I was thinking recently about how people find music they like. Most of the time, it seems people listen to music that is popular, or they hear in a club, or their friends are listening to. However, this approach doesn’t work well with netlabels since you have to find the music first, and then figure out which of the releases are more popular than others. At best, you might find tracks that some of your friends are listening to, if they are into netlabels (and seriously, it is a pretty small audience at this point).
The problem boils down to this: we are working with a relatively new media and (let’s face it), it is obscure. There is no iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Sound Cloud, Pandora, etc. for netlabels. The closest we have is CC Hits, FreeMusi.cc. From there you have you can start going to aggregation sites like CCTrax and SonicSquirrel, Free Music Archive or to the individual labels / music sites like Magnatune, Jamendo, Kahvi Collective, Dusted Wax Kingdom, to name just a couple of the hundreds if not thousands of sources for netlabel music that are out there. Of course, if you wanted to be really hardcore in your search, you could go to the Internet Archive and wade through the Netlabels collection of the Community Music section. With over 2000 sub-collections (netlabels) you can spend literally thousands of hours there just trying to find a few tracks you like. If you are a masochist like me, you can add the RSS feed to a feed reader and listen to the first track from releases that look interesting, and then check out the rest of the release when you find something interesting.
And there is still options: finding websites with reviews like the ones I post here (there are several really nice sites that I’ve encountered). Then there are announcements on social networks: Twitter, G+, Facebook, etc. all have groups for Creative Commons music, or Netlabels, and the many of the netlabels announce their releases on these social networks too.
Basically, we have an embarrassment of riches: so many ways to find all this information about the music that it becomes overwhelming. So, how can you go about finding music that you really like without sinking literally thousands of hours into search it out?
So, I came up with an approach rooted in knowledge from the legacy music industry. Many netlabels produce mixes, which are another form of sample recordings for their label. They showcase previously released works by the label over a given period, and offer an excellent insight into the types and styles of music that they release. Better yet, most of the mixes are typically between one and two hours in length: perfect for popping into a music player and just having on in the background when working or doing chores.
Of course, finding these mixes can take almost as much work as finding releases that you want to add to your collection. That’s where I step in with a showcase of mixes that are worth checking out. Once every month or two I will find a few mixes from different labels, and write up a showcase article with links to the mixes to save you the time of trying to find them.
Welcome to the inaugural Netlabel Mix Showcase!
First on the list is a very recent release: Lennert Hal – Mixtape Of B-tracks for Deep-X Recordings. This release came out on July 20th of this year, and quickly sampling through the over one hour and fifteen minutes of music shows a release that is fun to listen to by an artist that has deep affection for the music produced by Deep-X Recordings.
While this Russian Netlabel focuses primarily on the Techno and House genres of music, there are quite a few releases from them that are closer to ambient or down-tempo style releases that I frequently find releases from them making it into my collection. They are also one of the longer running Netlabels with over 250 releases which provides a real depth and breadth to the music they have made available.
All of their releases are under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND release.
I’ve enjoyed quite a few releases from the Kahvi Collective over the years. They were one of the first Netlabels that I found, and I can say they literally exposed me to all sorts of new electronic music that had grown out of the Demo Scene over the years that I probably would never have heard otherwise (nor would I have realized the importance of the Demo Scene in the Creative Commons and Electronic music).
Kahvi has a resident remix master: DJ Polaski. He has produced some excellent mixes for the label. The most recent is Xpresso which, unfortunately, isn’t available for download. Instead it is made available through mixcloud. While it is an excellent mix of the ambient, chill and IDM releases from the Kahvi label making it available via mixcloud makes it less accessible to those that prefer to have their music in a single place (such as the Google Play cloud site, or on their own phone / music player).
However, Kahvi has many other mixes that are worth checking out on their site, and even a “hidden” one in their regular releases: DJ Polaski – Searching for Planets is an 80+ minute romp through some of the really fine Kahvi catalog and highly worthy of a listen.
The Kahvi Collective’s netlabel releases are under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.
Softphase is a Nordic netlabel run by Planet Boelex. I was initially introduced to some of his work via the Kahvi Collective. Back in 2010 I came across his Introduction To Softphase mix, which he had assembled from the first batch of releases on his label. I was immediately taken with the release as I read the list of artists: Transient, Weldroid, Coax, Mikael Fyrek and badloop were all artists I had encountered in my travels around the netlabels. I downloaded the mix, and loved it so much, that I wrote and asked for permission to use it as an episode of the original CerebralMix. He said “yes”, and it was released as episode 19, the last release before the show took an (unintentional) over two year hiatus. Way to go out on a high note! This is a mix of ambient music at it’s finest, one that I still highly recommend three years later.
The interesting thing about the Softphase label is that they are not specifically focused on any genre. If they find a work that they really like, and feel it fits with what they want to project for the label it will be released. That being said, they don’t release too many works too often. They maintain a very high quality standard, and are very specific about what they want to release. For example, they’ve only had two releases so far this year. Also, all of their releases are available in MP3 and FLAC format.
Softphase may not be the most active Netlabel out there, but all of their releases are exceptionally high quality, and find their way into my permanent collection.
Sofphase’s works are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.