Why Bandcamp – Part One

It’s no secret that I really love Bandcamp. As a fan and as an artist, a huge part of my music life is spent listening to music, finding new music, buying music and of course selling music – almost all on Bandcamp. But it’s also the mechanism by which I get to email my audience, post updates to my subscribers, share videos and even eBooks. It’s why I can remaster anything at any time, change the price on anything, bundle things together and release everything at HD without having to put it on some nonsense specialist site that charges more for 24bit files.

So, I’m going to a couple of posts about just how and why I love it, starting with my experience as a music listener. I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not going to argue that the music listening experience is tangibly better, at least on the surface, than Spotify or Apple Music – the listener experience of streaming apps, at least as it pertains to finding and listening to music is pretty great (and the presence of acres of classic albums is in stark contrast to the new music focus of Bandcamp). But there’s no economic model there that works for niche music unless you use it to cross promote touring/merch/sales elsewhere/patreon, and they really don’t foreground the relationship between artists and audiences, and that REALLY doesn’t work for me. So I’m going to steer away from doing comparisons with streaming platforms for the most part, if that’s OK…

So let’s jump in with what Bandcamp gives me as a listener. When I first started buying music on Bandcamp, there was no app and the driving USP was HD downloads. With the advent of the app in 2013, Bandcamp added a whole other level of portability to both carrying your Bandcamp collection with you and to discovery. The collection part is pretty simple – everything you’ve bought on Bandcamp is there in the app, and can be streamed. Anything you’ve streamed is cached, so you can also use it on planes/the Underground, and you can either search your own collection to find things or sort the list by date added, a-z, most played or ‘history’ (what you’ve most recently played).

For each album, as well as being able to play it, you can access sleeve notes, if the artist has added any, and lyrics, read reviews by other people who’ve bought it, add your own review, browse the rest of the artist’s catalogue, and buy those – for yourself or as gifts for other people. What’s more, your collection is public on the Bandcamp site or in the app via your avatar under any album you’ve bought. So people can browse your record collection as they might when coming to your house, and (this is a really lovely touch) if they buy it after finding it through you, you get a ‘hey! you made something awesome happen!’ email from Bandcamp telling you who bought what. Which is just wonderful, and offers some useful data on just how much internal discovery within the site is worth if you can encourage your listeners to review things and make a bit of a fuss about their Bandcamp collections…

The other pure joy for me of the app is how it handles subscriptions – any time one of the artists I’m subscribed to releases a new album it’s immediately there in the app ready for me to stream, as well as available for HD download. Truth be told, I do a huge amount of my listening these days via the Bandcamp app – the streaming quality is easily good enough not to be distracting, and I just don’t get that much time to hook up my hard drive with my iTunes folder on it to a DAC and speakers… But I cherish that those HD versions are there, for good. They are mine for ever. This isn’t rented access to a bunch of metadata overlaid on a ginormous catalogue by a company lobbying to pay the artists as little as they can possibly get away with.

Instead, it’s a service that values ownership, values connecting listeners with the artists whose music soundtracks our lives, does discovery by a range of mechanisms that subvert the bland top-heaviness of an unfiltered popularity contest, but instead focus on what they describe as ‘high friction sharing’ – sending you an email digest every few days of thing things that your friends have Actually Paid For. Anyway, back to subscriptions. I get to hear from the people I’m subscribed to directly in the app. They can post messages and video and photos to either accompany the releases or just to fill me in on what’s going on, and I can comment on those posts and offer encouragement or join a discussion. It’s a joy to carry these extensive catalogues of work around with me and get to know the work of lesser known artists with the same level of detail and obsession as is often reserved for ‘legendary’ acts.

I spend hundreds of pounds a year on music, the vast majority of it on Bandcamp. A lot of what I buy I could get from a streaming service, but I would then a) not have it to download, and would be paying the company each month for the joy of having potential access to it all, and b) would be guaranteeing that the only artists whose sustainability I was contributing to were the ones I listened to pretty much non-stop, to the exclusion of all others – while my subscription fee also subsidised royalty payments to the world’s richest pop stars.

Buying albums is a model based on a bygone era when recorded music came exclusively in a container, limited by the length of audio that would fit on your format of choice. But it did give us a way of pragmatically agreeing on  a rough per-listener value for an hour of (repeatable) music. Against that, we can think about how much new music we have time for, and how we go about making sure that the artists we care about get to keep making it. We can release it in ways that seem like a total bargain, but still make us literally hundreds of times more than equivalent interactions on Streaming platforms.

In short, Bandcamp

  • Connects me to the artists,
  • Gives me the tools to interact with them and with the music in friendly ways,
  • Makes it possible to share without forcing adverts on the people I’m sharing it with or making them sign up for an account,
  • Gives me the music to archive long term,
  • And means I’m on the artists’ mailing list whether or not Bandcamp ever goes supernova (you know that if Spotify ever folds, everything you’ve curated there is gone, right? Renting access is great for convenience, but not so good for digital ecology).
  • Provides an open and transparent model that means I KNOW the vast majority of the money I’m paying is going to the artist, and the rest is building the most robust and artist-friendly environment for music sustainability the internet has yet had.

Anyway, the invitation to be a part of the ongoing viability of the music I love by artists I care about, and to discover more of it through the actual taste of the people I follow on there via my fan account (as opposed to a bunch of links they might share to music by their friends or other bands they’re doing promo-swaps with) is an amazing and beautiful thing, and dovetails really well with my own focus on needing music by artists who are trying to make sense of the world as it is, rather than spending my music listening time wallowing in nostalgia in the vague hope that the soundtrack to my teens will stave off the dread of my ever encroaching sense of mortality.

Nope, I want to connect with what people are making now, songs about the world, music inspired by all that we can do and all that we can see. And to make more of it possible. I tweeted a while ago that on Bandcamp, the value proposition is best understood as as ‘buying this album’ but ‘making the next one possible’. Arguments about what music is ‘worth’ are less interesting than questions about how we make more of the music we care about possible. Tomorrow, I’ll write about what Bandcamp means for me as an artist – the flip side of this equation… Til then, have a listen to some of the music dotted throughout this piece, or have a rummage in my Bandcamp fan collection.

6 Replies to “Why Bandcamp – Part One”

  1. Great article Steve, I must mention the unsung importance of the music fan, the informed listener with a passion for great music. Without these there would have never been a music industry. Bandcamp is the best deal for the serious music listener as it recognises their opinions and network. In a way, Bandcamp puts the listener at the centre of the site (as opposed to being the recipient of advertising or supplying a direct debit to stop advertising). I am forever trying to explain this, if you are a dedicated music fan who is interested in finding new music Bandcamp is the place.

    1. Yes! Those people who forage for new music, who see the task of understanding it and learning about it as paramount to their listening experience are to be greatly valued. One of the things I most love about the subscription is that I’m conspicuously available to the subscribers for questions and discussion about all the aspects of the music making process, so it fosters a greater degree of that questioning and searching than any platform I’ve come across before… 🙂

  2. Hi Steve,

    I can see Bandcamp has been great for you in letting you have control of your music and I hope it has rewarded you well too. I have bought loads of music there and I hope to have some of my own there eventually when I get around to recording my songs.

    I read your other post about the value of having your own blog. I maintained one for years, but have moved to social media as I can just connect with more people that way. Most people just won’t use a feed reader.

    A few years back I found Steem, which I may have mentioned to you before. It’s a social platform built on a blockchain (hot technology!) and pays users in their cryptocurrency based on who likes what they do, without the need for ads. It sounds like some sort of scam, but it works. They are creating new ‘money’ in a similar way to Bitcoin, but it is distributed to users based on what they call ‘proof of brain’ rather than computation.

    I see great potential for musicians as they can be earning from whatever content they would be posting anyway. There is even a WordPress extension to automatically put your posts on there. https://wordpress.org/plugins/steempress/

    If a band or musician can get a good few fans on Steem then they have an extra income. I just post stuff for fun, but it has paid for my Taylor guitar and trips to their conferences in Lisbon and Krakow. I’ve also made a lot of friends.

    The Steem platform is hard to shut down or censor as it is distributed and not dependent on any organisation. even the Steemit company who set it up cannot shut it down. The freedom it offers can be abused, but generally I think it works well and should get better if it can get beyond the tens of thousands of active users it currently has.

    I would be interested to hear what you think of it. I can set you up an account if you want and I don’t get any referral reward for that. I just want to see more creative people on there. We already have musicians, artists, writers, filmmakers and others on board. I know you have always been on the cutting edge of social media and I think this could be the next step.

    BTW I just tried posting this before, but somehow it got lost 🙁

    1. Hi Steve! Sorry your post got hived off into the Spam folder – not sure what the trigger was. Anyway, it’s here now! 🙂

      You have mentioned Steem before, and it looks like a really interesting model. At the moment, I’m more focused on the specifics of what Bandcamp offers, than in looking to diversify income in that way… I am naturally suspicious at the moment of blockchain tech, though not closed off to being convinced of its merits… I hope others who read this who are looking for new models are able to check it out, and see if it fits with how they are looking to make art sustainably…

      1. I fully understand that you have to use your time where it has the most benefits and Bandcamp is great. Maybe they would consider integrating with something like Steem. The open nature means they can do whatever they like with it. I just like the idea that I can read a blog or listen to some music and instantly give the artist some amount of reward for it. With enough fans that could be a nice income, but if you already have a fanbase on other platforms then it’s extra work to migrate or deal with more of them.

        Our mutual friend Lloyd Davis is on Steem and I’m sure he can give you his views next time you meet.

      2. It’ll be interesting to see if and when Bandcamp explore any kind of blockchain-based payment/transaction options. Their usual model is to do an awful lot of development behind the scenes first and launch a pretty much finished product (though they did trial the subscription with a limited number of us, and are doing a similar thing with the vinyl-on-demand service) – so we’ll see if it comes up!

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