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Why (not) Bandcamp? [Emily White]

BandcampBy Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment & Dreamfuel

Bandcamp is a platform I came across by accident in 2008.  A platform I was seeking nonetheless, by asking everyone around me “Why isn’t there a way to sell music directly to fans easily in a way that makes sense?”  A colleague had mentioned a platform with the name Band in it.  I googled like crazy until I landed on Bandcamp (only to find out later the colleague had been referring to something else altogether).  I emailed the contact on the site and instantly receive a response from Bandcamp’s founder, Ethan Diamond. Ethan had built a platform because he too was frustrated with how to compensate the artists he loved directly.  Similarly, his musician friends were equally frustrated.  Thus, Bandcamp was born.

For those of you that Bandcamp is new to, it is a seamless platform in which artists can sell their music to fans for any price; a price that they set.  Meanwhile, users can stream select or all tracks, depending on what the artist stipulates.  The result six years later from my fateful introduction to Ethan?  Read it for yourself on Bandcamp’s homepage (which will most likely increase by the time this piece is public): “Fans have given artists $88 million USD to using Bandcamp, and $3.1 million USD in the last 30 days alone.”

This is not surprising to me.  What IS surprising, is that recently I’ve started to realize that there are many folks in the music industry who have never heard of Bandcamp, or may have, but don’t use the platform or really know what it is.

Let me make it clear, I have nothing to gain by writing this post.  I don’t consult on or work directly with Bandcamp on any of their business efforts.  What I do want to make clear is information on what I have observed over the past 6 years, and in particular over the past 6 months.

20130409-bandcamp-home2When an artist is brand new, breaking and/or buzzing; it has been my experience that if their music is anywhere, it’s on Bandcamp.  Why?  Because it’s seamless to use and makes sense to artists.  They can upload their material in various high quality formats and set the price or set no price and make it purely donation if they want.  The result?  Paypal donations in which the artist knows exactly who the fan is and how much they purchased their music for.  The response?  Half the time when I respond to a fan who donated $100 for an album, the artist says to me “I saw that! And already wrote them back.”  Recently during an album release, when donations continued to roll in for much more than $9.99, producer Josh Shapera said to me: “This has restored my faith in humanity.”

To recap: Bandamp is easy for artists to use on the tech / music end and generates instant income as well as e-mail addresses and data.

Now onto the industry.  As Bandcamp is clearly a large community of passionate music fans, I want to ensure my artists’ catalogs are represented there.  We believe that music should be available in all formats possible and not limited to a select few.  I took this idea to what I consider to be a very forward thinking indie label.  A label with a great roster of like minded artists and styles.  A label who LOVES email addresses and prides themselves on it and gets really excited about any sort of email and data collection.  Their answer to me asking if I could put a band’s years old catalog on Bandcamp?  “No.”

Luckily, I understand where they are coming from.  The idea is that their relationships with iTunes, Spotify, Rdio, Amazon and other platforms are so key, that they cannot rock the boat with any of those outlets.  And I get that from a big picture perspective.  But from the individual artists’ point of view, does it really help them all that much to have a featured placement on iTunes?  It’s cool and fun for a week or a day, but goes away and doesn’t really “move the needle” all that much.  And ultimately Apple keeps the data, takes 30% and knows exactly who the user / fan is while the label and artist are kept in the dark on this info.

It made me realize, why aren’t labels like the one above LEADING with Bandcamp on their content rollouts?  They take a smaller margin (15%; going down to 10% over 5k USD in sales) and you collect data including contact info on the fan from purchase one.  Artist aside for a moment, what a no brainer for a label that has a particular brand and vibe of like minded fans to build their business with this key contact information from each purchase.

And because the label described here is smart and modern and forward thinking, they listened.  They may have also really perked up when I mentioned the $82 million dollars that has flowed through the platform; but they were open minded nonetheless and asked for a meeting with the folks at Bandcamp.

Yay.  Peace in the world between artists, tech and their labels.

BANDCAMPUntil I had another recent release in which fans were asking if the album was on Bandcamp (many of the fans had discovered the artist there via a previous EP the artist had uploaded to the platform before the artist was signed).  And the artist was asking me the same question.  All quite logical of course.  Why wouldn’t a label want their music sold / streamed any and every place legally possible especially when excited fans are ready and willing to pay for the album?  Meanwhile, the artist pointed out “If a fan wants to give $100, why would we limit their price point to $9.99?”

The label’s response “I would suggest just adding the [iTunes / Amazon] purchase links to the Bandcamp page.” 

Ok, so they don’t know what Bandcamp is.  It’s not a social networking profile or website, it’s a digital sales platform.  No problem, we’re all here to educate and help each other out for the greater good of the artist.  My response?  “I don’t know if it makes sense to post an iTunes link to Bandcamp. Bandcamp is a place to sell digital music and many of the fans are there because they aren’t fans of the iTunes experience or model. I’m happy to put it up ourselves and give you guys all of the revenue [until we are recouped] as well as corresponding statements if that works for you. We can also share the email addresses if you’d like as well.”

Their response?  Silence.

And I’ll stay on top of it as that’s my job.  But what a bummer part of the job.  Thus, I wanted to put this info out there and ask the question to the industry as a whole: Why (not) Bandcamp?  I believe that for the first step outside of Direct to Consumer, Bandcamp is the best option for artists and labels right now. Artists and fans love it, the platform’s take is smaller than other outlets and you collect contact info on fans who have purchased from Day 1.  Therefore why aren’t we all leading with Bandcamp for content releases?  They of course do promotions as well.  It’s a question I wanted to pose and will continue to try as right now, what Bandcamp is doing makes the most sense for fans, artists and the industry at large with regard to modern music releases.