Continuation of a dialog

Originally published in the netBloc Vol. 23: We Invented The Compilation PDF

Once upon a time… long, long ago… 2007 was the year and we released “netBloc Vol. 5: The threat at Goliath's feet...”. In that release’s PDF was an introduction entitled “An infrastructure for take-over” which was later published online here. In it I discussed ways in which the netaudio community can bring more attention/fans into the fold. Two of the key points were:

Some sort of centralized infrastructure is needed to house a community and charting system which gives newcomers to the scene an easier way to become comfortable with it and to discover great netaudio more quickly. Netlabels/Artists need websites that welcome new listeners and makes it easy for them to download and/or listen to their music. Experimental sites with wacky navigation schemes are not helping them promote their music.

That article prompted an open letter response from Eldino who’s “il blog di eldino” has become a cornerstone of the netaudio blogging community. In his response, he emphasized much of what I wrote about and added interesting commentary regarding music file organization, tagging and distribution. His letter is a must-read continuation of the dialog on netaudio discovery & promotion. The following is my much-belated further continuation of the dialog.

From the start, I planned on blocSonic being somewhat “politically” motivated — specifically music-industry politics. Just the name blocSonic itself conjures up the union of politics and music as it’s formed from two root words:

  • bloc
  • a group of voters or politicians who share common goals
  • a group of countries acting together for political or economic goals, an alliance: e.g., the eastern bloc, the western bloc, a trading bloc
  • sonic
  • of or relating to sound
  • having a speed approaching that of the speed of sound in air

It’s been a while since my netBloc intro has consisted of anything more than an overview of the release itself. I miss rabble-rousing and have a bit to say this time around so let me get to it.

Centralized Netaudio Infrastructure

Eldino, I and commentators have all discussed it before, netaudio needs more exposure. Since most of us involved have little or no budget, how is it that you go about promoting cheaply? What form does an infrastructure take for a scene that primarily distributes music freely? Should it be one community-driven website? A loosely formed alliance of bloggers, netlabels, podcasts and websites that cross-promote each other? Is a chart system valuable?

Personally, I think that charts are invaluable. A required promotional tool. I realize that some people have reservations regarding charts and don’t find them to be valuable. If that’s how you feel, in my opinion charts aren’t for you anyway. Charts are most-definitely targeted to music listeners who may not have the time or inclination to do the digging. These people need guide posts and as such, find charts to be extremely beneficial. I'd go so far as to say that these people may actually place music at a higher value if it’s charted. Chart’s are also targeted to newbies to the scene who without such tools may be dissuaded from exploring the netaudio scene after only discovering music which lacks quality.

We at blocSonic are currently in the process of developing our own chart system. Initially it’ll only chart blocSonic releases and tracks found on them, but the intent is to eventually expand the charts to include netlabels and artists who want to participate. Though it’s important that we take baby steps into this realm… until we’ve perfected the blocSonic-specific charting it’ll only chart blocSonic activity.

Another aspect of an infrastructure which hasn’t been discussed is revenue. Let’s face it, we all take part in this out of love, but with some sort of income from our activities, more time can be devoted to the task. I’d love to see some sharing of ideas on how we who are involved in the netaudio scene can each create a revenue stream without giving up on free music distribution. There are currently business models being explored… most of the one’s that come to mind are of a hybrid model… they either sell some music/give some music or give all music/sell high-quality copies (Eg. Brad Sucks, Josh Woodward, AF-Music). Are there other models that can be explored? Ad-based? Can ads be effective within our niche? We at blocSonic are also considering this option.

Basically, we’re considering a system in which ad space is sold for spots in our PDF booklets. All ad income is then split among blocSonic and the participating artists. As in a magazine, there would be quarter, half and whole page spots. Unlike magazines, the ads would NEVER be placed before the content only lightly interspersed throughout the booklet. The benefit of such an ad to possible ad space buyers would be the fact that the ads are for the life of the release. Releases always remain online for download and as such the ads can continue to bring traffic long after the purchase/investment. We’re still trying to decide on a fair cost for such an ad system. We’re also holding off until our traffic builds a bit more. We’d love your feedback about such a system! Would it turn you off of our releases? If we targeted the ads specifically to the netaudio community – perhaps advertising other netlabels, podcasts, blogs or artists – would you actually find ads useful? If you represent a netlabel, podcast, blog or artist would you be interested in ad space if the cost was set reasonably low?

Do you have ideas about creating revenue from netaudio content without actually selling the music? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

File Tagging, Organization and Distribution

This is a topic that Eldino touched upon that I hadn’t in “An infrastructure for take-over”. It’s also a pet-peeve of mine. Just as Eldino, I have an archive of organized netaudio which is currently 113gb in size. Before I listen to a release, I run it through my custom-made Ruby script that takes regular expression patterns for renaming and other params to add cover art and normalize tags according to my system. I then import the newly processed release to my ipod for listening, rating and ultimately filtering and removing all but 5-star rated music. As you may guess, this process adds a bit of complexity but in the long run makes for an organized way of coming up with netBloc compilation tracklists. Since I automatically re-tag everything according to my system, the way a netlabel/artist tags their music has no effect on my process, but the way that files are named sure does. The cleaner the release filenames, the better for my process as I don’t have to come up with some clever regular expression to rename them. I disagree with Eldino on filename structure because of this reason (it's ok, I'm quite sure many of you will disagree with me :P ). For me, the following works the best as it allows for my automated script to easily parse the info without any regular expressions being fed to it:

  • Single Artist Releases
    Leading-zero Track Number - Track Title.extension
    Example: 01 - Some song.mp3
  • Compilations
    Leading-zero Track Number - Artist Name - Track Title.extension
    Example: 01 - Cool Dudes - Funky Track.mp3

This also seems to be the de-facto standard among file-sharers. Notice, there are no dashes or underscores where spaces should be. With regard to directory structure, the following is what I use for netaudio:

  • Single Artist Releases
    netlabel name(or independent artists directory)/Year - Artist Name - Album Title (Catalog Number)
    Example: blocSonic/2009 - Just Plain Ant - Dig Deep (BSOG0001)
  • Compilations
    netlabel name/Year - Various Artists - Album Title (Catalog Number)
    Example: blocSonic/2009 - Various Artists - netBloc Vol. 23_ We Invented The Compilation (BSCOMP0023)

I find it important to keep everything organized by netlabel because of the way that I access the music.

All that aside, I can usually deal with most file naming systems… as long as there is a… SYSTEM. If you run a netlabel or are an artist and you distribute music online, please… PLEASE… use one cohesive naming system, whatever it may be! Please don't do the following:

  • 01 - Something.mp3
  • 02-Some Other thing.mp3
  • 3.someotherotherthing.mp3
  • 04 - yetsomeotherthing.yougetthepoint.mp3

Do this instead:

  • 01 - Something.mp3
  • 02 - Some Other Thing.mp3
  • 03 - Some Other Other Thing.mp3
  • 04 - Yet Some Other Thing (You Get the Point).mp3

If you distribute your music via, you’re required to upload files without punctuation and spaces. This is a nightmare to rename! Please also provide a manually created zip file containing your release along with any relevant info and artwork. Have a look at a netBloc release page as an example of what you should do.

One last thing regarding file naming… please come up with a system and stick to it. Don’t change your naming system from release to release.

Just because you’re releasing online doesn’t mean that you should skimp on the details. Regardless if your music is free or not, people aren’t obligated to download and listen. Ultimately, you’re selling your music to the listener whether the release is free or not. Attention to detail counts. Next time you release, ask yourself the following. Why should someone download and listen to this release? What can I do to make this release stand out? Answer those questions and follow through. Nothing bugs me more than to come across netlabels that act as if whether or not you download matters little to them. If it doesn’t matter to them, then why should it matter to site visitors?

I welcome other netlabels, artists, blogs, podcasts to continue this dialog. The time is now to get serious about an infrastructure for the netaudio scene. The mainstream music industry is only continuing to spin out of control. Music lovers need alternative sources for quality music discovery and many haven’t the time or the inclination to dig through the seemingly infinite online sources to find the quality. Where do we go from here? Do we pool resources? Do we cross-promote? Do bloggers partner to make their collective voice that much louder? Whatever it is we do… it’ll need to be a collective effort.

Mike Gregoire