Free your Ears… and Your Mind Will Follow* started in 1998 when I was called by a friend with a vision: to build websites for bands and artists (from our neighborhood back in Brussels), and to create an online platform to promote them, tell their stories and showcase their music. For free.

He had observed that many, especially un-signed artists, didn’t have much of a chance to get an online presence. With the arrival of a third start-up member, an actual business plan was put in place to attract possible investors. The initial plan was uniquely targeted to a ‘niche’ audience of music lovers. The people who like to listen to or search for rare and obscure music from small independent record labels worldwide. Eagerly we literally worked from any location that could provide an Internet connection until we found a small office above a restaurant on the Rue Royale. The dotcom evolved quickly into a music platform for independent artists and labels with as main goal to provide all musical tracks in streaming audio (full Real Audio tracks and albums – not just samples) and to offer downloadable MP3 files of a collection of tracks. started earlier that year offering MP3 files mostly of commercial mainstream music, however, a lot of the alternative or less commercial music stock was basically not available online.

It was 1998, a time when most people were buying CDs because MP3 files were still shrouded in a veil of piracy and distrust. A lot of people thought MP3s would never catch on. The distribution was impossible to control or track and it would be the end of the music business – tout court. The way we listened to music in those days was very different. It was a time of collecting CDs, very similar to how it was all about collecting vinyl a decade before the arrival of the CD. You would have a rack of CDs somewhere in your home exhibiting your acquired collection and music taste to random visitors. It was a very physical thing. Computers had CD players built in that were used a lot to play music but also to convert CDs into MP3 files so you could listen to the music without constantly having to swap the CD for a new one. This was also the time when there weren’t a lot of decent MP3 players on the market (if any). The Diamond Rio PMP300 was finally released in 1998 and could hold 8 to 10 hours of playtime.

You would have a rack of CDs somewhere in your home that exhibited your music collection to visitors.

Not long after the business plan was released, the initial funding of 1 million US was secured with a follow-up of another million during the next year. The dotcom company suddenly became a reality but the user/client base grew at a very slow pace as it was extremely difficult to achieve that critical mass we needed within the artists, bands, and labels portfolio. Often labels and artists (as well as the Belgian royalties organization SABAM) needed a lot of convincing that MP3s were not going to finish off their already threatened businesses, but instead could be controlled and that it was very well possible to keep track of and report all sales made online. Apart from legal issues, there were also tremendous technological and marketing challenges and the absence or unawareness of a ‘lean’ start-up concept made it very difficult to operate with a profit.

When finally the Nasdaq collapsed in the Summer of 2001 the whole dotcom bubble burst overnight, with only a few players surviving the recession. Apple iTunes 1.0 was released in January 2001. They couldn’t have chosen a better time as they moved on with their amazing (and ultra-lean) combination of entertainment software & hardware without many barriers to entering the market – Porter’s competitive forces were swiped clean if you will.

For several years around the turn of the millennium, was the internet music site (Brussels, Belgium 1998-2001) where you could explore, buy, read about and listen to a wealth of great music by a carefully selected number of artists from all over the world. The music you could find there covered many styles, ranging from obscure electronic works by Fennesz, Hazard, and Scanner, to North African Gnawa music, to cutting-edge Electronica by Amon Tobin, Coldcut, and The Herbaliser, to hard to find baroque classics by Bach, Haydn, and Telemann. All the music on this site was available with informative texts and full-length RealAudio, so you could discover more about an artist before buying your MP3, CD, Vinyl, or Custom CD-R.

Of course ‘flat’ design and even Google didn’t exist yet. It was all about cramming as much information as possible into a screen the size of a banner ad.





  1. Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow is the second studio album by American funk band Funkadelic, released in July 1970 by Westbound Records.

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