What if Pitchfork wasn’t a blog? What if when you wanted to hear the newest song from labels like Ninja Tune Records, you went to a marketplace inside a social network dedicated to independent music?
That’s the idea behind The New Record, a new venture from 17-year record label vet Bill Armstrong. The founder of LA’s Side One Dummy Records is essentially raising a call to arms among fellow label heads, urging them to unite under the greater good of independent music as many of them decry the paltry payouts from Spotify.
Through this common outlet, Armstrong is attempting to build a hub for fans of music released outside of the The Big Four (Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and EMI) — a place where fans can go to find the most up-to-date, exclusive and neatly curated music, make playlists out of it, follow labels and artists, and stream all of the music for free.
“Labels get so demonized, but they really do exist for the listener,” says Armstrong, who so far has corralled over thirty independent labels to join in, including Daptone, Epitaph, Everloving, Kill Rock Stars, Nettwerk, and Sub Pop.
“Labels do want to give music away, and they do want to turn people on to their bands for free and find their way into people’s lives,” added Armstrong. “It felt like every place that we were doing that — and you can run exclusives on blogs all day — we weren’t able to quantify anything. There were just a lot of problems and legalities that you have to go through every time. I felt like there was a track or two from each artist that we wanted everybody to have. We thought [The New Record] would be nice for people who don’t have time to scour all the blogs looking for music.”
From a top-level functional standpoint, the site, still in beta, works as Armstrong intended. You cannot do anything on the site without signing up for an account with an email address and password, but after that, you’re free to scour The New Record for a wide variety of free music. Each artist on the site has at least a couple songs for free streaming. If you like what you hear, The New Record dovetails with Amazon and iTunes so you can purchase downloads of songs or albums with just a few clicks.
Labels can also set up their artists’ pages to link directly to each label’s online store, giving users a chance to buy merchandise that extends beyond MP3 and other digital files, with all of it going to the artist/label, instead of tithing some of the revenue to Apple or Amazon.
“We’re really helping labels give away stuff that they were already giving away anyway,” says Armstrong. “In the form of a collective, hopefully we can get enough traffic to start driving people into pre-orders and into label stores. Or you can just use it as a discovery tool. So if you like Dum Dum Girls and you like Obits, you might like ten other bands on Sup Pop [Records]. You probably will.”
Our question: What do you do once you’ve determined that you like Obits? The New Record’s interactive capabilities are still first-generation, and Armstrong still needs to work out some bugs. Two notable examples: Neither the “Follow” button for bands or the “+Playlist” button for playlists worked when I tried to follow Atmosphere, though it’s obvious from the “Followers” section that the option has worked for some people [ed. note: Follow worked for us, but not playlist.] In addition, in these early days, just because a label has just added a track doesn’t make it new.
These are the pitfalls of running a site in beta. Considering how much Armstrong has had to learn in the past few months about creating a website, changes are coming soon. Armstrong predicts TNR will stick with its beta tag until early 2012, at which point we’re hoping he comes up with a new music player that doesn’t look like it was ripped from MySpace.
All told, he envisions the site as a social epicenter for music discovery and artist sharing, all contained on a platform where labels can effectively measure fan interaction.
“There’s definitely a little bit of Field of Dreams‘ ‘If you build it, they will come’ going on here,” says Armstrong, who sold his house to create The New Record. “I didn’t know anything about creating a web site when this started. I didn’t know what wire-framing was. I didn’t know what core functionality meant. I was just a guy that wanted more control –wanted a set of tools that I felt friends of mine would like to have.
“I just sort of started building it, and it was actually a lot like starting a label,” added Armstrong. “We didn’t know what we were doing when we started that, either.”