Will Bandcamp Take The Place of Record Labels?


Written By: Elliott Wallace





Digital distribution is one of the most contentious debates in music today. iTunes has become the online music store, and file sharing and torrenting are now a greater problem for the mainstream industry. The conversations about how artists are getting paid and who are the gatekeepers to great music is getting louder each week.

San Francisco based website Bandcamp is changing the ways digital distribution, and music discovery, works and is challenging both iTunes and file sharing. Launched in 2008 by net-entrepreneur Ethan Diamond, Bandcamp is a free publishing platform that hosts independent artists and bands. Artists can upload tracks in different music formats (mp3, FLAC, etc.) and create accessible and well designed pages with album artwork through the website. The website has not only grown in its user base, but has been upping its technology. Bandcamp has been moving away from Flash to HTML5 to make uploading music easier, improved its steaming and search functions and is now using Google Analytics with its new Bandcamp Pro.

But the real advancement the site has made has been with its Discovernator. With the Discovernator, fans can now browse through thousands of artists who upload daily on the website. Think of it like the record stores of old, where you can search through popular, new and artist recommended albums and tracks of every genre and sample a listen while still browsing.The Discoverinator also lets fans browse the artists merch and other goodies.

Michael Ball, guitarist for Washington, D.C. band Mittenfields, said that they started using the website after releasing its first EP. “We were attracted to it as a way to give our listens/fans another option for getting out music”. While Ball said the sales between Bandcamp and their iTunes profile were equal, Bandcamp has helped them find a steady stream of listeners to their profile. “All we have to do is upload the music and set up a page for the EP,” Ball said. “With something like iTunes or Amazon’s mp3’s store, we have to use a third party to distribute the music, which costs a little extra money.”

Mark Charles Heidinger, who leads Washington, D.C. band Vandaveer, had been using the regular indie labels to promote and distribute his music before finding Bandcamp three years ago. Compared to social media dinosaur MySpace, Heidinger said, “Bandcamp is clean and sleek. You’re not being bombarded by flashing ads….Beyond just selling music, I think the most useful way I’ve been able to use it is to give away music”. Further, he states “Whether it’s friends, someone we’re working with, or want to work with and they don’t have our album or anything, I can just send them a code or a link. It’s really nice, in a matter of 30-seconds you can send someone a link to your entire catalogue.”

Heidinger compares his experience with the selling of his records to the way Radiohead took control of distributing and selling their music. “If you are an artist and you decide you don’t want to partner up with a traditional retailer, you can do it through Bandcamp,” Heidinger said, adding that the site lets artists decide the price of their release.

Cornell Williams, who produces under the name b.east,  also praises the platform for letting artists and fans recommend people and connect them through links, that he has really been able to make more of an impact and he has only been producing music since February of 2011.

Interestingly, Williams says that he would continue to use Bandcamp even when his buzz gets bigger. Why? “It’s simple. It’s not as cluttered. I can check my stats: I can check my plays, my sells, my buzz, everything.”

The take away from Bandcamp is pretty obvious. Simplicity and independence really gives creates a dynamic and smart network. That, in turn, builds a dynamic and smart listener base. Will Bandcamp be the next Myspace, with major labels chomping to find the latest bands? Does it need to be? The site seems to be on its own path.