This paper presents selected elements from the results of my research on netlabels. The research was started in late 2008 during my stay at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, where I managed to conduct the quantitative part of my project. My aim was to learn more about netlabels and gather data, which would later be used to construct questions for a series of in-depth interviews with individuals involved in netaudio scene. That is why when I constructed the questionnaire; I concentrated on general issues surrounding netlables, such as size, country of origin, attitudes of their founders, the music genres they deal with etc. The theoretical background of the research was Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of field of cultural production, although some of the questions were also inspired by business studies. That is why the research is a kind of interdisciplinary work, which instead of answering one research question, concentrates rather on several loosely related issues.
The data presented here was gathered between September 2008 and January 2009 using an Internet survey. The survey was sent to a wide range of netlabels which featured in the two most widely known catalogs: Phlow Netlabel Catalogue and Rowolo.de. I supplemented these databases with three other sources: Sonicsquirrel.net, Last.fm, Archive.org. The response rate was 59.58%. However if we take into account the other 65 netlabels which did not receive the questionnaire, the response rate then falls to 53.47%. Both numbers are quite high, especially if we take into account that an Internet survey is usually characterized by much lower response rates. Exact information about the number of respondents is presented in table 1.
My research shows that most netlabels (292) 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 a ready to use and easy to understand law must have encouraged several of my respondents to start netlabels. As one of my respondents noted, “having a label was never easier”. Interviews which I conducted in late 2008 also suggested that the oldest netlabels have their roots in the demo scene, tape labels and the DIY movement.
The majority of my respondents came from Europe and North America. The questionnaire was in English, so it is important that we take into account language barriers. It is possible that if there were for example French, Spanish or Russian versions of the questionnaire, more netlabels would have been willing to take part in the research. On the other hand we should not overestimate the language factor – people involved in netlabelism usually have a good command of English.
Some netlabels are truly international organizations with founders from two or three different countries (in one case it was UK, The Netherlands and Germany). There were 11 ‘international’ netlabels, all based in Europe. More information is presented in table 2.
Genre is one of the most important terms in popular music studies. At the same time it is one of the most difficult to analyze, mainly because the term ‘genre’ is understood differently by researchers, fans, artists and the music industry. While for traditional record labels genre is mainly a kind of brand which helps in the process of market segmentation and positioning of products, for artists, media and listeners it may have both musical and ideological meanings. What is more, each genre may consist of many subgenres, which often appear and disappear quite rapidly (especially in the field of electronic music).
Because I realised the difficulties in asking about genre, I decided to concentrate only on the main genres. In other words, respondents could choose only main genres, for example electronica or rock (without naming all the subgenres like house, electro, drum’n'bass, post-rock, space rock, garage rock, etc.). Although I tried to be consistent and wanted to keep the list of genres short, this question could have been asked in many other ways. For example one could argue that heavy metal, punk rock and hard core are all subgenres of rock music, while dance can be a subgenre of electronica. I agree with this, but I also had to take into account methodological reasons which led me to keeping the list of genres as short as possible.
Despite all the problems with constructing this question, the results confirmed a common belief that netlabels release mostly electronic (89%) and experimental (76%) music. Detailed information is presented in table 3.
The next question was designed to learn more about what netlabels do. Almost all of them promote (90%) and distribute (97%) music for free over the internet. This corresponds well with Wikipedia’s definition of netlabels, which says that “A netlabel (?) is a record label that distributes its music primarily through digital audio formats (?) over the Internet. While similar to traditional record labels in many respects, netlabels typically emphasize free distribution online, often under licenses that encourage works to be shared (e.g., Creative Commons licenses), and artists usually retain copyright. Most employ guerrilla marketing to promote their work; few netlabels earn money for participants” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netlabel accessed 31.07.2010.). Apart from this, significant numbers of netlabels (40%) also organize or promote live performances, concerts, etc.
Most of the examined netlabels declare that they are non-commercial organizations aiming for dissemination of interesting music. They also emphasize that they are different from traditional record labels and do not see themselves as a part of the traditionally defined music business.
The number of releases a netlabel has is a good indication of how active they are. It must be noted however that a ‘release’ may be understood in many different ways. For example, both ‘digital albums’ containing 15 tracks and ‘digital singles’ containing three tracks may be called “a release”. That is why netlabels which have released five singles may distribute less mp3 files than netlabels which released five albums, but in my research both declared distributing five releases. Detailed information is presented in table 4.
There are three things we should take into account when talking about licenses under which music – distributed by netlabels – is released. First, intellectual property law is different in various countries. Second, Creative Commons licenses have not yet been ported in every country (see http://creativecommons.org/international for details). Thirdly, although netlabels may assist in the final decision, it is usually up to the artists to decide which license to choose.
That is why the question about licenses is rather a general one – I asked about licenses under which the majority of netlabels’ releases are released. It is common that netlabels release music under various licenses – my question reveals which license is the most popular in general.
When artists decide to publish their work under a Creative Commons license, they can choose one of six main licenses. The most popular license is the ‘Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives’, chosen by 43% of respondents. Other answers were: ‘Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share-Alike’ (23%), ‘Creative Commons Attribution’ (11%), ‘Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial’ (10%), ‘Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives’ (5%), ‘Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike’ (4%), Full copyright (no Creative Commons license) (4%).
The results presented in this paper allow us to define netlabels as platforms for online distribution and promotion of music released under Creative Commons (or similar) licenses. While netlabels may vary, what distinguishes them from traditional record labels is that they distribute music free of charge and seek no financial gain. Although most of the netlabels present noncommercial attitudes, there are some which try to help artists sell their music in digital music stores. It remains to be seen whether some of them would evolve into a new form of commercial record labels with more mainstream appeal.
Please note that this file presents only selected results of the quantitative part of the research. In the second, qualitative part of the research I have been conducting several in-depth interviews with netlabels’ representatives. I plan on publishing conclusions from the second part of this research in the near future.
Table 1. Exact information about respondents.
|Total number of netlabels||650|
|Netlabels which had been closed before the research began||15|
|Netlabels which could not be contacted (no contact information on netlabel’s website or wrong e-mail address)||66|
|Netlabels which received the questionnaire||569|
|Netlabels which did not complete the questionnaire||230|
|Netlabels which completed the questionnaire||339|
Source: Galuszka, 2009.
Table 2. Where are netlabels based?
|Continents||Number of netlabels|
|Asia (Far East)||6|
|Asia (Middle East)||2|
|Australia & New Zealand||2|
|North America (USA & Canada)||50|
|South and Central America||18|
Source: Galuszka, 2009. N=337.
Table 3. Which genres are released by netlabels?
|punk rock/hard core||7%|
Source: Galuszka, 2009. Respondents could choose more than 1 answer. N=339.
Table 4. Number of releases.
|Number of releases||Number of netlabels|
|More than 100||23|
Source: Galuszka, 2009. N=337.
 Number of respondents who answered the question. In some cases that number is different from the total number of respondents (339), as a few of them skipped some questions.
Innovators and DIY cultural production von Patryk Galuszka steht unter einer Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Lizenz.