Most of us can recall the struggle of inserting our favorite album into the CD player over and over, praying for that sweet sign of victory over its bountiful scratches. The promise of sweet, sweet music, indicated by those four elusive zeroes: “00:00.” Those days are long gone. We are deep inside a (somewhat) new moment in musical history, one that lets us bask in the never-skipping glory of streaming services, MP3s, wireless speakers, and curated playlists. The digital era is regal in its variety and accessibility, and record labels have evolved swiftly to keep pace with hungry listeners.
Instead of toiling over vinyl releases, restocks at mass music retailers, and fitting visuals onto the limited canvas of a CD jacket, they’ve gone digital. While almost every label out there is hip to the digital release, a new frontier of brave innovators is shedding the literal and figurative weight of the physical release. Digi labels, web labels, or netlabels, depending on your preferred nomenclature, are bubbling up around the world and all across the World Wide Web. With a focus on digital audio formats, most commonly MP3s, they’re equipped with barrier-breaking mentalities and realistic assessments of what the modern listener looks for when considering spending hard-earned money on music. Not to mention they’re efficient.
Death of the record label? Not for these thought leaders. Evolution says it’s all about survival of the fittest. We scoured the depths of the net to carve out five labels that are doing their digital cardio, pumping out sounds to the masses by the light of their MacBooks. From Soulection’s organic SoundCloud-fueled approach, to Russell Simmons and Steve Rifkind’s new brainchild All Def Digital, these are the five netlabels leading the pack. Get on board or risk getting left behind—a man and a Discman is a lonely existence in the 21st century.