If you are against illegal downloading and piracy of music, or you’re simply an upstanding music enthusiast, chances are you’ve probably come across Bandcamp by now. But, let’s face it – many of us would claim to be against music piracy, yet even more of us would admit to having downloaded illegally at some point in the knowledge that we were harming the industry. Bandcamp, however, seems to offer the best form of compromise for artists to upload, disseminate and above all sell their music at a fair price to their audience.
An increasing number of independent record labels and artists are taking the decision to move to Bandcamp where they can be supported directly by their fans. Set up in 2008, the music platform allows artists to take ownership of their pricing policy via their own mini-website, much like how some eBay sellers have their own eBay ‘shops’, where they can upload music that users can stream for free with the further option to buy the music.
A unique pricing strategy
What sets Bandcamp apart from other platforms is its flexible pricing strategy. The artist chooses the minimum donation price, although the consumer is free to pay more than the stipulated amount, should they deem the music to be worth more. It creates (at least) three possible outcomes for the consumer. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. If you like it, buy it for the suggested price. If you believe it to be absolutely one of the best things you have heard and you want the artist to feel the financial effect of your gratitude, pay more than the suggested price. The flexible pricing therefore lends a degree of meritocracy back to the system creating the perception of a fairer deal. Ultimately, the message is always to support the artist directly.
Radiohead as a case study
The first major example of flexible pricing experimentation was when Radiohead released In Rainbows in 2007. Fans were able to choose how much or how little they paid, the minimum purchase value stooping to a mere £0. Just how many people were audacious enough to take it for free, it is hard to tell. Besides, few artists can afford to risk setting a minimum purchase value of £0 as Radiohead did. However, it did set a precedent in pricing and caused more research to be done into different types of pricing strategies that would have repercussions for independent music of all genres and more significantly on music business as a whole. For a band as big as Radiohead, who had previously held a six-album record deal with EMI, the action sent out a strong message to the big label corporations who are sucking the life out of the industry, the very antithesis of independent artists.
It’s the small details that count
Through small details like high-quality audio FLAC downloads, personalised messages, donations, free tracks and the option to send music as a gift, Bandcamp manages to hold a special appeal for the alternative and independent crowds. You can even send feedback, words of encouragement or simply a message of thanks directly to the musician. On the other hand, the artist gets to personalise the backgrounds of their shop’s home page complete with their logo and branding. The effect of this personalised experience is a more intimate relationship connecting the artist to their audience, a quality which is lost in the commodification of music where it becomes purely a hollow product to sell, an attitude which always stifles creativity. The idea is to feel less like a transaction and more like the direct sharing of music between like-minded people. With an emphasis on the music, rather than the money, the satisfaction of supporting the artist directly is reserved for Bandcamp users.
Democratisation of the market
Bandcamp caters predominantly to independent artists providing them with a free online presence as well as an easy way to sell their music. In comparison to platforms like Beatport, iTunes or Spotify, it is a more democratic market handing back autonomy to the artists who choose their pricing. The business model is unfussy too – the company takes a 15% cut of sales made from their website (in addition to payment processing fees), which drops to 10% after an artist’s sales surpass $5000. Add to that, a simple website that is easy to use and it seems like Bandcamp is the most direct way to purchase music and support the artist.
In its latest move, Bandcamp has confirmed plans to offer individual subscription service to artists on the site, allowing them to share new material and merchandise with their subscribed fans. Giving control back to the artists with the pricing, they can also determine what exclusive bonus giveaways and incentives subscribers receive when they sign up. Subscribers will receive automatic updates and downloads as soon as new music is released as well as free streaming via the Bandcamp app to all the music they have purchased.
Right now the company claims that it has turned over around $88 million to artists since its inception which is a good reflection of where it stands in the market compared to the $2 billion that Spotify reported. It isn’t trying to match Spotify, instead it is the alternative platform for music distribution in a saturated market. Moreover, Bandcamp acts as a buffer against music piracy with its combination of flexible pricing and free streamable content to entice punters away from illegal downloads and into their own domain. Rather than harm the artist and their revenue, it brings them a step closer to making a living from their music and a sustainable career. So, for the time being, Bandcamp looks set to establish itself as the fairer alternative to other streaming giants and if it can continue to evolve with new features like the subscription services, then it will consolidate its position as the go-to platform for independent artists and their fans.
By Geoffrey Chang
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