In May of last year, just as the summer was starting to heat up, a new song landed on SoundCloud. It was called "You're Cute," by someone named Tennyson. It sounded like an underwater music box; all fairy beats and jelly-soaked percussion. Underneath the track was a note from Tennyson describing what the song was about ("missing her, cold beaches, kittens") and a note from "Ryan," explaining why he liked Tennyson's music.
"Ryan" is Ryan Hemsworth, a Canadian producer known for cloudy, fever-dream beats, a penchant for Blink 182, and a Twitter account that's half tour diary / half documentation of linguistic cultural capital. Current bio: "canadian prince aka mr. steal your wifi aka the bae whisperer." "You're Cute" was the first missive in Secret Songs, a project Hemsworth started as a way to give musicians he admired a platform where they could share their work, and where people would listen (because Hemsworth's name was attached to it). Every other week, a new track would be posted as a free download.
Since then, Secret Songs' output has been impressive. In about half a year, the project, run by one person, has released in total 75 tracks, three EPs, and three compilations, each organized around a color theme: light pink, black, and white. The rate at which new songs are uploaded may skew slightly from the original bi-weekly schedule, but they're all still available to download for free (even if some, like Hemsworth and Lucas' recent Taking Flight EP, is also available for $4.99 on iTunes).
The structure of Secret Songs is strange because, at its core, it's similar to an mp3 blog from the early 2000s: single tracks offered up as free downloads, paired with short blurbs about the song. But it doesn't feel dated. The artists selected for Secret Songs are frequently complete unknowns, with bigger names like PC Music's GFOTY and British pop band Kero Kero Bonito showing up as occasional guests. The most popular tracks have almost 300,000 plays. The songs themselves are mostly left field electronics, bubbling synthetics laid over half-time beats. But because it's curated single-handedly by Hemsworth, all 75 tracks in Secret Songs sound thematically cohesive.
Secret Songs is a label untethered by the constraints of actually being a label. It's constructed on the whims of one producer, and it has no responsibility to put out more than a single track by any artist. It's just a small, unfunded project that exists only on SoundCloud; a secret music haven for superfans. But maybe it's not so secret anymore.