Last December, to siphon the energy of the end of the year season, Avalon Emerson (a newsletter reader), Louis Center, Ignatius Gilfedder, Georgia Hansford, and Elissa Stolman created the Buy Music Club
. It’s a rather simple website that builds upon Bandcamp to allow users to create their own playlists of their favorite music on the platform. All with the explicit purpose of encouraging fans to buy music—thus the name—and supporting artists, rather than just clicking on a playlist to contribute a few pennies towards the new music people are discovering. Simple enough.
Tomorrow, Buy Music Club will release an updated version of the website with profiles, the ability to search for songs and artists, easier functionality to share playlists, and the ability for users to timestamp SoundCloud mixes with appropriate Bandcamp links. Emerson and the team were kind enough to let me test out the early beta, which only reaffirmed my desire to dive a little more into why it is that I grew so enamored with this project last December.
The Buy Music Club helps offer a minor
shift in how artists can position themselves within a post-streaming world. Instead of streaming being presented as the only option forward, artists can reconsider what it means if they eschew heading down this funnel. They can tell their fans that consumption requires payment and that music doesn’t necessarily need to be mediated through an increasingly limited number of platforms (I often try not to forget when digital music consumption wasn’t shorthanded into “Spotify” or “YouTube”). That’s why Emerson’s reasoning for selecting Bandcamp
to encourage music fans to purchase music stuck out to me: “Bandcamp is currently one of the most equitable music vendors online, discovering and buying music there is one of the best ways to support independent artists and record labels.”
Bandcamp, which started in 2008 and is run out of a number of small offices in San Francisco, Brooklyn and elsewhere, became profitable in 2012 and sells a record every five seconds. It grew 35 percent last year and has paid $169 million to artists, according to its website. Its chief executive, Ethan Diamond, mentioned in an interview that “plenty of artists” have made more than $100,000 each through it, and all of them get the same deal: The site keeps 15 percent of each sale. (By comparison, iTunes takes about 30 percent, and going that route also requires being on a label or working with an independent distributor, which takes another cut.)
A great product without great communication falls flat on its face. Look at Uber. They broke some rules to succeed–aggressive worked. But they also have a core challenge. The end vision of Spotify is to get a million artists to make a living off of their art; the end vision of Uber is to have zero drivers: Be my partner until I don’t need you anymore. That’s a very challenging business proposition.
I’ll give credit to Spotify in that the company has pressed this message into Ek’s brain hard enough that like clockwork he provides the same answer in repeated interviews. Yet, if one takes both companies’ leaders at their word, then Spotify’s ambitions for the industry are far greater than Bandcamp’s, but the practice of telling fans to funnel all their engagement into a platform that doesn’t value individual artist labor is far from ideal. The record industry spent decades decrying piracy, even before the internet, as destroying the industry up until a company was able to make it profitable for those same record labels, even at the detriment of artists. Bandcamp doesn’t present itself as a billion dollar solution but rather as just another modest option.
The Buy Music Club feels worthwhile exactly because it doesn’t need to sell investors on a reimagined music industry. Any redux of the record industry that will appeal to venture capitalists and companies like Coca-Cola isn’t going to be artist friendly and more likely will be working purely against the interest of artists. No, with this project, Avalon Emerson, Louis Center, Ignatius Gilfedder, Georgia Hansford, and Elissa Stolman give a slight pushback against a neoliberal system that isolates musicians into silos to help improve advertisement targeting.