Julien Wilson

Saxophonist

Community spirit VS Corporate greed

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Community spirit VS Corporate greed

I tried to explain the Bandcamp VS Spotify scenario a few weeks ago on an Instagram post and made it more confusing than it should have been. Maybe it always will be because it’s more involved than my simple rule:

If it pays, it stays

If it blows, it goes.

Some people seemed to thing the pics I posted (like this one) were streaming figures. They’re not. This is a screenshot from the Bandcamp Artist App that keeps records of my Bandcamp sales and engagement. I’m not putting it here as a way of boasting about my numbers or showing off (although I am pretty happy with it for a tiny cottage industry label) but as a way of explaining how “Streams” VS “actual sales” works

“Plays” is just that – listens – no cash at all attached. And sales means somebody (probably somebody who listened to a track or two first) bought the album on the same page. Followers are people who have a Bandcamp Fan Page. Their avatar shows up under any album they buy, and they can leave comments on any purchase they’ve made. The great thing(s) about Fan accounts is, it shows support for the albums they buy, they get notifications when bands they follow release new albums (easily turned off if you don’t want that), and other fans can follow them too for recommendations on albums they might enjoy. It’s a great little ecosystem. I’ve bought a bunch of albums that I’ve discovered via friends’ fan pages.

466 Followers is a pretty modest number. But they are engaged “fans” of my music. Many of them have bought multiple albums I’ve released. Some of them come to my live shows. And some have even become great friends.

Here’s my Bandcamp scenario: I’ve had a label page there for 6 years. It’s tiny really. Just a handful of albums I’ve been personally involved in and want to share. Of course, I occasionally sell CDs at gigs. And I stock a handful of brick and mortar record stores on consignment too. And my music is available on iTunes – because I always felt like it had to be there to feel legitimate. But the income from it is pretty negligible these days. iTunes set the price of my album in different “territories”, which shits me to tears. And I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really “worth it”, especially considering where AppleMusic seems to be headed (streaming only/subscription model), and how well Bandcamp is performing.

Bandcamp is just part of my sales/promotional ecosystem, but it’s a big and important part. Some people find it confusing. From my perspective, it’s by far the best and easiest to navigate online music store. There are heaps of helpful help menus and explanations built in to the site for the uninitiated. Some people are turned off or nervous about having to “name your price” when you purchase an album. For me, that’s a huge plus. Fans can choose to pay extra! I love that. Some people are (rightfully) suspicious about being scammed online and don’t have a PayPal account. Bandcamp has a contact button built in to each page that lets anyone send the artist (or label) a personal message. They could send me a message and ask if there’s a brick and mortar record store near them where they could buy a copy of the album they’re interested in. Name another site that allows you direct contact with the band!? Some bands even list their upcoming shows right on the page so you can see where to find them live (and possibly buy their album in person). Again, name another site/store that does that.

SO, in 6 years my label page has generated 30,000 (totally unpaid) listens. I get nothing for those “streams”. But it has also created a gross income of $23,000 in direct sales. Obviously as a label there are expenses (the list is long, and manufacturing of the product is only a small part of the equation) but that’s money in my pocket. Bandcamp and Paypal fees combined are roughly between 15-20% per sale. I pay an extra very minimal fee per month for a PRO account. That lets me turn streaming on or off for each individual track (an option that seems to be increasingly discouraged by Bandcamp, but one that I find most pleasing – you can taste my product, but if you want the whole cake, I’d really appreciate you taking the gamble and buying a digital or physical copy. We can’t survive otherwise. It has to be a sustainable model).

Here’s the simple maths: $23k in sales divided by 30K listens equates to 70cents in sales per listen! People are NOT paying to listen. But listens DO translate to sales. And the money is in my Paypal account within SECONDS of a sale, not 6 months later.

Here’s the Spotify scenario. Forgive me if I’m slightly sketchy. I don’t subscribe to their model so my working knowledge is just based on CDBaby (a digital distribution partner) payments from (mostly) out of print albums I released on other labels.

Pay per stream is (ostensibly) how it works. But nobody really knows for sure. It seems like the bigger artists/labels may get a larger slice. 1 play equals $0.006 – $0.0084. Less than a cent. If you get a billion plays, that might work. But I’m making instrumental, improvised music, and the market for that is already tiny. Let’s say I got the same plays on Spotify as on my Bandcamp page. 30,000 plays (which pay nothing on Bandcamp) pay roughly $200 on Spotify.

There is no SALE button. There is no direct link to contact the artist. There is little to no information on who the musicians or other people involved in the recording are. The sound quality is … ordinary. As a streamer, I envisage that the more I listen to a track I love, the more the creator of that music is getting some of my ($10 p/month for all you can eat) money. But, there is no way of really knowing.

What we do know is this:

As a consumer, who wouldn’t like all you can eat for (next to) nothing?

Most musicians/producers/creators hate it. Or at best begrudgingly tolerate/accept it because they feel trapped and forced to have to do it. It’s a sex slave industry situation for musicians

Spotify run at a loss each year. And YET…

Daniel Ek is worth $2.6BILLION

That doesn’t add up. As a producer of content, leaving out Ek’s obscene profit if we can, Spotify VS Bandcamp….. it’s not even an equation. It’s like asking for an answer to 3 bananas minus 4MB. They shouldn’t be on the same page. And yet, it has created an entitled attitude amongst some consumers that if a musician doesn’t put their music on streaming platforms then they are greedy bastards who don’t deserve the fleeting attention and exposure that streaming consumers are kind enough to condescend to offer them. This attitude, unfortunately is very real and trying to influence it with reasoning or logic feels the same as talking to anti-vaxxers or climate change deniers or flat-earthers. It’s pointless. We’ve lost. Anyway…. Those people will probably HATE my music anyway, so, I’m not losing any sleep over the fact that they won’t be able to expose themselves to 30 seconds of the first track on my latest album before skipping to the next playlist or podcast.

If anybody is still reading, here’s my Streaming analogy explained in cake>

I bake cakes for a living.

I make cake. Somebody buys cake. I buy ingredients with money to make more cakes

StreamingBoy is upset because he doesn’t want to pay for my cake without trying it

Also, he’s upset because he opened his pantry at home, and he can’t find my cake in there!

He goes to his neighbours house and looks in their pantry, but my cake is also not in there.

StreamingBoy is now fuming.

How DARE I not put one of my cakes in every house he visits? Who the hell do I think I am?

Do I REALLY think my cake is THAT special?!?

StreamingBoy gets in his car and scans for cake.
NO CAKE THERE EITHER!!!!

$%^$#&$#%@!!

Screw you, says StreamingBoy. I’m not going to eat your cake then. You’ve lost a sale

Ummm. No SB. I never had a sale.

You wanna eat my cake? You gotta buy a cake. Even if you loved the free sample of my cake (which I doubt) you’re 99% never going to buy one anyway. So, what exactly am I losing by not exposing my cake to you?

 

Hope that’s cleared things up. 🙂

If not, refer to my simple rule

If it pays, it stays

If it blows, it goes

And if it pays Dr Stream but not me, that blows

Why should my music help StreamingBoy support the purchase of Dr.Stream’s next mansion?

To summarize: Thankyou Bandcamp – I love what you have offered the music community. It feels like a real community!

And thank YOU if you have bought my music (or any music for that matter) in digital or physical format (or by paying an entrance fee and attending a live performance) in a situation where you know a decent percentage of the money you spend is going directly to the musicians whose music you are enjoying. We love you. We couldn’t continue to do this without your love and support and encouragement. It means the world to us. And we hope we can continue to keep sharing quality creations with you. I’m truly grateful for being able to do what I do, and your support helps me to continue doing what I love the most.

I’m not saying nobody should stream. We have a family account (that’s my dirty little secret) and I listen to music there occasionally. As a consumer it is an incredible product. Almost … “too good to be true”!?!

What I am saying, is I will not be streaming any of my own music on any platform in the near future. I continue to be a fan of radio, even if that means internet radio. I love being introduced to new music by knowledgable presenters. That has been one of the great thrills of my life and streaming just doesn’t push those buttons.

Lately I have been particularly enamored by radio presenters who have chosen to take the time to find a link directly to my Bandcamp page to place in their online playlist. A link to Bandcamp may equal a sale, and a new connection with a new fan who may become a fan/friend/colleague for life. A link to a streaming service like YouTube is not going to create any of those results. And all too often, that is what radio playlists lead to, Youtube, Spotify, Amazon. I mean, Amazon is a sales site… but do we REALLY need to give Jeff Bezos a slice of our pie if there are more equitable alternatives? I wonder if links to streaming is a choice, or just an act of laziness or lack of awareness by those in charge of compiling the online radio playlists. Surely, for the most part, that is a joyless and thankless task that many of those performing it must sometimes consider pointless. I make a point of sending an email to personally thank presenters when I realise they have linked directly to Bandcamp or my personal website. To let them know it’s not pointless or thankless from time to time. It is deeply appreciated. And it DOES make a difference. Like reviews in print or online.

Another great thing about Bandcamp is the immediacy of it all happening in real time. If I get 4 or 5 sales in one day, it’s usually a good bet that it’s because of a published review or radio play or an online publication or promotion and I can make direct links to what works. By not providing streaming alternatives for my music I hope that people will take a little extra effort and find the music in the place I choose to share it. Having and owning the choice about how and where to present your own product means a lot. 

I can’t afford to buy all the music I like. And I don’t have time to listen to it all anyway. But where and when I can, I love to support creators I really admire. It makes me feel like I’m contributing to the wellbeing and development of my own community. And in these crazy times, community is everything. Bandcamp is the next best thing to actually coming out to share live music at a live music venue. Look forward to seeing you out there. 

3 Comments

  1. This is great. The streaming/purchasing debate needs this sort of clarity. Actually, it needs this sort of agitation because there’s precious little examination of what streaming, as a cultural reality for consumers and its impacts upon working artists, means.

  2. Thanks Ali. Not sure how clear I was. It always starts simple and gets super long winded. Out of interest I googled who started Bandcamp today. I’d never bothered checking it out before, which strikes me as slightly odd. Wiki gives Ethan Diamond a net worth of $83Million. A lot less than Daniel Ek’s $2.6Billion. But honesty pays something.

    As a pojnt of interest, 3000 streams on Spotify (assuming they do actually pay the $0.006 p/stream that they claim, which is impossible to confirm) would make me $18 (minus any digital distributor commissions, which could be up to 30%, so it may need to be 4,500 hits for me to see $18 in my account, possibly 6 months down the track). That’s ONE CD SALE on Bandcamp (after expenses). So, a bird in the Bandcamp bush is worth 3000-4500 Spotify hits.

    Is this what corporate thugs are referring to when they speak of the “gig economy”?

  3. Great to understand this about streaming versus other share platforms and how that may translate in the pocket of the artist. Thank you. I certainly love to support the “wellbeing and development” of artists and my community too. I wish I could afford to more!

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