Over the last few years, while so many musicians are bemoaning the death of their own CD sales and the singular lack of income available via music streaming, I have bought 300 albums direct from musicians and small labels. No, I’m not referring to the somewhat dubious benefits of the current vinyl resurgence, but to the simple and easy-to-use pleasures of Bandcamp (bandcamp.com). This music distribution and merchandising company provides a ‘microsite’ for mostly independent artists, where they can sell individual tracks, complete albums, offer free downloads and so on. Uploading your music is free, but the company takes a cut if you get any sales via their site.
For me, the beauty of Bandcamp is not only that such a large proportion of the money does go direct to the musicians who wrote the music (a massive 85 percent of the money gets forwarded to the musician, and 90 percent if your sales go beyond $5000). It’s also that their model lets me get in touch with the musicians via their Bandcamp accounts, or to more easily track down their personal web sites and Facebook/Twitter/Wordpress/etc pages from those account details.
Many musicians already have their own personal web sites, but as always the problem is how we get people to discover those sites — some musicians release products under their own names; others via a band name or indeed several noms-de-plume depending on the genre, while plenty more release through a label alongside similarly minded stablemates. However, if you just enter ‘musician’s name bandcamp’ into any search engine, and if their wares are available via Bandcamp, a link to the appropriate page should appear. This approach also bypasses the vagaries of navigating musician’s own web sites, whose design may vary from ‘quirky homespun’ to ‘designed-by-an-art-student impenetrable’. In Bandcamp the very first thing you see on each page is a large Play button, so you can be listening to your chosen musician within seconds.
In many cases I have ended up having personal chats with these Bandcamp musicians, some of whom have gone on to become friends, discussing the music gear and techniques they employ. I’ve ended up buying albums because I knew they feature a new synth purchase, and have been intrigued to hear its influence on the end result. This personal involvement would be almost unheard of without the Internet, but Bandcamp makes such contacts so much easier.
I still prefer CDs, and have still never knowingly bought an MP3 file, but once again Bandcamp come to the rescue of those with more critical faculties, with their wide choice of download formats, including FLAC (typically half the size of WAV files, but using lossless compression so you can hear the files in all their glory). For those who still enjoy CD or vinyl formats, these can be offered as options on the same page, but I’ve also found Bandcamp a good way to track down digital downloads of albums that are no longer obtainable on CD.
Bandcamp can also claim to be helping to defeat music privacy, since so many purchasers (including me) do so knowing that they are directly supporting the artist. In 2010 Amanda Palmer made history by asking her record label to drop her, instead switching to Bandcamp for sales and advertising her new releases via Twitter, and purportedly made $15K in three minutes. Even embryonic musicians can test the waters by putting up tracks for free but asking for donations. With well over $100 million paid out to musicians thus far, I think Bandcamp is a win-win situation!
Martin Walker's music can be found at https://yewtreemagic.bandcamp.com/
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