22 March 2010

The Bandcamp model

I spent all weekend uploading all my releases on bandcamp.com --- it's only when I was faced to all my releases freely available and streamable for real, that I was starting to feel conflicted about this particular business model.

For those who don't know what Bandcamp is yet, it's a platform that allows you to upload all your music and have it available to listen and download, either for a name-your-price fee or a minimum fee, at the artist's choice. Since you upload everything in WAV format, Bandcamp converts everything and creates the tags to make the downloads perfectly available in high quality 320 kbps MP3s or even FLAC/other lossless format. It also gives you tools for viral distribution such as to share on blogs, fb, websites, etc. And the best part to me, is that you can also set it up to sell the physical copy immediately and have the purchaser get an instant download of the album while he waits for his copy to appear at the door. It's easy to manage, it's clean and it looks great. You can probably customize your URL and have it integrated as part of your website. All in all, this is a great tool.

Every artist I've seen that uses the Bandcamp platform (big names, small names, artists I respect, artists I respect less), whether they choose to charge for download or not, has put all their tracks of all or most of their albums fully available and streamable for listen. This can be seen as a good strategy. I've been reading a lot about viral marketing that promotes this music business model, about how people have to hear music as to grow to like it, repeatedly and for free, in order to finally engage in an economic relationship in order to consume. I agree with this, no question about it. People won't buy a piece of music they don't know, let alone have not heard. The radio works that way, doesn't it.

However, by seeing all my releases available to be streamed online, it makes me realize how we're taking this philosophy a little bit to the extreme, and how much it cheapens your product by doing so. As a fan, or even just someone mildly interested in an artist, who wants to discover that artist's music, it's an amazing platform. But as an artist, it totally devalues the music. In fact, my opinion is that downloading a product illegally increases its worth a lot more than just having it accessible that way. I almost want to say that piracy is a better viral marketing tool than Bandcamp for the following reasons: when you see people sharing a link to download music on their blog or when you see seeders/leechers ratio on torrents downloading an album, it means that people are interested, no? There's something there, maybe not necessarily good - that's for you to judge, but it does create a hype and you feel drawn to join and see what the fuss is all about. With Bandcamp, it feels a bit like: "OK hey, I'm the one making the music, I'm the one making it available for free. I want the attention, pay attention! And pay me maybe? ... before you're tired of listening to my music since it's all freely available."

So, where is the middle ground? I think you need to add a touch of black metal mentality into this business model, especially for experimental music. Especially in this short-attention spanned ADD society, where everyone expects things to be easy and accessible.

Seriously, who wants to listen to 10 available albums worth of ambient/drone music? Especially for a first-timer, someone you want to lure into your music. What's the point of having all of those available? Moreso, why would anyone purchase or even bother to download it if it's so readily available and streamable on Bandcamp? Most people have a computer or is connected to the internet. People often listen to music while being on the computer, Bandcamp provides a platform to be your personal library that you can access any time you want --- if you're not a fan already, if you're only mildly interested, why would you even bother downloading it? Even for free! Yes, it is freely available in attempt to turn you into a fan. But let's not be disillusioned, the process of creating a fan is not an easy one. Especially with this kind of music.

This is where the black metal thing comes in. It's like those undecipherable black metal logos. You're being somewhat drawn to the music or type of music, to a certain level. You kinda want to know what the logo is spelling out, you're trying to figure out their name, trying to find out things about them that are not so easily revealed publicly, you're peeling out the layers, digging deeper into the world that they have created. You're getting lured to where they want you to be; the element of mystery is always present. This is the kind of marketing that should be aimed instead of whoring it around like that.

Yes, yes. It is an ADD society out there, and most people won't care. But at the same time, you're aiming for the people that do care! And not just trying to brainwash anybody who listens to music. I mean --- if you're starting out, maybe it's a good thing to put it all available. But when you're jumping on the bandwagon with a dozen of releases under your sleeve, you gotta think twice about selling short, no matter what your status or popularity is. Maybe if you're releasing a new album, it might be justifiable as well. The point is, the strategy has to be re-evaluated for every case scenario, and in particular to less accessible, less available music.

In conclusion, unlike what the Bandcamp creator had in mind, what it was made for and how most artists are using it at the moment --- I will be using its platform to present my works, and so that people are able to sample full-length key songs of the album only (instead of all tracks, by hiding all non-key tracks) --- as to lure people in and retain the mystery of the rest of the record, while having an immediate download or purchase option available.

The out-of-prints EP will be available to download for name-your-price fees. The albums which are still physically available to purchase, will be also be available to download, but for a minimum fee (as long as I have the digital rights, gotta re-read all my contracts now). Don't forget that the downloadables are high quality 320 kbps MP3 or FLAC/other lossless format and that if you purchase the physical copy of the album, you will be able to download it immediately and listen to the album instantly. I think everyone wins this way.



Brian Michael Evans said...

I have stuff on bandcamp. To some degree I both agree and disagree with you. I do think the whole idea of freely available music does devalue music on the whole. I do like their website though. I like the name your price option. I've long had stuff up on websites with my music stating that if someone couldnt afford my music (that at the time had no pick your price option) that I would gladly send them a digital version for free and to just contact me. As a musician the idea is that you would rather have someone listen/enjoy what you do than not. However, I disagree with the whole people buy music that they have heard thing. When I was younger I bought music based on all kinds of things, but a lot of the time based on reviews in zines, mags, websites, etc. that I liked. Or sometimes just randomly walking through stores because I liked the cover art or someone recommended it.

Anyways, I seem to be unable to focus while at the day job. My comment here is seeming more and more thrown together and rambly. Anyways, I think I decided I did like bandcamp, and just thought I'd share that I guess.

Brian Michael Evans said...

Also, I love that they supply download codes, enabling the free downloads (which you mentioned) when someone purchases a hard copy of the album. This is great for vinyl/cassette releases.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yeah there is a lot of good things about this site, and I like it so far.

Re: the thing about buying music based on reviews, mags, cover art. I agree, but I also believe that times have changed because of the internet and everything, it changed the game. You did mention that this is what you did when you were younger (and what everyone did). Now you can read a zine, and you'll google the artist and be able to sample it one way or the other, legally or illegally.

But where is the line between purchasing or just leaving it? What's the thought process that goes there. It's those kind of questions that made me write this out of the blue.

My conclusion is to go back to the half-and-half model: you can have some for free, and if you want the rest you can choose to pay. Or not.

Depends if there are stock products left, then the priority would be to sell them off first before giving the free option.

Basically to me, it would make sense if the music were to be more free if they weren't any expenses to turn them into a physical product. And the existence of a physical product increases the worth of the music.

Brian Michael Evans said...

I totally agree that the internet changed the game. Sadly I've been slow to really figure out new ways. Though for me, I'm quite lazy about it (which you, clearly from reading your blog updates, are not), which is awesome.

For me the choice to by usually relates to me knowing the person or not (or knowing them through a mutual friend). I tend to buy stuff from the music scene in which I feel like part of a community of artists. I feel like we support each other when possible and I will buy then. Generally I do not buy music from more established acts. For example, I love Peter Gabriel's music. Probably my favorite ever. I did not buy his new album. I have been content to youtube stream the tracks. However, to further your point about a physical product, if I end up in a store with a vinyl edition of that Peter Gabriel album....I'd totally consider buying it. I just wouldn't buy it on CD or digital. However, I recently purchased the new Seven Fields of Aphelion cd. I have a lot of friends that are connected in various ways to Graveface/Ryan and feel like they are people I want to support. They are people who my support might have some effect on, however small.

Anyways, just thought I'd give a little input on my buying process. Cant really speak for other people, but I feel like a lot of people I know are similar in where they draw the line on purchase vs. stream.

Graeme Wilson said...

i would prefer to support this type of model than scour the interweb for illegal copies from download sites. i would always prefer the physical copy, but if that is not available i would make a concerted effort to contact the artist and pay the artist for a download-able copy of the music until such time i was able to purchase the physical copy.

i want my hard earned cash to reach the hard working artist's pocket directly!