We here at Playtherecords are very excited about the emergence of netlabels as an alternative to conventional music distribution options. Netlabels usually work like regular music labels, promoting and producing music, building an artist's brand, but with free online distribution of the music in a digital audio format, often under a Creative Commons license. On the internet, where anyone can share their music, netlabels also provide a valuable filtering service, sifting out the cruft and providing a centralized point of access for music consumers who are looking for a particular sound.
Giving away songs for free may not seem like the best way for a musician to make a living, but with the market so flooded with music these days, and with the mainstream distribution methods still firmly in the hands of a relatively small number of corporate entities relentlessly pushing tired, old sounds, netlabels are pointing the way forward. With most of the cost involved in putting out a "record" eliminated, netlabels are free to take risks, or to release something that may appeal to only a small number of people. Moreover, they can serve as incubators for young, promising, but still raw music careers, something that the record companies used to invest in, but are no longer so willing to do.
As netlabels become more important, there are more and more stories of netlabel artists being picked up by "real" labels, such as IDM prodigy Grandma (a.k.a. Khonnor). I've also noticed more and more artists with established careers, whose records I own, putting out music for free on netlabels (such as minimal techno legend Ricardo Villalobos, with tracks on Textone). As more of our media is distributed online, I expect this back and forth will only increase -- and one day the distinction between "real" and "net" labels may disappear entirely.
So do your part to bring about the future of music -- head over to the Netlabel Catalogue, pick your favorite genre, and get yourself some free music. The best part is, the musicians who made it are usually just a few clicks away, and they would love to hear from you.