BandCamp: The End of It

I just read that Bandcamp now charges artists for free downloads of their tracks! That might sound to you like “fair”, but here’s some context:

– Bandcamp is (was?) the No1 resource for bedroom indie artists. Artists who don’t have distribution to iTunes/Amazon, because they can’t afford it, or because they don’t care. Bandcamp provided hosting for this niche in modern music. Sure, there are a lot of commercial artists on Bandcamp, but most of them are semi-commercial or non-commercial.

– Therefore, many of these albums, or some of their songs, are free for the world to download. Made out of love, with its artists asking nothing in return.

– Since 3-4 years ago, almost every indie album has had at least 1 legally free mp3. Some of them have had 3 or even 4. Even Kanye West, a super-star, now gives away free mp3s (three so far, from his new album)! As I have mentioned in the past on this blog, this is important. It has introduced me to many artists, that I later actually bought their albums! The method WORKS. How else do you think I spent over $2000 last year on music purchases alone?!? I, and many others I know, are heavy buyers BECAUSE of the free downloads!

Now Bandcamp wants to charge these artists to pay for every free download! What Bandcamp ends up doing though, is PUSHING artists to CHARGE for their music. These artists will have to either move to the chaotic SoundCloud, or charge for their music by stop offering free mp3s, and bringing the indie music BACK 5 YEARS. Bandcamp is UNDOING all the social progress that’s been done in the last few years!

I’ve seen a lot of these artists getting linked from blogs as big as Pitchfork. This means at least 5,000 downloads in a single day. Do you think that these artists can pay the $75 Bandcamp is asking for 5000 downloads? Most of these artists can’t even pay for groceries, let alone Bandcamp’s bullshit policy.

And as I said, SoundCloud is a mess. It’s what Youtube is, compared to the more artistic and presentable Vimeo. It can’t replace Bandcamp. Therefore, many of these artists might even stop uploading their music! Bandcamp is NOT helping the indie music, if anything, it takes it apart.

Bandcamp does not seem to realize that their core business is this “free culture”. They seem to have started their business with aspirations to become the new iTunes, but somewhere along the way their own artists decided that they don’t want to be traditional professionals. And of course, this doesn’t sit well with Bandcamp. So they’re trying to change their customers, pushing them back into commercialism, or getting rid of them!!!!

And this is wrong. Bandcamp can ONLY be BIG by NOT becoming iTunes. Technically, Bandcamp has nothing that iTunes doesn’t have, or can’t easily have. They’re fools if they think they can win over iTunes. Instead, Bandcamp should EMBRACE this new world order of bedroom artists, and offer something that iTunes CAN NOT offer. A lot of free music is a good way to do this.

If anything, add ads on pages that feature free music. Obviously, bandwidth costs money, and someone has to pay for it. But it definitely doesn’t cost $3c per download (usually, that’s ~10 MB for a 320 kbps track). It’s more on the range of $0.0003c per 10 MB, or even cheaper. But then again, these songs are unlimited streamable, so obviously bandwidth is not an issue for Bandcamp. Money is.

The best way to deal with this though is to ask for a flat fee from every Bandcamp artist. $10 per year is a good, and FAIR price. Regardless of number of downloads.

And let me say something else too, which has pissed me off even more.

Bandcamp has special support for Creative Commons music in its backend. Which means that they RECOGNIZE what Creative Commons is, and what it stands for. So asking for a CC artist to pay up, for music that it’s supposed to be free, given to the world as a gift, is totally not within the spirit. More so than for the indie semi-commercial artists mentioned above. It’s just stupid, and it’s missing the whole point of CC.

There’s a moral problem in this Bandcamp decision. Bandcamp took the “traditional business approach”, instead of thinking the whole thing through. They don’t seem to see the big picture. They only care about their pocket, and how to make a quick buck, instead of innovating by going with the times.

I’m totally disgusted. I was expecting more from Bandcamp.

11 Comments »

Glenn wrote on September 13th, 2010 at 10:10 PM PST:

I think what you’re missing here is what those downloads cost Bandcamp. They provide a free mailing list for artists, almost like an autoresponder. Fans provide their email address to get the free download. In return the artists get to build a mailing list of fans they can sell stuff to, or use to promote shows etc.

Autosponder services like Aweber charge $20/month for a mailing list of just 500 people. So $75 for 5000 people is actually pretty decent! By selling merchandise to those fans who downloaded the free mp3, they could easily make their money back just by selling a few t-shirts. Apparently the the mailing list tracking stats Bandcamp provide are really good too. A service you will never find on Soundcloud.


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Eugenia wrote on September 13th, 2010 at 10:24 PM PST:

No, not all artists care about these mailing lists, and not everyone is using it. In fact, most of them don’t (at least the kinds of artists I follow).

As for costing them, they already have unlimited streaming! Streaming at around 128 kbps, if I’m correct. They can always allow free downloads of the lower quality mp3s, instead of charging the artist for any download, but not for streaming. It makes no sense. The difference between the streaming cost and download is almost negligible!

They should go PLUS, like Vimeo. Download the streaming version if the artist is not paying, or the 320 kbps version if the artist is a PLUS member, with a $10 flat fee per year. Bandcamp can add ads on the non PLUS accounts. Plus, they make money out of album sales (Vimeo would only dream of something like this). And yet, Vimeo does it just fine, even if they have way more bandwidth and server needs than Bandcamp (since they do video, and they’re arguably more popular).

To me, this move from Bandcamp reeks of corporate greed. I love what they represent, but that’s the first wrong turn they took as a company. In my opinion.


Glenn wrote on September 13th, 2010 at 11:58 PM PST:

At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s a big issue. If artists are serious about what they’re doing they’ll either pay the fee and use that mailing list to their advantage or sell their songs if they still want use Bandcamp.

Others who don’t feel the need to stay in touch with their fans via a mailing list can just use Soundcloud or sites like Yousendit for people to download the songs from. The way I see it, if artists are serious about their music, they’ll have a proper website anyway, or at least a blog with links to their facebook, youtube, twitter and any other social media sites they’re on. Not just a Bandcamp page or Myspace page. With their own site they can provide the downloads themselves. Then they can use Bandcamp to as a cheap way of building an email list.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on September 14th, 2010 at 12:05 AM PST:

Bandcamp currently offers what Vimeo offers to us filmmakers: a free, well-designed portfolio page. Yousendit and MyFiles.com sites are simply not acceptable. I personally never download from these, because it’s impossible to prove that these were legal downloads. Soundcloud looks like ass too.

The problem here is that the fee is too high. $75 for 5,000 downloads is just way too much for people who don’t expect anything back from their hobby. Bandcamp simply wants to get rid of these artists on their site, that’s what their decision tells me. And to me, this is just narrow minded on their part.

You don’t see the problem because you probably don’t use Bandcamp the way I do. I use it to find bedroom chillwave artists, who give their stuff for free. There’s no way to find THAT kind of music, from these kind of people, in a single place on another web site. If these people leave Bandcamp, it will hurt the (real) indie population really bad. They will all scatter around.


33_hertz wrote on September 14th, 2010 at 12:54 AM PST:

Corporations are legally obligated to maximize shareholder value. So us consumers end up at odds with the b’stards inevitably.
So far, SoundCloud suits my needs, as does Vimeo.
So far………..


memsom wrote on September 14th, 2010 at 1:53 AM PST:

I read their rational. It’s completely fair. What they are essentially saying is “we hoped bands would sell *some* tracks and give *some* away free and the delta between those would cover the costs”. However, what has actually happened is what always happens in these types of situation – mass free lunch. Humans have and incredible knack for finding the best way to get what they want with the least effort and outlay (survival instinct?) This situation happens over and over – a service is free, we abuse it, the service is degraded or free coverage is retracted. I think it’s better to have a continued paid service rather than nothing.

I’ve personally never used Bandcamp for my music, or the music of any group I’m involved in. I do know of friends that have though. I’ve always tended to go for ReverbNation and also have a token MySpace page. Yes MySpace is pase, but most promoters expect a MySpace page these days.


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Eugenia wrote on September 14th, 2010 at 3:32 AM PST:

Sorry, but you got it wrong. No one abused ANYTHING. Bandcamp offered a free service, and offered the ability to put out free songs, and even supported Creative Commons, and people followed it. The fact that many songs ended up being free is only because that’s where the music is going towards! Not because people somehow conspired against Bandcamp and abused it. They didn’t. Every single artist on Bandcamp operated within the Terms and Conditions! The fact that Bandcamp THOUGHT that people would want to primarily sell their music, only shows that they don’t understand their own market!

Bandcamp instead of embracing this new reality, and becoming a leader in it they’re trying to drive away the people who MADE them popular in the first place! It’s these free songs that brought more visitors on Bandcamp, not the paid albums. The paid albums can also be found on iTunes or Amazon, where everyone already has accounts. Bandcamp should support the situation and turn it into its advantage, not undermine the very thing that made Bandcamp popular! Makes no sense!

$75 for 5000 downloads is TOO MUCH MONEY for something the artist just wants to give for free.


Glenn Thomas wrote on September 14th, 2010 at 6:17 AM PST:

From the Bandcamp website

‘300 downloads for $9 USD (3¢ each)
1000 downloads for $20 USD (2¢ each)
5000 downloads for $75 USD (1.5¢ each)’

That’s not so bad! $20 to build an email list of 1000 fans is still cheaper than proper autoresponder services charging that price for only 500 contacts. They give you a page too, and even let you upload uncompress 32bit float audio files too. Lets not forgot Bandcamp have to cover the costs of the bandwidth and the storage space used by all the people only posting free downloads. A perfectly fair system if you ask me if it means keeping the site going.


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Eugenia wrote on September 14th, 2010 at 12:50 PM PST:

Glenn, from the moment they have unlimited streaming, the extra 0.001% bandwidth of the actual download is really minuscule. As I said, these kinds of artists have no money.


Glenn wrote on September 15th, 2010 at 4:55 AM PST:

If they’re that cheap, why even go to the trouble of setting a page there? Think of a band with four members. For less than the price of a decent coffee per band member they can have 1000 people download their album for free. They can then use the the mailing list they built to email those same 1000 people, and invite them to gigs, sell them t-shirts etc.

Regardess of the bandwidth used, Bndcamp still need to cover the costs involved. Server maintenance, support enquiries, rent, employee wages. It’s a better option than them putting ads all over artists pages like Myspace, who only stream the music at 22.05khz. Plus, it deters all the freeloaders from taking advantage of the service they offer.


Michael C. wrote on September 17th, 2010 at 3:01 PM PST:

I really cannot comprehend why a band must PAY to give its music FOR FREE. They can go to YouTube and give away their music from there. Right, they have no video, so what? Use some basic album image and record the soundtrack. Right, it is only 128 Mbit/s, but who cares, it is free, and 128 Mbit/s is good enough for most garage bands, they do not sing opera after all. I listen to lots of songs on YouTube and I don’t care that this is only 128 Mbit/s. Download? Tons of ways of downloading YouTube videos or just soundtracks.


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