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Getting Thicker

img  Tobias

It is the year 2000. The word „netlabel“ is only just making it to the tip of some insiders’ tongues. Few musicians are capable of guessing at the potential of the internet in terms of promoting their music. And to most listeners back then, it actually sounds like a contridiction in terms.

Sebastian Redenz remembers this time well. It is the year that he discovers the depth of dub electronica, decides that he wants to become active in this field himself and gets to meet Thomas Jaldemark on the web-based communication channel “#trax”. It is also the year that he paves the way for what will soon become one of the most succesful online-based record companies the world has ever seen.

Leading the way again

Fast forward to the year 2007. Redenz is putting the finishing touch to the new label site of Thinner, the virtual record company he has headed since the turn of the century. He actually uses the word “version” for each new incarnation of the site, similar to a software developer, but it’s not that far a stretch. Just like electronic music has an inbuilt tendency to reflect the technological advances in sound synthesis, Netlabels have mirrored the possibilities of databases and graphical user interfaces. With this latest update, he will have Thinner leading the way again not only in terms of the music itself – but also with regards to its presentation and accesibility.

It’s been his mission right from the very start, one which has taken him through times of fast.paced changes. Redenz joins forces with Thomas Jaldemark and starts his “educational” work. He never had any difficulty convincing any musicians of the logic of releasing their music for free with them. Even though “Creative Common Licences” (the terms of use stipulating when a particular piece of music can be distributed without monetary charge) had a more idealistic ring to them back then, everyone could see the sense in joining forces on a powerful platform. If there was a war going on, then it was rather being fought on the format front.” I actively got into #trax around the time when Monotonik decided to release .mp3.”, Sebastian says, “I remember this move caused some uproar in the community as people didn’t want to see the module formats being replaced, as back then ISDN modems were cutting edge.”

The gradual move from now obscure modular formats (think of it as a collection of seperately recorded samples) to the mp3 standard meant a further reduction in download times. This, in combination with Redenz’ emphasis on quality in every aspect of his trade, makes the label go from strength to strength. In January of 2004, Sebastian uploads the 50th release, which an average of 12.000 people per track will download until today. The total download count wil ultimately rise to 2.000.000. It is the peak of the netlabel boom – and a first climax for thinner as well.

A return to reality

Like every hype, the netlabel scene has been marked by a return to reality. Even though they never officaly left, the involvment of Thomas Jaldemark and long-time companion Ronny Pries ends at the end of 2002. Today, some of the much-applauded start-ups have already retired – check any netlabel index for dead links and you will see how fast this fall has taken place. Thinner, too, has experienced a slight decline in traffic. This, however, may simply be explained by the expansion and growing competition in the very field of dubby electronica the outfit has pioneered, Also, the amount of demos landing on Redenz’ doormat each month has decreased. It is still high, though, by any standards: “I would guess about 5 demos right now a month. Luckily we have a core of artists that keep submitting music so we’re not running out of releases anytime soon.”

Success needs to be measured differently in the netlabel world anyway. Where there is no stream of revenue from selling albums, other sources need to be tapped. Thinner has been remarkably good at making money from t-shirts – the latest collection has even designed by the fashionable team of Airbag Craftworks. In 2003, Redenz also makes an explorative mood into distributing vinyl and releases THV001, a collection of four tracks by Thinner artists. The record is received enthusiastically, but the distributor files for bankruptcy, before they can pay the label. This experience has put the project of going physical on hold indefinitely.

Thinner 200/7: More content, more options
Besides, there are fresher ways of generating a financial income from a netlabel and quite a bit of these ideas have gone into the new website layout: “Currently the quality of output is restricted by the GEMA license, which doesn’t approve their artists to use alternative licensing models such as Creative Commons.”, according to Sebastian, “As many interesting artists are part of that society, Netlabels may not work with these artists. We don’t want the GEMA to direct the policies of our releases, so we will have to offer paid downloads in order to be able to potentially work with any artist given and thus enhance the quality of our output step by step.”

Visitors to Thinner will still be able to download releases for free in 192kbps – or they can opt for an even better quality by paying for the release. Furthermore, the company will work on making it easier to license its music for various uses, such as TV productions, jingles, marketing presentations and the like. Next to these changes, Redenz has set up “thinnerism”, a blog which will continue to provide the community with interesting news from the world of “the music industry and its deconcentrated future” and there will be more information on the site in every regard.

Darker and more Elegant

The new look is truly impressive. Darker and more elegant, the site presents itself in a self-confident and energetic, yet slightly mysterious light. A lot of small, yet highly functional details add to the overall feel of the page: Tracks can be previewed with a single click of the mouse, a press area offers plenty of downloadable content and the “live gigs” section presents an overview of the various stage- and event appearances by thinner-related artists all over the world. On top, each release is accompanied by a selection of related items on the site, allowing for hours of roaming the archives. And then, of course, there is the celebratory 100th release with a excuisite selection of those artists who have made the label so alluring in the first place.

Seven years have passed between that first meeting between Sebastian Redenz and Thomas Jaldemark and since then, thinner hasn’t looked back. That, too, may soon change, as Thinner prepares launching the very first releases, which had long been unavailable to the public. But even though Sebastian has been riding on top of the trendwave for years now, his look into the future ends with a question: “It’s all about revivals, styles come and go. From 1999-2002 we had a strong focus on dub techno / dub house releases, from 2002 until now it’s minimal being in the focus. What comes next?” There’s a good chance Thinner will be one of those with an answer.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Thinner Netlabel

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