Things are not going well in the Bandcamp camp. As you may well have heard, they have recently been bought by a company called SongTradr, following on soon after their acquisition 19 months ago by online games developer Epic Games. That resulted in a 16% reduction in staff and the sale to Songtradr. Now that Songtradr have made what they ominously call “some adjustments to ensure a sustainable and healthy company that can serve its community of artists and fans long into the future”, a massive 50% of Bandcamp staff are now looking for other jobs. Customer support and editorial jobs were hit hardest with their entire executive team also disappearing without trace, leaving, according to some reports, just three customer support specialists. For a site that used to pride itself on its relationship with its labels, artists and customers, that does not sound good. Songtradr claim that they are committed to retaining all of the existing services, including Bandcamp Fridays and their Bandcamp Daily publication which helps promote some of the lesser known and more obscure artists and music. With staff cuts of that level, it is hard to see how they can keep that promise, even if they genuinely intended to.
That is the real issue here. What are Songtradrs plans for Bandcamp long term? There are fundamental differences between Bandcamp, a B2C (Business-to-Customer) service staffed and run by music enthusiasts, and Songtradr, a B2B (Business-to-Business) corporate operation focused on the profit bottom line. Bandcamp exists to promote new music, support small artists and labels to release their own music without needing up front investment or an industry structure, and offer a greater revenue share than streaming services like Spotify, support physical merchandise sales (vinyl, CD, T shirts) and offer digital downloads – an older format frowned upon by the music industry who prefer the more lucrative (for them) streaming subscription model. Streaming offers the artist a truly paltry share of the revenue from their music, whilst also meaning that you, the customer, end up paying through your subscription for access to lots of music you don’t like and will never listen to, whilst not actually owning anything you do like and have paid for. Bandcamp offers an alternative to that model, whilst also empowering millions of musicians, small labels, and creatives and also supporting freelance journalists and illustrators through its Bandcamp Daily publication.
Songtradr’s business is exactly what it sounds like; licencing music to advertisers and content creators for use in films, television and advertising, where music is seen very much as a background add-on or used to help sell shampoo or insurance. The chances of Songtradr committing to providing long-term support to the more independent and eclectic artists currently releasing music through Bandcamp would seem slim to me. It is too early to tell yet what will happen and when, but I just don’t have a good feeling about this. It could well be a slow death of a thousand cuts. With Bandcamp being so central to the future of independent music and its key role in providing an income stream for thousands of artists and labels, it’s demise would be a victory for corporate greed and profiteering short sightedness, and would remove independence, choice and variety at the very time when culture is struggling in the face of a global economic downturn and an AI takeover. It’s not only Bandcamp at risk either. Recent increases in seller fees at Discogs could indicate that too is increasing its revenue in preparation for a sell off. There could be others too. I’m not depressing you am I?
Bandcamp may well not be perfect, but there are few viable alternatives, and leaving control of a channel that facilitates creativity and supports smaller acts in the hands of a company like Songtradr is like leaving Colonel Sanders in charge of the chicken coop. Only time will tell, but if you have any fingers free, I’d get crossing them now.