I have been an active follower of the netaudio scene for over a dozen years and a netlabel curator for nearly a decade. During that time, I’ve witnessed many of the evolutions and paradigm shifts the scene has taken, always carefully circumventing the music industry and the monetization issue on the internet.
Through all these years many projects for websites or portals have popped up and died out, their common goal: to promote netaudio releases. This article is about the Netaudio Index website, why it was created and how it’s developing.
Death of noerror
Noerror had tried to be an article and news portal to the netaudio scene since the early days. Through inertia it ended up as a place where netlabel owners occasionally visited to promote their latest releases and not much else. Now and again with some additional news about new trackers, VST plugins or competitions. But it’s main utility was indeed new releases spam for the netaudio curators.
When noerror stopped its activity in 2010, many of the folks actively promoting the netaudio scene felt it left a void in the scene. There were other places on the internet where you could go to get netaudio news – review blogs, webzines, sites like archive.org, sonicsquirrel.net and dogmazic.net were already well developed. But none of them was as centralized and well known as noerror.
ZhangJW, curator of the Chinese Bypass netlabel, was one of those folks who felt something was lost. So he started a project to fill this void. He called it the Netaudio Index. It started as a simple page listing all the latest releases and a submission form for artists or label owners to submit new releases.
Reaching new audiences
Like all netaudio forums / services it started off with a quick growth in usage as the netlabel curators and artists tried it out. And then it slowly started having less usage as the netlabel curators and artists started realizing it wasn’t giving them back that many download hits then usual. This behavior is symptomatic of anything new, and no stranger to anyone who runs a forum, webzine, blog, podcast radioshow, or anything of the sort. Just having it running isn’t enough to keep people interested, you need to keep improving it and find ways to reach new audiences.
Reaching new audiences is a problem on its own. And not just within netaudio. Commercial music and indie bands have to deal with that very same issue. They need to reach people who would be interested in discovering their music. By any means possible. Major labels have the big bucks to buy out entire playlists in radiostations. Indie labels resort to spamming music reviewers and hyping their limited edition releases to the max. Small bands play anywhere. Bedroom musicians spam myspace and facebook.
The internet is brewing with small venture capital projects that aim to solve this problem. They try to sell you ways to easily market your fans, ways to have your tracks more widely available, ways to get your music on big radio stations. And while in the netaudio scene we are used to doing all these services for free, most of them try to monetize these schemes by charging the artist a subscription fee with promises of having your expenses met when your target audience invests back. Many of these services don’t pay back anything to the artist, they become the middle man taking money from both you as an artist and your fans. Those services who do not completely rip off the artist and are free for the listener end up getting bought by major labels and subverted into a monetization scheme.
One such scheme sites is called thesixtyone. They had an interesting initial concept which was working quite well, before they alienated their userbase, which I will not get into any deeper now. Their concept was based on discovering new bands and projects as a quest system for new users. As an artist you uploaded your tracks and made them available under different categories. As a user you could listen to radios of different categories and pick your favorites with a heart. Quests would then take over the user experience, where if you forced yourself to diversify your music discovery you would get more points, level up and get badges. This forced users to get more involved, writing reviews, using their hearts wisely, listening to other users playlists, discovering new genres. With the goal of needing to finish the daily quest at hand. This idea stuck with me even after thesixtyone was revealed as a money ripping scheme.
I eventually started sharing this idea of mine of doing something similar in the netaudio scene, as a way to bring more listeners in to our community. I swapped some mails with a few different people about it, one of them was ZhangJW of Netaudio Index. He took a liking to the concept as well and tarted working on implementing it for a next version of netaudio index. It’s not ready yet, but things are slowly progressing in that direction. I have recently joined him as a developer for the project.
Before anything else, netaudio index needed some more social network connectivity. Netaudio index now allows users to log in using facebook connect and directly like or comment on any listed release via facebook. Twitter was also integrated.
Another important feature was direct integration with flash players from archive.org and bandcamp. ZhangJW developed a special WYSIWYG editor, allowing a submitter to use iframe and embed tags to insert archive.org or bandcamp flash players directly. A nice feature for visitors / listeners to get a faster preview of an album.
The next step into building a social music discovery experience was allowing users to listen to stream radio of the listed releases. Recent changes have been made into the netaudio index to allow stream radio, and a few more are planned such as tags system radio and user playlists.
Another crucial of the concept was to allow user interaction on hyping the releases. ZhangJW conceptualized a volume paradigm, where each user has a certain amount of decibels to give away to whatever releases they prefer, and the global loudness of each release will make it stand out more on the “loudness monitor” of the initial page. As time passes on the loudness of each release fades down. This system works as a popularity public vote.
Other changes in the pipeline involve having quests of different sorts. For example a quest where the user is forced to listen, tag, review or vote a certain number of releases to win badges and get more dBs available for use. Quest to listen to a certain number of tracks from a specific label. Quest to discover music from a genre you hadn’t listened before. Many possibilities arise.
The loudness monitor system is still quite new so we would very much like to have more people use it, stress test it and give us some feedback on how we can improve the site. Get out there, invite some friends and discover a whole new way of discovering free music. [ps]