Early signs of FMP brainstorming & research – netlabels documentary

I’ve spent a whole weekend listening to music from the Dusted Was Kingdom netlabel. I initially found one of their artists, Anitek, through a search within the Vimeo Music Store for Creative Commons music – I was looking for a nice and quirky track to use for my first showreel. What I found was a very high quality collection of 21 (!) albums Anitek had produced and released in the last few years.

So one thing led to another, and I soon found his netlabel. It is based in Varna, Bulgaria, and since I followed the label’s fanpage and put on a positive comment about Anitek, the label’s leader got in touch to say ‘hi’.

The next few hours were full of high quality trip-hop / downtempo music, all released by the Dusted Wax Kingdom netlabel, and some personally produced by Dimitar, the label’s leader. We had a chat about the music market, the role of the internet and social networks in connecting the artists to the right audience, and all things music related.

Netlabels are a relatively new phenomenon, exploring the possibilities of digital production and distribution of music. They are becoming increasingly popular with the new wave of self published and self produced music artists looking for an audience for their work. The process is very much free and democratised, often it is a case of ‘I like what you do, you like what I do, let’s work together’, and quite a lot of them simply exist because of the love of music the people involved share. Very few of them generate significant profit, and if they do it is not because they are selling vast amounts of records. On the contrary – most of their music is released for free, under a Creative Commons license, and is shared freely with the fans.

Netlabels aren’t a typical unit in the traditional music business – they often do the opposite of almost everything we associate with the big music companies. They are existing in a parallel, alternative, but increasingly growing reality, where the currency is not money – it is the act of sharing, of co-creating, of making something beautiful and finding an audience for it.

The Dusted Wax Kingdom netlabel isn’t making much profit either – but their artists are enjoying the love of thousands of fans hooked on their music. They exist because they want to exist – because they have something to share. Or at least that is what it looks like on the surface.

I am curious to explore the hidden world of netlabels – to meet the people who run them, to talk to the artists who become part of them, to understand how they find their audience and what the listeners think, and to find out what is happening out there, how this whole thing works and why.

So I am thinking, could I set out to make a documentary about netlabels, and maybe use this one as a case study?

BG netlabels:

http://dustedwax.org/

http://mahorka.org/

http://jisatsuken.org/

I am deeply interested in the independent music scene (my last and most favourite project was about an independent music artist too – Jack Lord), I based my previous written assignment on music distribution in the digital world, I have researched the Creative Commons culture and alternative distribution channels, and I am inspired to dig deeper and to explore this topic.

What is more, a quick search in YouTube, Vimeo and Google that I made, clearly shows that this topic hasn’t been explored much in documentary film.

And I am pretty sure there isn’t a single documentary film about a trip-hop netlabel based in Varna, so I may be the first to do this.

Since I will be spending the summer in Bulgaria, I am contemplating and brainstorming about how to approach the story and what I could ask Dimitar, the label leader. I would love to travel to Varna and spend a few days finding out how the netlabel works and what keeps it going.

So I am thinking about what equipment I may use, should I bring Loan Shop equipment from the University and buy insurance (I’m researching the details and prices), or should I rent out equipment in Bulgaria – I’m researching options.

For this type of film, good quality sound recording would be extremely important, so I am looking into options of lightweight recorders with decent quality that I can either loan from the uni or on location. Ideally I would also like to use a good quality camera & tripod, to get the shots I need – so I’m looking into options for this too.

A next thing to look into would be budget – at least for equipment hire + insurance, plus travel to and from the location. So one idea would be of course to use my own funds and add to them with a job in Bulgaria. But I am also thinking (though haven’t checked yet) about possible funding options with grants from an organisation that might be interested in financing such a research into the world of netlabels. Another option is to activate my social networks, especially within the music fans and Creative Commons community, and go through the crowd funding route with a campaign in Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Sponsume.

In terms of the look and feel of the film, I am thinking I could use a sitdown interview (or a series of interviews) with people from the netlabel (leader + artists), plus shots and clips of them in action recording / mixing / editing, and lots of their music in the background.

Licensing the music wouldn’t be an issue as the majority is available for free for non-commercial use (that’s the main point of the netlabel and probably this film), and I should be able to arrange a different type of license if I need to, directly with the label or artist.

I can already imagine how a potential film would look like, so I’m actually quite excited by the possibility of making one.
In terms of length, I imagine it would be at least 15 minutes long (probably more), maybe a short version just about the label plus sound bites about the label leader himself (his personal story), and more soundbites and interviews with some of the other artists for the full length version.

I can now remember that most of the documentaries I’ve seen and remembered have had to do with music, the internet and / or copyright, in an audiovisual and research style I am quite fond of, so I could decide to keep some of this style as a basic starting point, and then probably add ideas as I go with my research.

This post will probably turn into my ‘notes collection point’ where I add relevant links and notes as I go through my research and brainstorming. So if you’re interested where this project is headed, keep checking this post 🙂

Currently, I can link to a few documentaries I’ve seen that touch the subject, though from a slightly different and more general perspective:

I do want to refrain from going the traditional route of talking about digital music culture, and to approach this topic in a modern way. I am tired of hearing the same old people talking the same old stuff from the old business perspective, where there was one source of music and one distribution channel (the big labels), there was one way of producing music and becoming a musician, etc., and how the internet era is oh-so-dangerous for artists. I am living in the present, where the majority of music that I listen to is produced and distributed freely, and I want to help tell this part of the story.

I am in contact with a few independent musicians, some of them using Creative Commons for the vehicle for their music distribution and as a starting point to reach an audience; others keep their copyright but use the internet for promotion and occasionally share free tracks as part of their ‘marketing’ strategy. I would love to explore the ‘business model’ behind independent music – how much do they actually earn from music, is it their full-time activity, or they simply do it as a hobby / passion and enjoy the odd ‘donation’. I should hopefully be able to get a mix of opinions and standspoints, also in terms of musical style – so the acoustic singer/songwriter will have a very different perspective than the electronic laptop producer. Looks like a wonderful journey 🙂

I’ve found a possibly related documentary that I still haven’t got around to watching, but I will add it here so it’s all in the post:

STFU Glasgow Documentary

Also, something (hopefully) more relevant, that I need to have a look at:

Rock The Biz – Music Industry Documentary

I also need to speak to my tutors, especially the ones that are more into digital culture and Creative Commons, for possible research directions, stylistic ideas, and funding / festival / competition links. I haven’t researched into it yet, but I hope there is somewhere an organisation that would be interested in financially backing such a research / documentary project.

In terms of logistics, if I can’t organise myself to film in Bulgaria, it could be a good research point to talk to the guys at Dusted Wax Kingdom anyway, and base the film on a more local netlabel in the UK that is easier to film. Though, I’ll be honest, I’d love to make a film in Bulgarian about such a unique concept.

This is not in any way a promise that I will go ahead with the project (though I certainly would love to), but I wanted to write up my initial thoughts – so I would be grateful for any comments and ideas you may decide to share with me, in the comments section here or personally at hi@rumenazlatkova.net. If I do go ahead and create this film, I would want to make it good, and I would want it to appeal to the right audience, so I would be grateful if the audiophiles and documentary lovers reading this share their comments too 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Early signs of FMP brainstorming & research – netlabels documentary

    • Thank you thank you thank you so much for this! It looks absolutely spot-on and very helpful for what I’ll be working on! I’ll have a look at your netlabel too. This is getting better and better 🙂

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  1. Pingback: FMP – further research sources from a comment | Rumena Zlatkova

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