On the backs of the social media thrashing after Lil Duval’s comments regarding violence against the transgender community, as well as the Trump administration ban of transgender individuals from armed services, music platform Bandcamp came through with a well-timed and well-executed fundraiser for the Transgender Law Center, on August 3, 2017.
The fundraiser, which included over 200 artists and labels, saw Bandcamp donating 100% of its sales on Friday (in addition to opening the gates for curators to give back) to the Oakland, CA based civil rights organization. According to a press release, Bandcamp estimates a total of $700,000 to have been raised, with around $84,000 (12%) coming from the site itself. The nature of the fundraiser is analogous to Bandcamp’s transparent business model, one which focuses on uplifting the independent music community notably as oligarchical institutions like YouTube, Tidal, Apple Music and others mass-produce and automate the music process.
Founded in 2007, Bandcamp is silently the cultural hub for independent and underground artists that seemingly no other major music site can replicate. How many streaming platforms feature a category for “drone,” “lo-fi” or “math rock”? Hell, Bandcamp even boasts a tag for “trap” music, a ubiquitous term in 2017 but one that doesn’t see official representation on sites like Spotify. Where fans once turned to the amorphous and gluttonous pages of SoundCloud, Bandcamp is streamlining the online music curation process while keeping musicians (fancy that!) at the forefront.
According to Bandcamp’s fair trade music policy, the site, which “has been profitable since 2012,” clearly delineates the amount it usurps from creators: a paltry 15% on digital sales and 10% on physical items. Moreover, the company pays out daily, something that few online vendors can espouse.
Recently, DJ Booth, as well as The Needle Drop discussed the changing music industry, particularly from the stance of purchases and sales. In an article by DJ Booth’s Brent Bradley, he lamented the wealth of music provided in the weekly Friday release cycle and the difficulty of digesting it all. On the other hand, Anthony Fantano from The Needle Drop explained payouts from major music services and stressed the importance of managing views and buzz with the available financial opportunities. Both pieces highlighted faults within the ballooning industry, of which a number are addressed directly through the existence of Bandcamp.
Spearheaded by a team of some 47 individuals working in non-traditional workspaces (Bandcamp specifically boasts coffee shop workers and home offices), Bandcamp does the apparently unthinkable and places artists and labels in the negotiating seat, providing a landing space while making available a bevy of tools and inclusion in the greater music community. You won’t read news that “Bandcamp paid $X,XXX,XXX for so-and-so’s two week exclusivity”; tracks, albums and merchandise are as exclusive as the creators want them to be, with the only limitation being their creativity. When an artist establishes a presence on Bandcamp, she’ll be granted her own “.bandcamp.com” page, which can be filled with however much content she’d like. Most pages follow the same design theme, not unlike the uniformity on Apple Music or Spotify: a banner image across the top, artist or label image on the upper right, a solid color/photo background with a foreground packed with albums, track lists, embeds and icons of supporters, as well as any relevant tags towards the bottom.
Diving into the product itself, Bandcamp upends the notion of making an informed purchase off of a 30 second snippet, instead allowing curators to determine how long tracks can be streamed before requiring purchase. Most artists seem to roll with at least one full play of each track before prompting purchase, but that limit can be entirely removed at their behest. Additionally, the standard $.99 or $1.29 track pricing is anything but on Bandcamp, with artists being able to determine their own worth and test the market as they see fit. Coupled with the expanse of tags and genres, Bandcamp is reclaiming the music industry in the name of acts and supporters, running counter to conglomerates that brandish their viral measuring sticks. Additionally, supporters, or “fans” as Bandcamp assuredly names them, can only make an account once they’ve made their first paid purchase, keeping with the notion of backing the music more directly than with a catch all monthly streaming plan. Bandcamp maintains other comforts as well, including, a weekly DJ mix from featured artists, a daily editorial that browses the depths of its catalog in addition to staple interviews and newsletters.
For overwhelmed fans and critics like Bradley and Fantano (and admittedly myself), Bandcamp is the hangover remedy for the overnight barhop from Apple Music, Tidal, Spotify etc. Like a digital record store, Bandcamp puts music discovery back into the ears of the crate diggers, providing insight and suggestions for those who are interested, and leaving the rest to their own devices. While far from being the looming reaper over a burgeoning streaming industry, Bandcamp is revitalizing the grassroots energy that charges much of music’s most ardent listeners.