It was a simple idea, but it sent a message. And now Bandcamp is set to repeat the experiment, promoting the idea of buying from artists directly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 20, Bandcamp waived their revenue share on purchases. But the result was seismic: on that one date, people purchased US$4.3 million in music and merch, a fifteen-fold increase on normal Friday sales, the company says.
Now they want to do the same on the first Fridays in May (end of this week), June, and July – that’s May 1, June 5, and July 3. (Midnight to midnight Pacific USA time – so until 9AM Saturday here in Berlin.)
I don’t want to be overly Polyanna-ish here. First, it’s a little scary to talk about “helping artists cover rents, mortgages, groceries, medications.” The need there is too big for $4.3 million to be anything other than a drop in the bucket in groceries alone in a single small country, let alone worldwide. And that sets up lots of independent artists for failure – it wasn’t uncommon for people to see one or two sales, so maybe enough for a couple of packages of instant ramen. You don’t have to be a socialist to see that there’s then a need for government-level intervention.
Second, there’s the fact that Bandcamp’s server got hammered. That may have cost sales. It also likely generated some further attention, but … that particular detail is probably not a good thing to try to repeat.
That said, for some artists, anecdotally, this really did pay rent and groceries – buying some critical time. I heard that not just from big-name artists but on a case-by-case basis from some fairly underground electronic creators. If you were in the one sale/no sale category, you were in good company – no reason to feel bad. But this did help at least some artists reach some critical mass, and that’s a good thing.
And there’s another way to look at this. As a way of marketing the idea of supporting artists directly and valuing their work, this was a knockout. That’s something the rest of the industry could do more – talk about actual individual artists, and simultaneously stop underestimating their fans. This wasn’t just an economic crisis for the arts, but for the planet. And it demonstrated that people wanted to pay to own music and get that money directly to the artist. That just isn’t the kind of concept we hear about in the music business – and that’s, frankly, insane.
Case in point: labels like Polyvinyl are following Bandcamp’s lead and passing on those revenues directly to artists:
So now is the test: if Bandcamp can build on this idea, keep their servers running, and keep spreading this notion, it could send some ripples through the business. And that message needed to go (cough) viral long before the pandemic arrived.
There’s more, too. Bandcamp have some resources in their blog post both for fans wanting to make a difference and artists wanting some advice on how to survive:
Specifically, you’ll want to read through this if you’re an artist releasing music:
Bandcamp are also transparent about their revenue share when they do take a slice – and quite frankly I’m happy to see sales on any day, with or without their share. (I think the main thing here is really the message.)
And they’re doing a nice job of highlighting new music, too, at a time when the music press are also seeing cutbacks. So see, for instance, their latest experimental guide:
Plus excellent stories like this – let’s go to Egypt virtually, if we can’t in reality:
COVID-19 is triggering some great compilations, like Stamp the Wax’s rich outing:
Electronic fans won’t want to miss this superb compilation from Rome’s Enisslab, running from Alessandro Cortini and Dino Sabatini to Erika and BMG and Caterina Barbieri and Lucy and Mike Parker and Shifted and TM404 and Tobias and Wata Igarashi – and basically every contributor is a who’s who. Fundraising goes to The Red Cross.
I’ll be highlighting some other compilations this week leading up to Friday and … well, you know, all the time. In case you missed it, for instance, there was this Bandcamp release of music from the late Mike Huckaby, via Pacou, as covered over the weekend right here:
Oh, also I’m really excited to be part of this compilation. Self-promo alert, but since you can’t hear mine at the moment anyway, let me talk about how much I love Femanyst’s latest tracks!
Supporting artists is easy. Buy downloads from Bandcamp, or Bleep, or Beatport – well, that’s just the ones starting with the letter ‘b,’ but buy them.
And tell them. Leave a review. Leave a note on their page. We can tell each other that we care, as artists. Heck, most artists are really glad if you just listen to their free promo.
Music making is something a lot of us do when alone, but it doesn’t mean we want to feel alone when doing it.
So stay strong out there, and I hope I get to listen to and support lots of music, too.