on netlabel’s Web site or incorrect e–mail address) and 15 had been closed prior to the start of the research. Out of 569 netlabels that received the questionnaire, 339 completed it and 230 did not, giving a response rate of 59.6 percent. The rate should be considered high, especially taking into account that Internet surveys usually have low response rates. However, when a complete enumeration–based survey is used, any response rate lower than 100 percent generates the risk of negative bias due to incomplete coverage. Consequently, despite a high response rate, results are not entirely representative and should be treated only as an approximate illustration of the state of the netlabels scene in 2008 and 2009. Additionally, it is theoretically possible that some netlabels did not register in any catalogs mentioned above. Although it is improbable that netlabels would like to remain unnoticed by the community of free music fans (and that would probably be the result of not registering a netlabel), we should take into account the language barriers, which could prevent some non–English speakers from promoting their netlabel on the Internet and make it impossible to be invited to take part in the survey. All these caveats mean that the results of the quantitative part of the research should be interpreted carefully and combined with information gathered during the qualitative part of the study.
The qualitative part of the research lasted from November 2008 to February 2011. During that period 19 in–depth interviews and 19 e–mail interviews with owners of netlabels or other important people in the netlabels scene were conducted (a full list of interviews is available in the Appendix). In–depth interviews took on average 60 minutes. The longest one lasted more than 90 minutes, and the shortest one approximately 30 minutes. The speakers were selected based on the results of the first part of the research to guarantee that the representatives of various types of netlabels would be interviewed. When the interviewees could not be met in person, Skype interviews were conducted instead. E–mail interviews were in most cases short and consisted of a few specific questions, for example regarding the number of visits on the netlabel’s Web site, frequency of communication with listeners and artists or numbers of downloads. Additionally, several secondary sources, reports and netlabels’ Web sites were analyzed. All this information was supplemented with observations made from 8 to 11 October 2009 during the Netaudio Festival in Berlin, which gathered several artists and netlabel managers.
In general terms netlabels can be described as something in between MP3 blogs focusing on free music and non–profit record labels. Most netlabels function as standalone Web sites, although it is not necessary for them to build original sites. Myspace (http://www.myspace.com/) — during its heyday — was a popular substitute or supplement for standalone Web sites, but it was surpassed by services like Bandcamp (http://bandcamp.com/) or SoundCloud (http://soundcloud.com/) in 2010 and 2011. Since the free music scene is developing quite rapidly, further evolution of netlabels’ Web sites can be expected in directions ranging from imaginative designs and innovative user interfaces to plain podcasts distributed via Archive.org.
Netlabels’ main task is to promote and distribute music released under Creative Commons licenses by individual artists who decide to co–operate with them. Usually a netlabel is run by one or two people, although there are cases when these numbers are higher . The main duty of such people is to run a netlabel Web site and listen to submissions received from artists to choose the best, which are “officially released”. Differences between netlabels may be significant, depending on owners’ philosophy and approach towards music. Therefore, some netlabels concentrate on one music genre (interview 17) or releasing artists from a local scene (interview 15), while other have no specialization. In general netlabels emphasize free distribution online, but some of them offer selected tracks as paid downloads.
Although it may be difficult to generalize, in most cases a netlabel’s life cycle consists of the following stages:
- A music lover or an artist decides to start a netlabel. He  builds a Web site, registers it in free–music catalogs (Sonicsquirrel.net, http://sonicsquirrel.net/; clongclongmoo.org, http://www.clongclongmoo.org/; etc.), exchanges links with other netlabels, blogs and portals and announces that a netlabel is accepting submissions.
- The netlabel receives submissions from artists. These may be unsolicited submissions sent by artists answering the call for submissions, tracks provided by artists from a local scene or invited submissions. Quite often when a netlabel is started it already has one or two releases ready for distribution — these may include the netlabel founder’s own work or tracks submitted by his friends. There are even cases when a netlabel is started with the purpose of promoting owners’ own band and only later attracts other artists. One of founders of Brennnessel netlabel (http://www.brennnessel.pl/) illustrated this situation, saying that “we indeed wanted to do it only to become known with out band — KAMP — but it later turned out to be a bigger thing” (interview 19).
- The netlabel owner listens to submitted tracks and decides which should be “officially released”. Criteria are usually highly subjective and they include personal preferences (“I wanted to release music from people I know and respect. Ones that I feel need more exposure, and the best way to do that is with a free high–quality mp3 release”, interview 33) and musical taste (“we have to like it and we are not into one genre”, interview 7). When music is chosen its author is contacted to decide what artwork (CD cover, etc.) should accompany the release (unless the artist has already proposed it).
- Once the release is ready, the files (usually MP3 or Ogg in the case of individual files and Zip in the case of full albums) are uploaded to servers (e.g., Archive.org, Sonicsquirrel.net) and the promotion phase begins. Information about the release is published on the netlabel’s Web site, social networking sites and sent to free–music portals, newsletter subscribers, etc.
- If the release is popular among free music listeners (it is downloaded in large numbers, reviewed on blogs, netaudio magazines, social networking sites, etc.), the netlabel gains recognition and can expect to receive more submissions in the future.
The frequency with which new releases appear on a netlabel’s Web site depends not only on the number of submissions but also on the netlabel’s review policy (obviously, a low acceptance rate results in fewer releases), genre specialization and the netlabel owner’s engagement and enthusiasm. Therefore, some netlabels continue to release music for several years while other cease to exist when their owners lose enthusiasm or find a more time–consuming job. Large numbers of releases in a short period of time may mean that a netlabel has quite a lax review policy, which results in a high acceptance rate. However, if a netlabel manages to survive for several years, then it naturally tends to have larger numbers of releases even if it has a strict reviewing policy. The quantitative part of the research shows that in late 2008 and early 2009 over 30 percent of respondents had 10 or fewer releases, while almost 17 percent of respondents had 51 or more releases .
Naturally netlabels’ life cycles and the process of preparing and promoting new releases may differ. Apart from promoting and distributing music some netlabels are involved in organizing live performances, remix contests, promoting the idea of “free culture” (e.g., running Internet portals or forums), running an Internet radio station, releasing podcasts, artists’ management, etc. In some cases a netlabel may release traditional CDs or vinyls or sell digital music files, although rarely is this is done with the intention of earning profits (or it rarely brings profits that would allow a netlabel owners to quit their daytime jobs). A small number of popular netlabels engage in tasks that are typical for traditional record companies, and at the same time some traditional record companies open their netlabels as side projects, which blurs the distinction between the two.
Although some netlabels organize live events, run a recording studio and deliver other non–virtual services, their existence and activities are mostly concentrated on the Internet. Not surprisingly, the emergence of netlabels is a function of the development of the Web. Most of netlabels have quite a short history — the quantitative part of the research shows that 86 percent were started in 2003 or later. The growing popularity of netlabels after 2003 is probably a consequence of the introduction and growing awareness of Creative Commons licenses. The fact that Creative Commons licenses are easy to understand and use must have encouraged several music lovers, who always dreamed about being involved in music scene, to start their own netlabels. Quantitative part of the research also suggests that the oldest netlabels have their roots in the demo scene, tape labels and in the DIY movement of the 1980s (interview 7, interview 8) .
Participation and access — the first features of the democratic media system proposed by Hesmondhalgh (1997) — are central to understanding the role of netlabels. As mentioned in previous sections it is not netlabels but digitalization technologies and the Internet that made it easy for the new artists to share their music with the public. Proliferation of amateur works on the Internet may be seen as a proof of democratization as well as a threat to the quality of cultural works that surround us . Taking into account that listeners have only a limited amount of time to devote to learning about new music, they can make use of a large choice of free tracks only if some sort of recommendation system is in place. In the case of the traditional recording market, music was preselected by record labels and further filtered by radio stations and other media (Hirsch, 1972). It excluded “unskilled and under–confident” artists but saved the average listener’s time and guaranteed a flow of income to the most successful musicians.
The free music scene gives almost any “bedroom producer” the chance to share his or her works with the public, which reduces the average quality of works distributed online. It should not come as a surprise that various recommendation systems have emerged (Wichowski, 2009), netlabels being one of them. Netlabels’ role is not to give the “unskilled and under–confident” a chance to distribute their works, but to pre–select the music for the listeners and promote those artists who the netlabel owners believe represent high quality. Aleks (psyCodEd, http://www.psycoded.de/), the founder of Zimmer Records (http://www.zimmer-records.org/), summarized the role of netlabels in the following way:
... if a label cares about the quality of the content then it makes sense. If you have 320 kbps release, good tags, maybe mastered and a running order or names typed correctly, then it's also good for a listener ... I think the organization and the presentation is a part of it. Now it looks like everyone can make a Myspace account, everyone can make music ... or everyone thinks he can make music. But only the people who really are into it concentrate on making music and showing their feelings with tones, only those people will make the release look good. So the netlabels’ part is to select: is it worth to call it a release? (interview 5).
As a result “unskilled and under–confident” artists who make good music get the chance to reach listeners who otherwise would not be able to learn about them because of the hyper–abundance of today’s music market. Consequently, a netlabel acts as a sort of gatekeeper, but performs its role in a rather non–exclusionary way. Artists declined by one netlabel are not denied access to the music market; they are only excluded from promoting their music with that particular netlabel. They are not prevented from sending their proposal to other netlabels and if they are not satisfied with that, they can start their own label. From the listener’s point of view netlabels are not gatekeepers but providers of useful advice on what is worth listening to.
Respected netlabels give their artists immediate access to significant numbers of listeners. Audiotong netlabel (http://audiotong.net/), which specializes in experimental music, has about 1,500 newsletter subscribers, 500 followers on Facebook and from 150 to 500 visitors a day to their Web site. Its most successful release was downloaded more than 30,000 times, which is exceptional result for experimental artists (interview 16). Marcin Barski who runs Audiotong explained the benefits artists get from his netlabel in the following way:
you are artist, you recorded your music but you don’t know what to do with it. You won’t release a tangible record because no traditional record label will release you, as they don’t know you. You can’t let your music disappear, you can hand it out to your friends on CD–Rs, you can publish it on your Web site, and you can give it to us ... we will show it to people who are interested in it, because we know that we have an audience which is really into this type of music. This is strictly promotional activity. Quite often we help our artists to book concerts, because we have decent network of contacts, we show these artists wherever we can, they receive reviews, it starts to work out ... (interview 16).
We should remember however that to fulfill a filtering and focusing function effectively (Hartmann, 2004) netlabels cannot publish every demo submission they receive. Therefore acceptance rates around 10 percent (as in the case of Audiotong) should not surprise us.
Hesmondhalgh (1997) understood decentralization in geographical terms. In the 1960s and 1970s the industry was concentrated in the biggest metropolitan areas (e.g., London in the case of the U.K.). Artists who wanted access to the best recording studios, sound engineers, and biggest concert audiences had to evaluate to what extent staying in peripheral regions would slow down their careers.
New technologies partly changed that situation by reducing the costs of music distribution and promotion. Although artists may still find it easier to start a career in New York than in North Dakota, geographic distance no longer prevents them from selling their records worldwide (although costs may prevent them from touring overseas early in their careers). This again means that the average listener has access to a much bigger music catalog than in the past, which creates a space for emergence of new promotional network. Baym and Burnett showed that fans who write MP3 blogs and use social networking sites to review music help artists “create an international presence far beyond what labels or bands could attain on their own” . In the case of electronic and experimental music genres netlabels can be seen as important part of such a new promotional network. Table 1 shows the geographical distribution of respondents in the quantitative part of the research.
Table 1: Location of netlabels.
Regions Number of netlabels Asia (Far East) 6 Asia (Middle East) 2 Africa 0 Australia & New Zealand 2 Europe 259 North America (U.S. & Canada) 50 South and Central America 18 No data 2
Data presented in Table 1 show that most netlabels are based in Europe and the Americas. This does not, however, tell the whole truth about the decentralizing potential of netlabels. Obviously, people who listen to netlabels’ releases may come from any part of the world. What is particularly important is that regardless of where a netlabel is located, it may distribute tracks recorded by artists in any part of the world. A good example of this is the Polish Audiotong netlabel (http://audiotong.net/), which distributes the works of experimental musicians from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This helps popularize music from countries that are not very well represented on the traditional music market to an English–speaking audience. Another example is Florida–based Lepork Records (http://leporkrecords.com/), which promotes underground punk rock bands from South America, most of which in the absence of support received from the netlabel would probably never be noticed by the global audience. It is often the case that netlabels, artists and listeners come from different parts of the world. If not for the democratizing potential of the Internet, listeners would probably never have a chance to learn about these artists. If not for netlabels however, most of these artists would be lost in the hyper–abundant musical marketplace.
The democratizing potential of netlabels is most visible when we look at the collectivism, collaboration and co–operation they enhance amongst artists and listeners. Two factors play a central role here. First, music promoted by netlabels is released under Creative Commons licenses, which give licensees — depending on a license type — the right to display, distribute, copy, perform and make derivative works based on it (Creative Commons, 2011). In contrast to the majority of records released by traditional recording companies, some of tracks which can be downloaded from netlabels’ Web sites can be remixed or performed in public by anybody without the need for permission. Less restrictive copyright law encourages artists and listeners to engage in collaborative projects. Estimates show that in 2010 more than 400 million works were licensed under Creative Commons licenses, of which 40 percent permitted in advance remixing and commercial use .
The quantitative part of the research shows that the possibility of remixing some of tracks distributed by netlabels is important to my respondents. Only some of them, however, actively encourage their listeners to remix releases distributed by their netlabels. Hartmann explained that artists may be unwilling to release their music under licenses that let others remix their work because “having one’s name unknowingly attached to a re–made work that one does not approve of is not an enticing thought”, especially since “reputation is the main currency in a community where financial incentives are small” . This again shows the need for the quality control function that should be fulfilled by netlabels. One of netlabels that took part in both parts of the research — FOEM (http://www.foem.info/) addresses this problem by organizing remix contests, in which remixes proposed by producers from various parts of the world are subject to strict reviewing process (interview 2).
Second, collectivism, collaboration and co–operation are enhanced by the non–commercial spirit shared by the majority of netlabels. Table 2 shows how respondents perceive their netlabels. Non–profit orientation, combined with a spirit of co–operation and DIY attitude, summarizes the approach of people who are involved in this scene. Additionally, 66.8 percent of respondents claim that dissemination of interesting music is a very important factor in running a netlabel, respectively 59.4 percent of respondents emphasize helping artists to popularize their music, while the possibility of earning money, is very important for only 4.4 percent. This clearly shows that netlabels are organized around a different logic to the traditional record labels. Instead of being motivated by monetary rewards, netlabel owners derive personal satisfaction from helping artists, sharing music and building links between like–minded people. Marco Medkour from Rec72 (http://rec72.net/) summarized the difference between his netlabel and the traditional record companies with the following words: “the biggest difference is that it’s Creative Commons Music, that it is free for download, free for usage and also that other artists can use the music to produce another project, let’s say a remix” (interview 6). Building symbolic divisions between netlabels and the traditional music industry corresponds well with the cyberlibertarianist attitudes described by Burkart (2010).
Table 2: To what extent do respondents believe that each of the following expressions describes their netlabel.
Notes: N=339; Answers were rounded to the nearest 1/10th.
(answers in percentage)
(does not describe at all)
2 3 4 5
(describes very well)
Firm, business, traditional record label 62.5 20.4 8.3 5.3 3.5 Internet portal dedicated to music, fanzine, mp3 blog 29.3 24.3 23.2 12.0 11.1 Non–profit organization which deals with music 6.1 7.3 12.8 16.9 57.0 Collaborative platform aimed at co–operation between artists and listeners 10.5 14.6 28.4 17.8 28.7 Internet site aimed at promoting one specific music scene 34.1 23.2 17.4 13.5 11.8 DIY micro–independent record label 8.2 8.2 15.7 22.5 45.5
It is worth noting that running a netlabel also facilitates establishing non–virtual contacts. 82.6 percent of respondents in the survey claimed that being involved in a netlabel helped them to establish non–virtual contacts with artists, 76.5 percent with listeners, 64.6 percent with founders of other netlabels, 29.5 percent with traditional media representatives and 23.9 percent with music industry representatives. This corresponds with observation that “[s]ome netlabels function as ‘community catalysts’, not only giving musicians a platform for presentation both online and off, but also by helping to connect protagonists and supporting network building” .
In places in which several individuals are involved in the free music scene (e.g., Cologne and Berlin in Germany) such non–virtual contacts help built a network of free music supporters that goes beyond netlabels scene. The concentration of like–minded people in one metropolitan area results in the emergence of large–scale free music initiatives such as Cologne Commons conference (http://cologne-commons.de/) or netaudio festivals in Berlin (http://www.netaudioberlin.de/) and London (http://www.netaudiolondon.cc/). Such events are good occasions for networking and co–operation between netlabels and promotion of free music in the mainstream media.
As mentioned in previous sections, monetary rewards are not the main priority for netlabels. Since in the majority of cases they earn no money, they cannot pay their artists any royalties. Consequently, the system of rewards is not build on money but based on status and prestige. From the artist’s point of view, releasing music with respected netlabels may be interpreted as success, both in terms of concrete promotional benefits and because of the prestige associated with “being in a good company”. In other words, since no money is involved, rewards are to a certain extent more democratic, as gaining prestige — in contrast to profits — does not depend on selling large numbers of records.
Non–monetary rewards are also one of the main motivations of people involved in running netlabels. The quantitative part of the research shows that “recognition from musicians, fans, virtual communities of listeners” is important or a key motivation for running a netlabel for more than 67 percent of the respondents . Similar motivations were expressed by interviewees. Filippo Aldovini, the founder of Zymogen (http://www.zymogen.net), talked about feeling high self–esteem (“a lot of people from all over the world appreciate what I did in the past”, interview 11). Other interviewee claimed that “the main motivation for running a netlabel is extreme joy and satisfaction derived from publishing every next release” (interview 36) . It is difficult to compare these types of rewards with monetary gains generated by traditional record labels but certainly they help understand why my interviewees spend significant amount of time and effort running their netlabels.
According to Hesmondhalgh democratization of music will have aesthetic consequences and should result in “new voices, new experiences and perspectives”  being available. It is difficult to measure and evaluate artistic innovativeness of works distributed by netlabels but we should certainly note the wide selection of genres they deal with and their engagement in remix culture.
The quantitative part of the research shows that although the majority of netlabels specialize in electronic and experimental music, other genres are also present in their repertoire (see Table 3).
Table 3: Genres released by netlabels. Respondents could choose more than one answer.
Genre Percentage Rock 13.6 Pop 14.2 Indie/alternative 24.1 Electronica 89.4 Dance/disco 29.5 Industrial/dark ambient 38.1 Experimental 76.1 Reggae/dub/ska 13.6 Punk rock/hard core 7.1 Funk/soul 6.8 Hip–hop/rap 13.0 Heavy metal 6.8 Folk/etno/world music 15.0 Jazz 13.9 Blues 4.7 Classical 8.6 Other 49.0
Netlabels’ specialization in music genres that are far from pop mainstream is only one aspect of their contribution to the innovativeness and diversity of culture. We should also note that some netlabels are involved in the promotion of remixes and mashups. As mentioned in a previous section, the FOEM netlabel organizes remix contests, which result in new, innovative versions of tracks of various artists being created. Florian Amann from FOEM explained aesthetic consequences of his netlabel’s activity in the following way:
A lot of people are working on the crew of FOEM and they are also thinking about how music could change, in which direction it could go. Therefore we also do those remix contests, so we take things which exist and do something new with it. And we actually want to, maybe, create a new style of music? ... There’s a lot of power and a lot of ideas from a lot of countries ... and there are a lot of things which can be made of it, so a lot of new input, there must be something new ... (interview 2).
This way of thinking about music is shared by several other people involved in netlabels. We may find it difficult to predict if such an attitude is enough to produce and disseminate diverse and innovative forms of expression in the long run. If we however compare it with major record companies’ attitudes towards copyright, we can see existence of netlabels as an attempt to create a channel of distribution of cultural products which is an alternative to the “Celestial Jukebox model”.
This paper discussed the emergence of netlabels and the role they play on the music market. This phenomenon needs to be analyzed as a part of a larger process of the digitization of music and development of Internet channels of records distribution. Netlabels are one of several types of MP3 sites based in the ideas of “file sharing” and “free culture” that have appeared on the music market since the 1990s . In contrast to peer–to–peer (P2P) networks, netlabels gained relatively little media attention and knowledge about them is concentrated mostly among free culture enthusiasts and listeners of electronic and experimental music genres. The reason is that netlabels do not violate copyright law and in most cases do not sell records on the mainstream recording market. They therefore are not a threat to the traditional record labels and consequently receive only limited attention from the mainstream media.
Netlabels operate thanks to the engagement of individual music lovers, amateur artists and free culture enthusiasts. The fact that the Internet and digitalization enabled them to engage in the production, distribution and promotion of records without the mediation of the traditional recording industry constitutes a great democratizing impulse for the whole music market. However, it is difficult to imagine that netlabels, whose existence is based mostly on engagement of grassroots activists and music lovers, will be able to replace the traditional record labels. Since netlabels bring no profits to their owners and engaged artists, they may not be attractive alternative to well paid job or contract proposal from the respected traditional record company. Nevertheless, they offer vital services to less popular artists and listeners, especially in the electronic and experimental music genres. Consequently, their influence on the democratization of the music industry can be seen in two ways. First, they draw listeners’ attention to interesting tracks, which in the hyper–abundant music market brings value to both artists (helping them to be distinguished from the crowd of aspiring musicians) and listeners (saving the time needed to browse through large music collections). From the artist’s point of view attention may still be less valuable than royalties paid by the traditional record labels, but if Goldhaber (1997a, 1997b) and Leonhard (2008) are correct, it may be the new currency in the music market in the future. The more noise there is on the music market, the more valuable the services of the best netlabels will become, at least unless we find better ways to preselect music.
There is, however, also the second way in which we can see the democratizing potential of netlabels. If the traditional recording industry is indeed in trouble , it may be necessary to redefine the concept of a record label. It may be naïve to believe that the record label of the future will be based solely on the work of hobbyists and free culture ideals. However, we can assume that some netlabels will try to professionalize and may become avant–garde of new type of a record label. Mainstream pop music may still need expensive investments and large–scale promotion, which can be provided only by the global entertainment corporations. Niche music, however, should be open to experimenting with new, innovative models of distribution and promotion. Experience and brand recognition of the most popular netlabels may be a capital that can be used to build such new types of record labels.
About the author
Patryk Galuszka is assistant professor at the Institute of Economics at the University of Łódź, Poland. Apart from conducting research on free music scenes, he is currently investigating the development of crowdfunding services. His research interests focus on media economics, intellectual property and popular music studies.
E–mail: patrykgaluszka [at] gmail [dot] com
The research was started during author’s stay at the Max–Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (Max–Planck Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung) in Cologne. The author would like to thank Raymund Werle and Ulrich Dolata for their insightful comments on research questionnaire. Special thanks to all the respondents, interviewees and other people involved in the netaudio scene.
1. Both terms are used as synonyms. Other terms are also used, e.g., online label, Web label, MP3 label.
2. Hull, 2004, p. 22.
3. In 2004 the market shares of the four major record companies in the global market were: Universal Music Group, 25.5 percent; Sony BMG, 21.5 percent; EMI, 13.4 percent and Warner at 11.3 percent. The independent sector had a 28.4 percent global share (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 2005). In 2008 respective figures for the American market were: Universal Music Group, 35.1 percent; Sony Music Entertainment, 22.8 percent; Warner Music Group, 21.1 percent; EMI, 8.4 percent and independent record labels 12.6 percent (Associated Press, 2008).
4. Leyshon, et al., 2005, p. 187.
5. Burkart, 2010, p. 22.
6. For more discussion see Ross, 2005.
7. Celestial Jukebox is “an always–on entertainment appliance with all possible media selections available on demand” (Burkart, 2010, p. 1). It is delivered by a few global media conglomerates, which restrict access to the intellectual property they own only to those who pay fees set by them. According to Burkart, the social costs of Celestial Jukebox are higher than the benefits. See also Burkart and McCourt, 2006; Morris, 2011.
8. Hesmondhalgh, 1997, p. 256, italics in original.
9. Spencer, 2008, p. 289.
10. Ibid., p. 235.
11. Hesmondhalgh, 1999.
12. Gosling, 2004, p. 173.
13. Kasaras, 2002.
14. Day, 2011, p. 88.
15. Kretschmer, 2005.
16. Beer, 2005.
17. Goldmann, 2011.
19. Strachan, 2007, p. 258.
20. Resnikoff, 2010.
21. Day, 2011, pp. 84–85.
22. Michels, 2009a, p. 64.
23. After collecting data was finished Rowolo changed its name to clongclongmoo.org.
24. Over 75 percent of respondents claimed that their netlabel is run by one or two persons. We should however note that some netlabels may have external cooperators, such as Web masters, who are not included in that number. This supposition is confirmed by Timmers who wrote that “[m]ost netlabels are small enterprises, usually consisting of two to five people. As they are not founded as commercial businesses, most lack a strict hierarchy although some do divide tasks among different people (music selection, webmaster, graphic designer)” (Timmers, 2005, p. 12).
25. The quantitative part of the research shows that more than 95 percent of respondents are male.
26. When listeners enter netlabels’ websites, in most cases they will find a listing of releases in reverse chronological or alphabetical order. It must be noted, however, that a “release” may be understood in many ways. For example, both “digital albums” containing 15 tracks and “digital singles” containing three tracks may be called “a release”. That is why a netlabel that released five singles may distribute fewer MP3 files than a netlabel that released five albums, but in the survey both declared they had distributed five releases.
27. Interviews cited by Porter (2010, p. 58) also show that the oldest netlabels and artists who co–operate with them have roots in the demo scene.
28. See Keen (2007) and Goldmann (2011) for debate.
29. Baym and Burnett, 2009, p. 437.
30. These numbers include also non–musical works; see Creative Commons, 2011, p. 46.
31. Hartmann, 2004, p. 152.
32. Michels, 2009b.
33. Answers were given on a five–point scale, where one meant “not important at all” and five meant “very important”.
34. Interviews cited by Porter (2010, pp. 58–60) also reveal similar motivations.
35. Hesmondhalgh, 1997, p. 256.
36. See Kasaras (2002) for overview.
37. As suggested by McLeod (2005) and Kusek and Leonhard (2005) and proved by falling record sales — according to the Recording Industry Association of Japan in 1999 global sales of audio recordings brought US$38,679.7 million, while in 2009 only US$18,606.2 million (Recording Industry Association of Japan, 2003, p. 26 and Recording Industry Association of Japan, 2011, p. 23).
Steve Albini, 1993. “The problem with music,” Baffler, volume 5, at http://www.negativland.com/albini.html, accessed 30 July 2011.
Associated Press, 2008. “Top record labels: artists, market share,” USA Today (10 October), at http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/2008-10-10-367143278_x.htm, accessed 30 March 2011.
Nancy K. Baym and Robert Burnett, 2009. “Amateur experts: International fan labour in Swedish independent music,” International Journal of Cultural Studies, volume 12, number 5, pp. 433–449.
David Beer, 2005. “Reflecting on the digit(al)isation of music,” First Monday, volume 10, number 2, at http://firstmonday.org/article/viewArticle/1209/1129, accessed 18 March 2011.
Leah Belsky, Byron Kahr, Max Berkelhammer, and Yochai Benkler, 2010. “Everything in its right place: Social cooperation and artist compensation,” Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review, volume 17, number 1, pp. 1–65, at http://www.mttlr.org/volseventeen/belsky.pdf, accessed 30 June 2012.
Yochai Benkler, 2011. “Voluntary payment models,” In: Rethinking music: A briefing book. Cambridge, Mass.: Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University, pp. 27–31, at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2011/Rethinking_Music, accessed 16 August 2011.
Patrick Burkart, 2010. Music and cyberliberties. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
Patrick Burkart and Tom McCourt, 2006. Digital music wars: Ownership and control of the celestial jukebox. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.
Andrew E. Burke, 2003. “Music business,” In: Ruth Towse (editor). A handbook of cultural economics. Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, pp. 322–323.
Richard E. Caves, 2000. Creative industries: Contracts between art and commerce. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Creative Commons, 2011. “The power of open,” at http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/27742, accessed 15 August 2011.
Brian R. Day, 2011. “In defense of copyright: Record labels, creativity, and the future of music,” Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, volume 21, number 1, pp. 61–103.
H. Damian Elahi, 2000. “Record distributor’s minimum advertised price provisions: Tripping antitrust during pursuit of revenue, control, and survival in the openly competitive digital era,” Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review, volume 21, number 3, pp. 437–479.
Mark Fox, 2004. “E–commerce business models for the music industry,” Popular Music and Society, volume 27, number 2, pp. 201–220.
Robert L. Frost, 2007. “Rearchitecting the music business: Mitigating music piracy by cutting out the record companies,“ First Monday, volume 12, number 8, at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/1975/1850, accessed 11 March 2011.
Patryk Galuszka, 2011. “Netlabel: Independent non–profit micro–enterprise or just another player in the music industry?” In: Maria Nawojczyk (editor). Economy in changing society: Consumptions, markets, organizations and social policies. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 173–189; available at SSRN, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2026503.
Michael H. Goldhaber, 1997a. “The attention economy and the Net,” First Monday, volume 2, number 4, at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/519/440, accessed 12 January 2011.
Michael H. Goldhaber, 1997b. “What’s the right economics for cyberspace?” First Monday, volume 2, number 7, at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/537/458, accessed 12 January 2011.
Stefan Goldmann, 2011. “Everything popular is wrong: Making it in electronic music, despite democratization,” at http://www.littlewhiteearbuds.com/feature/everything-popular-is-wrong-making-it-in-electronic-music-despite-democratization/, accessed 15 August 2011.
Andrew Goodwin, 2006. “Rationalization and democratization in the new technologies of popular music,” In: Andy Bennett, Barry Shank, and Jason Toynbee (editors). The popular music studies reader. London: Routledge, pp. 276–282.
Tim Gosling, 2004. “‘Not for sale’: The underground network of anarcho–punk,” In: Andy Bennett and Richard A. Peterson (editors). Music scenes: Local, translocal, and virtual. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, pp. 168–183.
Björn Hartmann, 2004. “Netlabels and the adoption of Creative Commons licensing in the online electronic music community,” In: Danièle Bourcier and Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay (editors). International commons at the digital age: La création en partage. Paris: Romillat, pp. 143–153, and at http://bjoern.org/papers/hartmann-cc2004.pdf, accessed 31 August 2011.
David Hesmondhalgh, 2002. The cultural industries. London: Sage.
David Hesmondhalgh, 1999. “Indie: The institutional politics and aesthetics of a popular music genre,” Cultural Studies, volume 13, number 1, pp. 34–61.
David Hesmondhalgh, 1998. “The British dance music industry: A case study of independent cultural production,” British Journal of Sociology, volume 49, number 2, pp. 234–251.
David Hesmondhalgh, 1997. “Post–Punk’s attempt to democratise the music industry: The success and failure of Rough Trade,” Popular Music, volume 16, number 3, pp. 255–274.
Paul M. Hirsch, 1972. “Processing fads and fashions: An organization–set analysis of cultural industry systems,” American Journal of Sociology, volume 77, number 4, pp. 639–659.
Geoffrey P. Hull, 2004. The recording industry. Second edition. New York: Routledge.
International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 2005. “IFPI releases definitive statistics on global market for recorded music,” at http://www.ifpi.org/content/section_news/20050802.html, accessed 30 March 2011.
Kostas Kasaras, 2002. “Music in the age of free distribution: MP3 and society,” First Monday, volume 7, number 1, at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/927/849, accessed 11 March 2011.
Andrew Keen, 2007. The cult of the amateur: How today’s Internet is killing our culture. New York: Doubleday/Currency.
Martin Kretschmer, 2005. “Artists’ earnings and copyright: A review of British and German music industry data in the context of digital technologies,” First Monday, volume 10, number 1, at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/1200/1120, accessed 18 March 2011.
David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard, 2005. The future of music: Manifesto for the digital music revolution. Boston: Berklee Press.
Stephen Lee, 1995. “Independent record companies and conflicting models of industrial practice,” Journal of Media Economics, volume 8, number 4, pp. 47–61.
Gerd Leonhard, 2008. “Music 2.0: Essays, ” at http://gerdleonhard.typepad.com/music20/index.html, accessed 22 June 2011.
Andrew Leyshon, Peter Webb, Shaun French, Nigel Thrift, and Louise Crewe, 2005. “On the reproduction of the musical economy after the Internet,” Media, Culture & Society, volume 27, number 2, pp. 177–209.
Tom McCourt and Patrick Burkart, 2003. “When creators, corporations and consumers collide: Napster and the development of on–line music distribution,” Media, Culture & Society, volume 25, number 3, pp. 333–350.
Kembrew McLeod, 2005. “MP3s are killing home taping: The rise of Internet distribution and its challenge to the major label music monopoly,” Popular Music and Society, volume 28, number 4, pp. 521–531.
Antina Michels, 2009a. Netlabels: Soziale netze on– und offline. Berlin: Netaudio Berlin; see also http://www.netaudioberlin.de/antina_michels_netlabels/, accessed 1 July 2012.
Antina Michels, 2009b. “On– and offline interlacing and community formation in the netaudio scene,” at http://www.netaudioberlin.de/reviewing-netaudio-festival-berlin-2009-2/netaudio-scene-article_antina/, accessed 30 July 2011.
Jeremy Wade Morris, 2011. “Sounds in the cloud: Cloud computing and the digital music commodity,” First Monday, volume 16, number 5, at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3391/2917, accessed 2 June 2011.
Alan O’Connor, 2008. Punk record labels and the struggle for autonomy: The emergence of DIY. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books.
Panos Panay, 2011. “Rethinking music: The future of making money as a performing musician,” In: Rethinking music. A briefing book. Cambridsge, Mass.: Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University, pp. 57–64, and at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2011/Rethinking_Music, accessed 14 August 2011.
Donald S. Passman, 2000. All you need to know about the music business. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Phlow, at http://phlow.de/netlabels/index.php/Main_Page, accessed 1 May 2010.
Richard A. Peterson, 1990. “Why 1955? Explaining the advent of rock music,” Popular Music, volume 9, number 1, pp. 97–116.
Richard A. Peterson and David G. Berger, 1975. “Cycles in symbol production: The case of popular music,” American Sociological Review, volume 40, number 2, pp. 158–173.
Adam Porter, 2010. “Making a case for sharing: An analysis of music copyright, new technologies, and how Creative Commons and Netlabels are facilitating a free music culture on the Web,” a research paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Science degree, Department of Mass Communications & Media Arts, Graduate School, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, at http://infojustice.org/download/gcongress/ccr/porter%20article.pdf, accessed 28 march 2011.
Jeff Price, 2008. “The democratization of the music industry.” Huffington Post (24 March), at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-price/the-democratization-of-th_b_93065.html, accessed 30 June 2011.
Recording Industry Association of Japan, 2011. “The recording industry in Japan 2011,” at http://riaj.or.jp/e/issue/pdf/RIAJ2011E.pdf, accessed 29 June 2011.
Recording Industry Association of Japan, 2003. “The recording industry in Japan: English edition 2003,” at http://riaj.or.jp/e/issue/pdf/RIAJ2003E.pdf, accessed 29 June 2011.
Paul Resnikoff, 2010. “The latest startling stats out of NARM ...,” at http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/stories/051610narm2010_stats, accessed 29 March 2011.
Sherwin Rosen, 1981. “The economics of superstars,” American Economic Review, volume 71, number 5, pp. 845–858.
Peter G. Ross, 2005. “Cycles in symbol production research: Foundations, applications, and future directions,” Popular Music and Society, volume 28, number 4, pp. 473–487.
David Rowe, 1985. “Rock against the clock: Independent cultural production,” Social Alternatives, volume 4, number 4, pp. 58–61.
Amy Spencer, 2008. DIY: The rise of lo–fi culture. Second edition. London: Marion Boyars.
Robert Strachan, 2007. “Micro–independent record labels in the U.K.: Discourse, DIY cultural production and the music industry,” European Journal of Cultural Studies, volume 10, number 2, pp. 245–265.
Bram Timmers, 2005. “Netlabels and open content: Making the next step towards extended cultural production,” at http://www.c3.hu/~bram/Netlabels_and_Open_Content.pdf, accessed 30 August 2011.
Peter Tschmuck, 2006. Creativity and innovation in the music industry. Dordrecht: Springer.
Alexis Wichowski, 2009. “Survival of the fittest tag: Folksonomies, findability, and the evolution of information organization,” First Monday, volume 14, number 5, at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/2447/2175, accessed 24 February 2011.
Patrik Wikström, 2010. The music industry: Music in the cloud. Cambridge: Polity.
John Williamson and Martin Cloonan, 2007. “Rethinking the music industry,” Popular Music, volume 26, number 2, pp. 305–322.
List of in–depth interviews (date, name of netlabel, place or “Skype” in the case of Skype interviews, netlabel’s Web site):
- 18.11.2008 — Phlow, Cologne, Germany, http://phlow-magazine.com/ and http://phlow.de
- 22.11.2008 — FOEM, Cologne, Germany, http://foem.info/
- 23.11.2008 — 2063music, Cologne, Germany, (2063music is currently off–line, catalog can be found here http://sonicsquirrel.net/detail/label/2063music/)
- 24.11.2008 — der kleine grüne Würfel, Cologne, Germany, http://www.derkleinegruenewuerfel.de/
- 02.12.2008 — Zimmer Records, Cologne, Germany, http://www.zimmer-records.org/
- 04.12.2008 — Rec72, Cologne, Germany, http://rec72.net/
- 05.12.2008 — id.eology, Cologne, Germany, http://www.ideology.de/
- 08.12.2008 — So Healthy Music, Cologne, Germany, http://www.so-healthy-music.com/
- 23.02.2009 — op3n.net: mixtape netlabel, Skype, http://www.phlow.es/op3n-releases
- 30.07.2009 — Yellow Bop Records, Skype, http://yellowboprecords.com
- 14.03.2010 — zymogen.net, Modena, Italy, http://www.zymogen.net/
- 12.05.2010 — Textone, Berkeley, California (Textone Netlabel is off–line, catalog can be found here http://www.discogs.com/label/Textone)
- 19.06.2010 — WM Recordings, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, http://www.wmrecordings.com/
- 23.06.2010 — On–Mix Music, Utrecht, The Netherlands, http://on-mix.com/
- 24.06.2010 — Narrominded, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, http://www.narrominded.com/
- 08.12.2010 — AudioTong, Kraków, Poland, http://www.audiotong.net/
- 14.12.2010 — apogsasis, Skype, http://apogsasis.org/
- 20.12.2010 — Qunabu, Skype, http://netlabel.qunabu.com/
- 28.01.2011 — Brennnessel, Łódź, Poland, http://www.brennnessel.pl/
List of e–mail interviews (name of netlabel, netlabel’s Web site):
- 13.02.2009 Rack & Ruin records, first interview, http://www.rackandruinrecords.com/
- 13.02.2009 The New Melodies Community, http://www.myspace.com/mynewmelodies
- 16.02.2009 51beats, http://www.51beats.net
- 16.02.2009 31337 records, http://31337records.com/
- 16.02.2009 Stasisfield, http://www.stasisfield.com/
- 19.02.2009 Subsource, http://www.subsource.de
- 25.02.2009 lescristauxliquident, (http://ww.lescristauxliquident.org is off–line, catalog can be found here http://sonicsquirrel.net/detail/label/les_cristaux_liquident/)
- 15.03.2009 TEST TUBE, http://www.monocromatica.com/
- 19.07.2010 Rack & Ruin records, second interview, http://www.rackandruinrecords.com/
- 09.12.2010 Handy.Tec, http://www.handy-tec.org
- 09.12.2010 3STYLE Records, http://www.myspace.com/3stylerecords
- 11.12.2010 Mixgalaxy Records, http://mixgalaxyrecords.com
- 12.12.2010 No–Source netlabel, http://full-source.com/nosource/netlabel/
- 13.12.2010 Control Valve netlabel, http://www.controlvalve.net/
- 13.12.2010 Ninjah lab netlabel, http://www.ninjahlab.net/
- 14.12.2010 M–REC, http://www.m-rec.eu
- 24.12.2010 49manekinow, http://www.49manekinow.net
- 29.12.2010 Burning Cicada, http://burningcicada.com/
- 14.02.2011 3LOOP Rec, http://3loop.org/netlabel.php
Received 14 September 2011; accepted 25 June 2012.
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial–NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Netlabels and democratization of the recording industry
by Patryk Galuszka
First Monday, Volume 17, Number 7 - 2 July 2012
A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.
© First Monday, 1995-2013.