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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Netlabels, HTML5, and the Open Web

The absence of Flash in iOS, Apple’s mobile-device operating system, is the sort of tech-insider discussion that on the surface seems unlikely to filter into daily conversation among non-professionals. For most people, Flash is a semi-transparent working part of their daily Internet activities, fueling video, small interactive games, even entire websites — a source of frustration, certainly (long load times, frequent plug-in updates), but such is the nature of the Internet.

The OS wars, like other corporate melees, however, have a way of becoming part of everyday life. Apple’s commitment to HTML5, a still-in-the-works protocol that has yet to see widespread adoption, led me to check in with the proprietors of netlabels, those websites that give away their releases, with the full permission of the contributing artists, for free on the web. Many such netlabels simply provide links to Zip archives of MP3s, others to individual links; others use Flash to provide rudimentary streaming capability.

Here are the responses of six such netlabel heads regarding their perspective — on HTML5, iOS, and related web standards — from around the world (the U.S., Bulgaria, Germany, and Portugal):

Dimitar “Mitko” Kalinov of Dusted Wax Kingdom (dustedwax.org):

There is no Flash on the Dusted Wax Kingdom web site. I prefer to keep it simple, clean and easy to load. HTML5 provides some really good options (but it’s still a draft) and when I have more free time I’ll check deeper and see if I can optimize the page.

Nathan Larson of Dark Winter (darkwinter.com), Endless Ascent (endlessascent.com), and Wandering Ear (wanderingear.com).

That’s a great question and very relevant given the adoption rate of the iPad. At Dark Winter and my other labels (Wandering Ear, Endless Ascent) I have tried to keep the sites as minimal as possible to allow them be loaded as quickly as possible regardless of browser or screen size. Sure, my site isn’t as flashy but it’s straightforward and gets my listeners to the music as quickly as possibly in a consistent format. My site does utilize some video when provided by artists but then it’s usually hosted through YouTube and Vimeo and these most providers now make videos universally viewable so it’s not an issue. I will be looking at doing a redesign in the future but my agenda will be the same — use of globally recognized coding standards that be read on all units.

Pedro Leitão of Test Tube (monocromatica.com):

I have thought about the lack of Flash support on the iPhone, and more recently on iPad, which is a bigger platform, more likely to turn into the ‘handheld computer’ of the future. Most people I know that use iPads are putting the laptop away and do almost everything on the new device. But most of them tell me that Flash is a bit overrated at the moment. As you wrote, HTML5 and possibly other languages could easily be excellent alternatives to what Flash can do so I’m not concerned about it. I’m still a man of static HTML, and I know it’s pretty much obsolete nowadays, and I have someone working on a open-source platform for the netlabels I run. Because I know I have to eventually change.

Igor Ballereau of SHSK’H (shskh.com):

Nobody needs a merchant forcing his morals on the whole Internet. So we just tell people around us to put the rotten apple aside. This is not a problem of Flash vs HTML5. This is far more serious. This is about a never-ending breed of people wanting to decide the way you should walk or talk. This world is variety, whether one likes it or not.

Chris McDill of Webbed Hand (webbedhandrecords.com):

Since its beginning, Webbed Hand has been a Windows-centric netlabel. I do not have an Apple computer, nor devices, much less a cell phone. I am aware that such devices are being used to store and play music, and to me it’s enough that they handle MP3s well, which can be accessed via my site using basic html links. While I may eventually add Flash or other apps to the site, I’ll always try to have old-fashioned links to the files, since there’s not only the Apple/Flash conflict, but many browser plugins that block ads and scripts may also disable embedded players etc. Moreover I don’t have access to any Apple computers or devices to check how the site and its content appear, so I play it safe and keep things as basic as possible. I’ve seen the recent articles that Adobe and Microsoft are considering a merger in hopes of adapting to Apple’s resistance to Flash. Somehow HTML5 has a role in this conflict, but I haven’t studied up on that side of things. I’m going to wait for the dust to settle on this, and by then hopefully systems like WordPress (which I use to manage the label’s homepage) will have evolved to make content available across all platforms uniformly. In the meantime I’m going to just keep it simple.

Christian Kausch of Broque (broque.de):

Thank you for your question. Yes, it’s a topic for us. But we currently have a way to offer a minimal standard, because this is the way everybody can visit us or download our music. Maybe not everybody can use every feature from us, but the basics have to be possible every time. To participate in the newer Internet ways, we’re working on an iPhone/iPad app, and I hope next year we can present the result.

Perhaps the best index of active netlabels is at disruptiveplatypus.wordpress.com.

For a peek into the thinking of folks who run netlabels, here’s a group discussion, from 2006, featuring Dark Winter’s Larson, Test Tube’s Leitão, and Andras Hargitai of Complementary Distribution: “Free as in Netlabel.”

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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