The website is changing the way people buy and listen to music.
By Ivy Gray-Klein
The online music market has been revolutionized — and not by a product prefixed with the letter “i’.
Bandcamp.com has streamlined the way music is heard, shared, and bought on the Internet. With free music streaming, easy-to-access artist information, and several purchase options, the site is a one-stop destination for critics and casual listeners alike.
“I like Bandcamp because it’s simple to use and almost any active band has music uploaded,” said Alex Fryer, a frequent visitor to the site. “I like listening to full albums and it makes that very easy to do.”
Unlike popular streaming sites Pandora and Spotify, Bandcamp listeners don’t have to pay a monthly fee to hear ad-free music.
You won’t find flashy background ads either. Bandcamp’s strength is in its simplicity. This minimalism places focus where it should be: on the music.
Bandcamp’s ad-free music library is also accessible on mobile devices for easy, on-the-go listening.
With a catalog of five million songs and counting, Bandcamp has become a premier outlet to discover new artists.
“It’s really easy to browse Bandcamp to find new music,” said Dan Colanduno of New Jersey band Slow Animal. “We’ve gotten e-mails from people who said they found us by randomly cruising the site.”
Like Twitter, Bandcamp artists can create tags to describe their albums. Visitors can use tags like “folk” or “Philadelphia” to find music.
Bandcamp provides a simple but successful option for artists to connect directly with their audience.
“I remember when we first started playing shows, we would get asked if we had a Bandcamp for people to listen to our music,” said Lucia Arias of New York band Turnip King. “I couldn’t play a show or go to one without hearing that word.”
Though created in 2008, the past couple years have marked significant growth for the site.
“Because it is so simple to use, I rest assured knowing that it is accessible to everyone,” said Arias. “I know there isn’t a barrier between the work that we’re putting out and the people that want to hear our music.”
The artist pages are designed with the listener in mind.
“I really enjoy the fact that pages are sectioned off into albums,” said Daniel del Alcazar, a talent booker for Haverford College’s concert series. “I can check out what a band’s most current sound is while still checking out what their early stuff is. This will give me a good idea of what a band will play during a set.”
Bandcamp has even inspired a series of blogs. Sites like Metalbandcamp.com and Bandcamplike.com highlight independent artists discovered on Bandcamp.
“I think a lot of listeners are finding their way to Bandcamp because of its popularity among blogs,” said Colanduno. “When blogs write about us, they almost always include our Bandcamp link.”
The user-friendly platform has also achieved a previously unthinkable feat: successfully converting pirates to buyers.
Bandcamp’s data revealed that many visitors originally searched for free downloads before coming to the site and paying for music.
Since 2008, Bandcamp cites total artist revenue at over $28 million.
Because artists can set their own prices, tracks are cheaper than on price-regulated stores like iTunes. This encourages visitors to buy full albums instead of a song or two.
On average, the market outsells albums to tracks 16-to-1. Bandcamp sells them 5-to-1.
When a purchase is made, the money is sent directly to a band’s PayPal account.
Bandcamp reports that in the past 30 days, visitors have spent over $2 million.
In addition to hosting a band’s page, the site itself is a valuable factor in driving sales. Last January, Bandcamp reported 22% of sales were made through visitors’ use of tags, homepage recommendations, and searching.
Bigger artists, like Sufjan Stevens, have also begun to favor the website over more corporate outlets. After being dropped from her label, singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer released an EP through Bandcamp. The record made over $15,000 on the first day.
From US Dollars to Israeli New Shekels, bands can select from 12 currencies to price their music, fostering a global audience.
As another incentive, listeners can select the quality of their music download. From MP3 for the casual listener to Vorbis for the critic, users are provided five formats to choose from.
While Bandcamp has been a successful model for selling music, many artists also put up music for free download or donation of the buyer’s choice.
“It’s always a surprise to see what people are willing to pay if they really like your music with the name your price option,” said Arias. “We put up a whole set from a house show we played in New Jersey that was recorded on an iPhone. Some people chose free download but one person paid $8. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Who would do that? Why would anyone do that ever?”
In January of 2012, Bandcamp reported that 40% of the time visitors spend more than the minimum for name-your-own-price albums.
The willingness of fans to choose to pay for music is an encouraging sign.
“It was a really sweet gesture on their part,” said Arias. “It was kind of like saying, ‘I respect your music regardless of the fact that this was recorded off a cell phone.”
Allowing free downloads can also work as a marketing tool for new and upcoming artists.
“I think putting our music up for free has definitely helped get our music out there, especially when we were first starting out,” said Colanduno “Because no one knew us and our music, we believed that putting it up for free download would help spread our music out into the web.”
When an album is available for free, artists are given the option of requesting an e-mail address in exchange for a download. Bands can then compile a mailing list to share new material with fans.
This data can also reveal when these fans might be critics or record labels.
Slow Animal uploaded their demo to Bandcamp in March of 2010. A few weeks later they were featured on cult music website Pitchfork.
But with the aid of Bandcamp, this didn’t come as a surprise. A Pitchfork e-mail address had shown up in the band’s mailing list before the review was even published.
With Bandcamp, access to a mailing list is just the beginning.
Max Kravitz’s laptop screen is filled with colorful charts, diagrams, and lists. But the Temple University student isn’t studying for an economics exam. He’s seeing who’s been listening to his band’s demo.
Unlike other websites, Bandcamp provides artists with comprehensive analytics. For free.
Kravitz, a member of Philadelphia metal band Blood Stained Cross, put the group’s demo on Bandcamp and set the download price at zero. It’s not money he’s after, it’s listener data.
The website has allowed Kravitz to gage audience interest based on which songs are repeated versus skipped.
He can also see where his band’s demo has been shared across the Internet. With over half of Bandcamp purchases made by international fans, music can be tracked to the most obscure corners of the web.
This feature has also helped connect Kravitz with local fans. Recently, Kravitz discovered his demo was voted “Best Album of 2012” on Phillymetal.com.
“[Bandcamp] is heavily embraced in the underground scenes,” said Kravitz. “[Having an account] increases marketability.”
Bandcamp’s popularity rose from the fall of MySpace. As social networkers began the great migration to Facebook in the late 2000s, bands that used MySpace’s music pages also needed a new marketing outlet.
“After MySpace collapsed a lot of bands seemed unsure of where to post music,” said Kravitz. “Bandcamp is doing a good job of carrying the torch MySpace dropped.”
Bandcamp’s minimalist design and ease of use is a welcomed change from MySpace’s cluttered presentation.
“A lot of the information conveyed in a MySpace music page isn’t relevant,” said del Alcazar “I don’t care what they say their influences are or what joke-titles they label their genre. All I care about is listening to the music and finding contact information. Websites like Bandcamp are much preferred.”
Though the basic features are free, Bandcamp does take a 10-15% cut of profits.
In comparison, for every 99-cent track sold on iTunes, the artist makes a 10-cent profit, according to the National Association of Record Industry Professionals.
Apple also requires a lengthy application process.
Unlike iTunes, Bandcamp artists can begin selling music the day they register for a free account.
Ultimately, it’s a modest fee for a band to manage their distribution and marketing.
For more established artists, Bandcamp offers an optional Pro account. For $10 per month, artists can provide private streaming of exclusive songs, a customizable URL, and access Google Analytics.
Although the basic account does include comprehensive visitor data, the Google Analytics option provides more detailed information for in-depth marketing.
While the basic account was designed with independent artists in mind, the reasonable pricing of a Pro account makes these features still accessible to most users.
Arias, whose band doesn’t have a Pro account, agrees that even the basic stats page is “mega helpful.”
While Bandcamp thrives as a platform to market, sample, and sell music, it does lack the direct social networking of MySpace.
“I have booked entire tours via MySpace,” said Kravitz. “The lack of a ‘friend’ feature on Bandcamp doesn’t make networking simple.”
To combat this, Bandcamp does allow streaming through Facebook band pages. These Facebook pages also provide their own visitor logistics to bands.
“Since everyone and every band has a Facebook, Bandcamp works well as a Facebook adjunct,” said Kravitz. “A great feature of both Bandcamp and Facebook are the detailed hit trackers that enables the band to see trends in plays and downloads. This is infinitely better than MySpace’s archaic play counter.”
With the information provided by Facebook and Bandcamp, artists are more equipped than ever to be their own bosses.
Bandcamp’s transparency is a rare asset in today’s music market.
Unlike corporate giants, independent artists won’t find miles of red tape just to get their music heard.
Bandcamp’s genius is the belief of simple accessibility for bands and listeners alike.
While artists are better managing their success through visitor analytics, Bandcamp does the same thing for its users. The site’s blog is updated regularly with new visitor trends to keep everyone in the loop.
The site’s knowledge is its power.
As the music industry flounders in the digital age, Bandcamp is giving musicians a competitive edge.