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Welcome to another dispatch from the streaming wars. Or, wait a minute, are we still in the format wars? If you thought the music industry – especially the independent sector – was going through a rough transition, get ready to freak out: it’s about to get worse. Before we get to Bandcamp, let’s see where the rest of the industry is at.
Until recently, music lovers had an incredible array of options to stream (free or paid), download, and buy physical. But, change is swift. Spotify is becoming a video company. SoundCloud has jumped in bed with the majors and is taking down DJ tracks and remixes while they implement a paid sub service and sell ads. YouTube is in shaky negotiations with the majors, which will result in far fewer offerings, and Content ID is still a mess. And all of the talk and business analysis around Apple’s flagship iTunes store makes it clear that they are planning to exit downloads entirely in the very near future. You read that right.
So, get ready to be forced to trust a profit-motivated corporation with your music by paying a hefty fee every month of every year for the rest of your life, plus internet/data rates. Because that’s what is coming.
The music business headlines all scream about the major players in the industry. You know the ones: Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and so on. And you know the arguments: “royalties suck,” “artists are getting the shaft!,” “NOBODY BUYS MUSIC ANYMORE!”
You know what you don’t hear about?
You know of Bandcamp, right? Surely you’ve streamed Bandcamp music before. It’s the one that doesn’t have VCs behind it, or a trillion-dollar internet search portal giant that displays its own ads on its own ad network with its own search results by its own algorithm, or a multi-billion-dollar company that makes its own ads with its own artists on its own cameras edited by its own software.
No, Bandcamp is the one that’s been self-funded and profitable since 2012.
Founded in 2008 by Ethan Diamond and Shawn Grunberge, Bandcamp is the one you never hear artists or rights holders bitch about; mainly because its terms are fair: 10%-15% cut of digital, and 10% cut of physical sales. You also rarely hear about Ethan, right? He’s not like the Swedish tastemaker guy, or even the tanned one from Cupertino. Hell, he’s so busy ramping up Bandcamp’s next phase that he couldn’t do the interview we had planned for this article [editor’s note: no hard feelings, sir!].
But you should get to know Bandcamp and the Bandcamp app. Your music should be on there. It’s free and you control everything: pricing, offerings, file formats, lyrics, streaming rights, freebies, and more. Did I mention you can sell your pretty vinyl or cassettes to all the cool kids? Yep. Can you sell your own t-shirts and hoodies on Spotify? No? Well, you can on Bandcamp.
And it’s free. More importantly, the free version includes all of the aforementioned options. But, if you’re touring, doing radio campaigns, or even producing a ton of releases, there is a Pro plan for just $5/mo (first year). And it’s awesome. You can upload tracks by batch instead of one at a time and you have incredibly robust stats of who and where your fans are. In addition, you can host your videos on your site, ad-free, and share new content exclusively by permission through a streaming, embeddable player.
Even if you are part of “Team NOBODY BUYS MUSIC ANYMORE,” you can set all of your music for streaming. You can even start your own subscription channel where you charge a flat monthly rate for part of all of your catalog, offer in-app communications and offers, and more.
Bandcamp is poised to beat out all of the giants, if they play this right. Here’s how they can do it.
Go social. Bandcamp has one million registered users (and growing). I am one of them, but really the only thing to do on their site is buy music. My hope is that Bandcamp allows for playlisting of songs that are not purchased just yet, but discovered, saved, and tagged for later. A social feed to interact with, and follow, other’s profiles and playlists. Let me comment with other fans and get turned on. This will lead to more purchases, and more time on site.
If the iTunes store is going to be taken behind the shed and shot in favor of the crappy Apple Music, your iTunes will go away. I foresee a time where Apple does not support or update iTunes, and will force you to put your music on iCloud to keep it. Umm, no. We still need a de facto library; we still need a dedicated player. This is another area where Bandcamp could sneak in and grab all of that market.
I call on you, the independent/DIY community, to support Bandcamp. It’s up to us as musicians to ensure our fans can fall in love with our music however they wish. Don’t let the tech giants screw this up.
–Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.