This one time, at Bandcamp…


Shameless, I know.

Last week music site Bandcamp announced a few changes to the way it would be working with free downloads. Reaction was mixed.
Basically instead of bands being able to offer unlimited free downloads of their music Bandcamp are going to set a cap, and beyond that bands and artists will have to buy a “Power Up” to offer more freebies. The packages offered were 300 downloads for $9 USD, 1000 downloads for $20 USD and 5000 downloads for $75 USD. In addition when a band makes $500 in sales their account will be topped up with another 1000 free downloads.
I get more music from Bandcamp that from anywhere else these days, and think it is a fantastic site. Obviously since I’m getting all that music there must be bands providing it, so I asked if anyone had any comments, here’s what some had to say…
(Note: this post was delayed by the great computer meltdown of last weekend. In the meantime some changes have been made by Bandcamp, but I got comments before those changes)

Matthew Gilliland, Mondegreen

I’m a bit disappointed with bandcamp’s new free download limitations. We haven’t had that many downloads yet, but if we ever did get beyond 500, we would in effect have to pay for people to download our music for free. Which is obviously going to effect how we do things in the future.

My initial feeling on reading Bandcamp’s latest news was, ‘Oh you scallywags. You’ve blown it.’ However, on reflection, these developments aren’t really all that bad. Those of us who have been able to use Bandcamp completely free of charge up ’til now are lucky bastards.

Think about it. Bandcamp’s whole interface is perfect. I can’t think of another way to tart up what is effectively A BUNCH OF MP3s and somehow turn it into a cohesive, pretty… well… PRODUCT (sorry).

I currently give all my music away for free and have had about 300 downloads in six months. Smalltime Bandcamp users who, by the way, make up about 80% of Bandcamp’s population, aren’t really missing out. Existing users get a whole 500 free downloads.

It will cost you $20 to give away another 1000 downloads. Hardly breaking the bank. That’s three pints in real money. Everybody cheer up. Streaming costs nothing, remember!

Better still, use this news as impetus to make better music, take more care over the packaging and, gasp, maybe charge £1 for an album or something (OMG)? It’s made me really think about my music and whether giving it away for free is really a result of undervaluing the music we write. (I wouldn’t hesitate in paying for great music on Bandcamp so why shouldn’t other people?)

On the other side of the coin, however, I’ve no doubt that there are going to be Bandcamp-esque websites popping up all over the place. There will always be a way to give away your music for free. Thing is, will it be as goddamn awesome as Bandcamp’s pretty revolutionary site? Hmmmm… I think I’ll take the $20 a year hit. The Bandcamp pros FAR outweigh the cons. This was inevitable. Time to man up, folks.

Mark McG, The Girobabies
I think Bandcamp`s recent changes are slightly worrying for the long term. Bandcamp has been brilliant for us as a band up until now and at the moment we only sell our music exclusively online there . It gave us a chance to give away our `Jeremy Kyle` track for free to anyone in exchange for their e-mail address. Which helped us to build up a database of people who would potentially buy our CD …and many of them did purchase when our `Social Not Working` E.P went up for sale on the bandcamp page. In the beginning we received 100% royalties. It all seemed a bit too good to be true, And of course it was.
Now they want to cap the amount of free material we give away (Or charge us for giving away free material) and take a 10% cut of royalties. That in itself is not enough to drive me away from Bandcamp. Its still an excellent service and has to make money somewhere but it does make me slightly concerned about their intention s for the future. Will the 200 cap be removed entirely? will the royaltys sneak up by 5% every couple of months? Fingers crossed this isn’t the case as the last thing we need is another i-tunes.
There is two arguments here though. One is that artists should be entitled to give their music away for free. There is plenty other sites available to do that and there may be a couple due to pop up in the aftermath of Bandcamps free music cap. The other argument is that maybe Bandcamp will encourage more independent artists to sell their music rather than giving it away for free. If that was to become the norm again then maybe this would be a good thing for the music industry as a whole?

We loved it till the fee increase.. now we’re just good friends. There was also potential to sidestep Ticketmaster for feeless local online ticket sales.. in combination with a pile of envelopes

Jim Connick, Aye Tunes
I’ve only ever used Bandcamp as a seller once, for tickets for the last Aye Tunes Vs Peenko gig. Like The Social Services I saw a lot of potential in using Bandcamp this way, sidestepping ridiculous booking, postage and mysterious service fees. Paypal takes a little slice of each payment, so by selling the tickets online I lost a little money, but only a little. Bandcamp now take a 15% share of sales, which means for the next AvsP gig I won’t be repeating the experiment, since that 15% on top of the Paypal fees adds up to a decent slice of the ticket price, making it impractical for me to use. AvsP gigs don’t make Peenko or I a profit, but neither of us can afford to take a financial hit from them either.
The more recent change was one I initially didn’t like, but I could see the reasons for. I love my free music and I’m much more likely to take a chance on that new band I’ve stumbled across if there’s no risk of feeling done, but at the same time Bandcamp lets me stream everything there too, if I have to pay for something I can listen to it first and make up my own mind if it is worth it. Bandcamp remains an excellent resource, for one thing it has let me stick songs in this post by all that contributed without having to bugger about with getting permission, uploading them myself and so on. I love how easy it is to integrate the Bandcamp player into a blog post, that’s why if I can include it instead of an MP3, I will.
The Update
This is the part that Mark, Paul, Matthew and The Social Services didn’t get a chance to comment on, as it was just announced yesterday.

As suggested by several of the commenters, we’re going to refresh everyone’s free download credits every month (so, if you have less than 200 downloads remaining, we’ll just bump you up to 200 again). This still accomplishes our goal of keeping the costs of large-scale free download campaigns where they should be (on the people actually doing them), while also giving early-stage artists room to comfortably get started.

Straight away this fixes the concerns the concerns that I’d had about the change. If your band is consistently pulling in more than those 200 free downloads a month you might still need to dip in to your pocket if you want to keep everything free, but if your band is clearing 200 a month then you are probably in a position where you can start asking for a little cash in return for your music. Turn five free downloads of your EP into 5 £2 sales of your EP and you should have made that $9 it’ll cost for another 300 freebies. If you really want to make everything free without paying Bandcamp there’s ways to do that too. There’s plenty of file hosts around there that you can use for free. Hell, if you are that stuck I’ve got some hosting space, I’ll give your music a home for a while. It won’t have an interface as simple or pretty as Bandcamp does though.


  1. Grave Maurice says:

    I think the way to realistically look at it is this: You want to give your music away free, then on you go. You want to use a internet based resource run by other people to do it well you really have to consider if thousands of other people like you have the same idea then that’s a bit of a service they are facilitating and they deserve not to be out of pocket asa result. If I want to go toa free gig in Glasgow I don’t expect the band to pay for my petrol to get there.