As I sit here writing this, there’s a lot of talk on social media and elsewhere about Bandcamp’s impending demise. If you’re not familiar with the situation, Bandcamp was sold by Epic Games, who bought them from the founders about 18 months ago; they were then sold to a start up I’d never heard of called Songtradr, Google: “Songtradr is a B2B music platform that claims to facilitate brands, content creators, and digital platforms in their use of music for licensing purposes. As of 2019, Songtradr was the largest music licensing platform in the world.” As someone who uses Bandcamp quite a lot and has really benefited from it, I was surprised at how little coverage everything was getting and then Songtradr/Bandcamp busted their union; kind of a tone-deaf move in the current climate. This has sounded the current death knell for Bandcamp.
But I don’t think so….
I rely on Bandcamp as an independent artist. It’s a wonderful tool that makes music easy to release, get paid and interact with fans of the work. There have been many such tools through the years, the last, best one, in my opinion was Mp3.com which was a going concern when I first got online in 1999. It was also a great resource for artists and musicians; it was the dawn of the Mp3 and the great DotCom boom; by 2003 it was all but gone. I had moved on to my own website and working with labels and distributors at that point, but I still felt like something significant was lost and grateful for the opportunities it gave me. For years after, I was skeptical about investing time and energy into another platform that could be gone with the wind; that’s why I was such a late adopter of Bandcamp. I believe I joined in 2014 after years of people telling me how great it was; I don’t regret joining.
In my musical life I have two primary release channels, Bandcamp and my digital distro, which includes Apple Music, Spotify, etc. As most of my readers know I haven’t done hard copy releases in over a decade, so digital is my only outlet. Basically, it breaks down like this:
Digital distro means good availability for anybody almost anywhere that wants to listen, but there’s next to no fan engagement and even less $$$ because of the pittance that streaming pays. Might be good for some, at scale, but it’s not a scale that about 95% of indie music artists can/will achieve.
Bandcamp, on the other hand, is an artist-first tool – They have great features for marketing, promotion, distributing/selling your music to fans, selling merch, doing live streams, etc. It’s a wonderful 1:1 tool for artist engagement and with the artists getting a fair share of $$$, it provides a nice subsidy, too, but it’s been lacking in some key areas:
- Digital distro: Bandcamp should be tied into digital distro, like Distrokid, Tunecore, etc. In my mind, this is a significant missed opportunity. Sure, there’d be a lot of work to do and maybe it becomes a premium add-on or something and/or they take a cut of streaming royalties along with a premium fee, but to not have digital distro in-line with everything else Bandcamp does doesn’t make any sense. It’s possible this was on their roadmap before the acquisitions began. Maybe they’ll get to it.
- Listener User Experience – Playlists weren’t an option until 15 years after Bandcamp was founded. Think about that. They had sold billions of dollars of music and probably billions and billions of tracks, but there was no great way to listen to them without organizing them on your own device. That lack of user focus is both the problem and the opportunity – Bandcamp is artist-centric. Spotify & Apple Music are user-centric. Bandcamp needs to evolve to be able to cater to the user/consumer every bit as much as the artist. A happy balance could definitely be struck. Bandcamp has the intellectual and business infrastructure to rule this domain.
And that’s why I think that Bandcamp isn’t going anywhere.
I believe that there’s a significant opportunity with a big payout to anybody that can strike a balance serving both the artists and the consumers. From a product management and experience perspective, if each of these were to get equal attention, now then, you’d really have something. I’m talking about a balanced product roadmap that ensures the users and the artists are being served equally. Bandcamp is the darling of the indie music industry; they’ve made billions of dollars catering to that audience, they can make billions and billions of dollars if they can bridge this gap. The Epic purchase was always a head scratcher, but could Songtradr be the one who decides to move a bold agenda forward. So far, they don’t look great, but maybe they can turn that around? Maybe it’s someone else?
What I wonder, at this point, is if Bandcamp just ends up in the startup sales and acquisition churn where any number johnny-come-latelys come in with big pockets and big ideas, but no ability to execute so it just gets passed around like a joint on a Friday night until it burns down to nothing but ash. Or will somebody come in and make something happen? One thing is for sure, we indie artists are a viable and lucrative audience and we keep demonstrating that, but nobody’s been able to mainstream it. Admittedly, few have tried. I believe that Bandcamp could be on the precipice of that. Will it happen? Let’s wait and see…