Wait, You Don’t Use Bandcamp?
Every once in awhile I offhandedly mention finding something on a site somewhere, and when people ask me “Wait, what’s that site all about?”, my eyes light up like a christmas tree. Bandcamp is one of those sites, and I’m fucking stoked about it. I thought at this point everybody knew about Bandcamp, but then I realized that the music I listen to is usually put out by smaller labels or the bands themselves, so they have to be more creative in the way that they both expose and release their music. Bandcamp is great at both of these things. Actually, Bandcamp is the absolute best at both of these things, and every other music hosting website out there sucks in comparison.
The fact of the matter is that online music distribution is all sorts of terrible. If you just want to let people listen to your music, there are a few places where you can do that. There’s MySpace, which is slow, uses some godawful bitrate that makes your music sound terrible, and opens the music player in a new window along with every other song you’ve listened to on MySpace. You could upload your songs on YouTube, but again, the bitrate for music is pretty terrible, and it’s not really suited for entire albums (…or music in general). Finally, you can use SoundCloud to upload tracks, but SoundCloud is really better for releasing singles, song ideas, remixes, etc. These are the three most well known options for uploading and listening to independent music online, and they all have some pretty serious flaws. What’s worse is that YouTube won’t let you download songs, and SoundCloud and MySpace really stifle the fuck out of the ways you can download an album: I hope you wanted mediocre sounding MP3 files, because that’s all you’ll get. Assuming you find some way for users to preview your music without it sounding like trash, you then have to find a way to sell it to them. The current best options for doing this are iTunes and Amazon, but you’re looking at using a service and spending money just to get them on there. They’ll also take money whenever you sell an album, they’ll distribute the music in whatever digital format they want, and oh yeah, they get to choose if they even want to sell your album or not.
The process for listening to a new band is almost as bad. When I search for a band, there’s a million places I have to check out: their website (assuming they have one), their myspace, youtube videos, etc. Maybe they have a few songs on Amazon, but I either have to pay for the album or listen to 30 second previews, which tend to be full of suck in the sense that 30 seconds of a song without context is useless. Why do I have to go around looking for their music in the first place? After all, if you’re a band trying to gain an audience, wouldn’t you want to make it as easy as possible to listen to your stuff? God forbid I listen to your stuff and like it: there are no easy ways for me to be like “here’s my money, give me some mp3s”. A few months ago I bought an album on Amazon, and in order to download the tracks, I had to install the Amazon MP3 downloader. Why the fuck would I want to install software just to download MP3s, something my browser can do quickly and easily? Maybe I want to look at your older material and purchase that too. Hell, maybe I want to go crazy and download the album in a losslessly compressed format like FLAC, because you took a lot of time to get a particular sound on your album and I want to hear it as you intended.
Enter Bandcamp. Bandcamp realized all of these digital distribution methods sucked, and came up with an elegant solution to literally every single problem people encountered. First off, Bandcamp is free to start: go there, sign up, you now have a web presence for your band. If you do this for fun or as a weekend project, it’s a great way to get your music out there. Want to change how the page looks? Go ahead: you can change all of the colors on the page, as well as change the top banner to any image you want. Hell, Bandcamp will even create a favicon for you and make your page look all professional(ish). Now let’s say you want to upload your music for people to hear. It’s easy: add a new song, give it a title or whatever other info you want, assign it to an album, upload the file, and you’re done. Seriously, that’s it.
Now that your music’s up there, Bandcamp can work it’s magic. First off, they’ll automatically set up pages for your albums or singles, so you can just send the link to someone and let them listen. Someone can visit your artist page, and instantly see your entire music catalog, as well as listen to any of it. You can turn downloads for individual songs and albums on and off, which means that if you want to put out an album or single for free, you can let people both stream and download your music all from your Bandcamp page. These are actual downloads too: straight up .zip files with all of your music inside, no bullshit involved. You get up to 200 free downloads per month, and if people are downloading your music more than that (are you really that popular?), you can purchase more downloads for $0.03 to $0.015 apiece, depending on quantity. You control how your music gets into your fan’s hands, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
Say you actually want to sell your music now. Bandcamp only takes a 15% cut from all music sales, and if you’ve sold more than $5,000 in the past 12 months, they reduce it to 10%. If you’re a serious artist, receiving 90% of your music is a big fucking deal. For a comparison, check out this handy chart:
If you make the majority of your money off of your music, imagine going from receiving 13% of your record sales to now receiving 90% of your record sales. What’s even better is how Bandcamp processes your payments: all you do is give them an email address associated with your Paypal account, and the money is automatically sent to your account. I know Paypal may as well be the devil at this point, but seriously, how much easier does it get? It gets better though: Bandcamp doesn’t charge any money up front, and instead takes the revenue as a lump sum out of your record sales. For instance, assuming you get 10% of your record sales, if you sell at record at $1, you’ll get $1 in your Paypal account. Sell 9, and you’ll get $9 in your Paypal account. Sell 10, and you’ll still have $9 in your account, but Bandcamp will take that $1 sale. It’s almost too rational: you’re getting paid immediately, and Bandcamp will take it’s cut when you reach a certain point. Sorry iTunes / Amazon / the rest of the music industry, but you’ve just been entirely cut out.
If you’re into other cool packaging setups, Bandcamp also has you covered. Want to sell a physical vinyl at your shows, but offer a free download code for people who buy your record? Bandcamp has that built in. Want to show some tracks online, but hide the rest for people who purchase the album, or even hide bonus material? Of course Bandcamp has that. Want to offer discount codes for promotions, long time fans, or whatever else? It’s all built in. Want to sell your vinyl or CDs online? Bandcamp lets you link to a place where you can sell your physical goods. Anything that you can think of, Bandcamp has already thought of, and they’ve done a phenomenal job of implementing it.
Finally, I’m all about the technical details, so let me tell you the absolute best part of this service: the digital music packaging. Bandcamp forces you to upload your music in a lossless format, which means how the music left the studio (or your bedroom, wherever it was created) is exactly how it will end up online. Want to upload some shitty mp3s of your band, which will then be recompressed by most online audio services? Bandcamp won’t let you do that. Instead, they let you upload the raw materials, and then compress them for whatever format the users want to consume. People want to stream your music? Compress them into lower bitrate (yuck) mp3s for streaming. People want to download your stuff? Let them choose their own format and quality (320kbps mp3s, VBR mp3s, AAC, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, or ALAC). Bandcamp also does one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in regards to digital music, and updates the music metadata with whatever information you’ve entered on your band / album / track page. Say you uploaded your song, but it was called “song1_idea.mp3″, and when you loaded the file into iTunes it has no artist, album, album art, etc. Bandcamp automatically adds all of this info to your files, so when people download them and put them onto their iTunes and mp3 players, they’ll have all the correct info, album art, etc., which means better music collections for everyone. This is groundbreaking stuff, and takes a ton of work out of the process for everyone involved.
Basically, if you haven’t tried out Bandcamp both for finding new bands or hosting your own band’s music, you need to. Right now. Do not read the last few sentences of this article, just go to Bandcamp. It’s one of those rare occasions where common sense, great ideas, and businesses all collide, and it’s refreshingly reasonable.