One of the music podcasts I follow is A Strangely Isolated Place, who also operate a Bandcamp store of the same name. Recently, they put out a compilation titled Portals: Energostatic (For Ukraine) containing selected tracks from the Ukrainian netlabel Energostatic Records, which is raising money for Save The Children. This prompted a blog post about the history of netlabels:
‘Netlabels’ are essentially extinct in today’s music landscape by definition. Of course, there are still labels that just focus on digital releases, but Netlabels came about during a time when there were little to no platforms monetizing digital releases. Digital distributors were reserved for big or established labels as the streaming era ramped up. And Bandcamp didn’t exist.
Netlabels were the next logical step after the file-sharing era (Soulseek et al), where instead of P2P servers and software, artists and label began to push their own agendas online, making files available freely on the internet, often under a Creative Commons license and many through a myriad of MP3 blogs that powered this exciting period. It was also, somewhere at this point in time, coincidentally, that the very first iteration of ASIP was also born, diving deep into MP3 blogs and following various Netlabels religiously. Finding a Netlabel’s basic website or archive.org page was the Bandcamp profile of its day.
I encountered quite a few netlabels back in the 2000s, after getting a broadband connection, usually through luck and stumbling upon mentions elsewhere on the internet. While a lot of the songs were not keepers, I always felt a thrill whenever I came across a trove of free music online.
Many of these troves have now moved to Bandcamp, but many more are still tucked away in dusty corners of the web or kept for posterity in the Internet Archive.
If nothing else, their existence proves that the world of recorded music extends far beyond the walls of the major labels and streaming services. Long may that continue!