Good vibrations: how Bandcamp became the heroes of streaming

Photograph: Richard Morgenstein

The rise of Bandcamp is a rare bright spot in the music industry at the moment, so it was cheering to speak to founder Ethan Diamond about how he built an actual Silicon Valley unicorn– a slow-burn, small-scale success. Read the full feature over at The Guardian

When Ethan Diamond founded Bandcamp in 2008, he imagined it an alternative to MySpace: an easy-to-use website where bands could interact with fans and sell music. Bandcamp would take care of the fiddly stuff – transcoding music into different formats, payments, analytics – and take a 15% cut of every sale. Five thousand miles away from Oakland, California, another startup millionaire was launching his own music service in Stockholm, one that would give listeners access to everything ever recorded. Spotify would be “better than piracy”, thought its 23-year-old creator, Daniel Ek.

In the decade afterwards, the music industry remade itself in Spotify’s image. Streaming services – including YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer and Tidal – signalled that the era of ownership was over. Who would want dusty vinyl or external hard drives if they could have all the music they wanted on their phone or laptop for a low subscription price? The result of this shift, as musicians from Taylor Swift to Thom Yorke to Joanna Newsom have complained, has been paltry payouts for artists and a consolidation of power among tech companies. Spotify has rarely turned a net profit, but it has 130 million paid subscribers and managed to scrape together $100m for a recent deal to host podcaster Joe Rogan exclusively.

Meanwhile, Bandcamp has become the rarest of Silicon Valley stories: a slow-burn success. The early years of the site were defined by outsiderdom – video game soundtracks, internet-born genres such as vaporwave and seapunk, music for the “furries” subculture of people who dress as animals – and you can still find pretty much anything, from pirate metal to eco-grime. As well as downloads, about half of Bandcamp’s sales are for physical items – vinyl, CDs, cassettes, T-shirts, posters, USB sticks, even MiniDiscs. “The growth of the company has been almost comically steady. For 11 years it’s a line like this,” says Diamond, holding his hand out at a gentle incline. “This year will be the first year where there’s a noticeable change in the growth rate, and that is because of the pandemic and the awareness that has been raised around the need for fans to directly support artists.”

Read the full feature over at The Guardian


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