With direct-from-the-artist sales catching on and some superb tools, the question for the independent artist or label is, which tool is worth your time? We’ve seen plenty of discussion revolving around Topspin Media and Bandcamp. Bandcamp earned interest early with a dead-simple DIY digital store for artists; Topspin has become widely available more recently, but had as an early draw merch stores and free download email capture as major features, among many others.

Artist Tricil sung the praises of Topspin in April. Since then, I did my own LP release on Bandcamp, about which I hope to share experiences soon.

But how do the two compare? And how might they even be combined? Recording/mastering engineer and artist Jimmy Ether recently posted some thoughts to his Google+ account, shared here by permission:

Topspin vs Bandcamp mixed with other options
I was pretty sold on going with Topspin for the back end store and promo features for the Headphone Treats site I’m rebuilding. Until today. I’ve always been a big Bandcamp supporter, but they were just missing a few features I felt we needed for the more full-scale assault I’m hoping to make:

1) An integrated store across artists – actually, both services sucked at this (until today). It was possible in Topspin, but you had to get hacky with tags to have multiple bands in one account. Which I never really wanted anyway. Now Bandcamp lets you span any artist on their cart system, which is brilliant. Lets the bands manage their stores and I can just tie them into our site. Exactly what I wanted.

2) High-Resolution, 24-bit FLAC – Again, Topspin was going to be hacky, but doable. But wait! Bandcamp is now allowing 24bit files up to 192kHz??! How did I miss this? I’ll have to see how the download options work, but this is awesome if all pans out acceptable. With what I’m doing, it’s literally two different masterings per album (fully dynamic 24bit/88.2k… slightly more compressed 16 bit for regular lossless down to MP3), so I need to see how that’s going to work. Hopefully I can select formats to be made available for each album and just offer two versions.

3) Campaigns – this is a pretty cool aspect of Topspin which may or may not have been beneficial. Kinda nice to be able to offer a free download of an album for an email signup or Facebook like. But there are other services I could use for that… or I can just roll my own using Bandcamp download codes. And now we have G+ possibly stealing some thunder from Facebook, so it’s reminding me of all that time I spent on MySpace building followings for all the artists. Yeah, that panned out. Social media is wonderful, but you have to keep things centralized and in your control.

4) Mailing list – ummm… Mailchimp? Emma? I’d much rather integrate either of those into my site than use Topspin’s more limited interface. Mailchimp is especially interesting with their killer API, which I’ve used a little bit. I’m a reseller for Emma, so I can send mail way cheaper through them but their integration is a tad clunky and requires more coding on my end (done it before though). I’ll have to weigh that.

So, that’s my current thinking on all the music tech offerings. Speak up if you think I’m missing something though. Discussion is good. Or if your curious what I’m on about with any of the above. Happy to clarify.

That seems a good conversation starter to me, and a jumping-off point for a more in-depth discussion. The competition is certainly heating up: Bandcamp just unveiled a merchandise store, and Topspin is enhancing their features, as well. (Correction: I originally claimed that email capture at Bandcamp was a recent addition, but a reader points out it was unveiled in 2008. I could say time flies, but I will instead just admit I was mistaken. And in fairness, while competition drives enhancement, arguably user requests are the prime motivator.)

So, other users, we’d love to hear what you think, or if you have other questions about either service we can investigate or direct to the sites themselves.

And while we’re at it, Jimmy’s own site has a growing archive of information, including some recording tips – and, oh yeah, some music to hear: