I love Bandcamp. It is where I buy an awful lot of music. I sell my own music there too. I love that they put artists first and gave artists a shop front and a powerful word of mouth buying platform in exchange for 15% of their sales revenue. What I didn’t realise was Bandcamp is funded by a venture capitalist and they always want to sell it on to make their money. This brings us to the announcement on the 2nd March that Bandcamp has been sold to Epic Games (tweet below).
Why is this happening?
For now, Bandcamp is still my favourite music platform and I hope the service gets some additional money to make improvements for fans, artists and labels alike whilst keeping its independent roots firmly at the forefront of its agenda. Personally, I feel like this is Epic Games gaining more muscle power in their war against Apple taking a 30% cut of the purchase price. Apple has always been aggressive with taking cuts from everything – so much so that Bandcamp’s app refuses to let you buy any music on it because of this. How can you support artists with a 15% cut when Apple takes 30% purely from pressing buy?
The problem here is that often in the pursuit of “20 million profit is great, 100 million profit is better because growth and capitalism”, companies change their focus. I’m concerned that big artists will start taking over the home page, smaller artists have no ability to have a voice as they make the platform less money as it becomes profit-focused for the bigger parent company. Forced ads for Epic Games content, having to agree to your music being played in Fortnite for example as part of the signup process. There is a lot here that can go wrong. On the flipside, Bandcamp can gain a lot here too. Revamped album pages, mobile functionality and payment system options could all be in development. If the ethos remains the same – it could be a huge win.
I’m not optimistic or pessimistic… yet. Just concerned and curious.
I’m still buying from Bandcamp… for now
The main message here is that staying truly independent from the big corporations in the music industry has now become trickier. I would still say Bandcamp is the best, biggest indie shop out there for musicians and I will still be buying most of my music from there where possible until I see clear signals that show the focus is shifting. I urge any of you that buy music from Bandcamp to do the same for the time being.
The problem here is communication. As artists using the platform and aligning with everything it stands for, I feel like Bandcamp sold me to Epic Games too. My artistic integrity. My values and beliefs. I would have liked to have been consulted or given advance warning first to feel like I am along for the ride. Nothing has changed yet I feel a bit duped. I’d been planning on launching a small music label there in the summer. Do I want to do that now I’m getting into bed with Epic Games and what are the pros and cons of doing long term business here? Only time will tell.
A truly independent music service – what does that look like?
In an ideal world, music should be bought direct from the artist wherever possible, cutting out as many middlemen as possible. I do think there is value in a middleman though – so long as they provide additional benefits to the overall service. Bandcamp provides this with their collection pages, payment arrangements, redownloads, non-DRM files, music press and ability to follow other fans and see what they have bought. I don’t mind them taking a cut of the profits to be associated with that and get those benefits. The key here is that the service uses the profits to support and foster the music community it is living off of. Once the overheads are paid and a modest profit keeps the lights on, everything else should benefit the world of the artist and the music fan. Not a stakeholder or shareholder. I think this is why the buy out from Epic Games leaves a sour taste. If it were CDBaby for example, it would feel like a couple of indies getting together for the greater good.
A research project! What does an independent music service mean to you?
I am interested in building a truly independent music service. A middleman if you will. I’ve started to investigate the tech out there to see what the art of the possible is, but I need your help. The first step is to understand what would be needed so the platform works for artists and fans alike. To capture some very basic needs I’ve arranged 3 separate short forms for artists, fans and labels to complete. They’ll take a couple of minutes.
Artists – please complete a 5 question form to capture your needs.
Fans – please complete a 4 question form to capture your needs.
Labels – please complete a 4 question form to capture your initial needs. Labels may not be in initial scoping but it is important to understand your needs.
Everything collated is visible on my public Trello board which is currently set up for capturing user needs.
My goal is that by aligning your needs with some white-label tech or joining forces with some developers, I could get a Minimum Viable Product up and running. These services are hugely costly to set up so it would be on a very small scale to begin with and it’d slow build out over time. Thanks to anyone that fills the forms in – I really appreciate it.
Keep supporting your indie musicians wherever you can.