Wk18: Bandcamp – taking MySpace further

MySpace is in trouble. In  the last month or so I have taken my opinion back from “dead” to “slowly dying”. But even right now, it has become a forgotten destination.

MySpace leaves a big gap in the market. There were many things good about it. Most of all is the easy way for people to hear your music.

Which leaves me to Bandcamp. I really think Bandcamp will take over much of the gap MySpace leaves behind. And it’s really good.

What is the gap that MySpace leaves behind?

MySpace made social networking, but it didn’t realise, like Facebook, everyone would get involved. It was a place for music fans. It didn’t really have much for those who didn’t like music (or stalking).

On the other hand, Facebook is not a music site – and doesn’t want to be. And people don’t want Facebook to be one either – it’s about more than that.

Which leaves music fans, and young musicians, with a gap.

The thing that MySpace did best was make music immediate. You could put your new track, or demos, up on your MySpace straight away.

Which is the promise of the internet – that direct access to fans. That elimination of the middle men.

But the internet is full of music. I have claimed, for years now, the challenge of the internet for music is not discovering new music. It’s filtering it. And for some reason, being able to get yourself a MySpace profile is the first step. If you can do that, it seems, you can probably string a couple of chords together.

And it’s true. Spending a few minutes getting your MySpace profile together meant you were kinda serious about your music. And the brand was a good one. You could say, hey, check us out on MySpace.

The other key thing is music itself. Right there on the front page. Pretty much every band. If you wanted to hear a song – one that didn’t need to go through labels, publicists, CD manufacturers etc – just go to MySpace.

So that’s what we need. A trusted brand for musicians. A place to hear songs. One that is easy to sign up to, with no fees and complete control.

And I think Bandcamp has it.

Bandcamp isn’t a social network. I would argue MySpace in it’s last years wasn’t one either. Bandcamp us a sales site.

The core of Bandcamp is you can sell your digital music on their site. And it’s not a store where everyone is grouped together, like in iTunes. Every artist gets their own profile page. And it has taken a decade of learning about digital sales and made a fantastic system.

First and foremost is the music player. A by-product of album sales, every song is streamed in great quality. And not just 60 seconds – the full song. It is something that iTunes would love to do.

And from there, you can embed any track. I love the embed service because you can make the player look like anything. From a simple play button, to a large, pretty album player.

Here is the big player

And here is just a button

And there are several sizes in between.

I am working on building several sites, and I am recommending bands utilise Bandcamp as their music player. It was the one killer thing MySpace couldn’t do – make their player embeddable. With the large range of options, you can integrate music on any site.

(Which is much better than Soundcloud and it’s annoying wave form. Who cares about wave forms?)

It’s also not a Flash player, and works great on Apple’s iOS products.

The pages look great too. Taking in years of learning, it is customisable – but to a point. You can’t create real bombs like in MySpace. But it’s a neat modern design. And you don’t have to know html or any code to make something look great.

On the money side – Bandcamp takes 15% of each sale. They take the first sale, and you get the money for the next 14. And the cycle starts over again (It is less for more than $5000 worth of sales per month). It all hooks up to a PayPal account.

Although this started as the core of their business, it is secondary to the player. MySpace tried several times to integrate a sales mechanism to their site but couldn’t do it. Bandcamp have done it. If you like a song you hear, chances are you can buy it.

I say “chances are” because you don’t have to sell your tracks. You can disable downloads and just have your music up in their player. Not sure if this will keep Bandcamp in business, but it’s a good trick.

You can do a lot more with Bandcamp.

They will handle transactions for physical goods for you (you just pop them in the post). You can also add other digital products such as booklets as a bonus for digital albums. They even allow for hidden tracks.

Other pros – There’s a great stats page that can tell you what tracks people listen to the most. Every profile page has it’s own URL. If you wanted to be a metadata nerd and input ISRCs and UPCs, you can. If you don’t know what those things are – doesn’t matter.

It is truly international too. Any currency can be supported. And it takes PayPal and credit cards.

It just works.

But there are faults. Every profile stands alone – it’s not a site for discovering music on it’s own. Artwork size is small, which is odd because you can buy FLAC files for audio. There’s not a place for band profiles and info. None of the sales are chart eligible.

But the biggest con is you have to know your rights. If you have a digital deal in place – you can’t be on bandcamp. Is your label or distributor going to allow you to sell without them?

I have discussed this with PayPal and there is a possibility of splitting finances. But chances are your label would have to do it for you – leading to an accounting nightmare.

But for indie bands, why not?

Or, why not upload your demos on there? Why not just put any and all of your music online? Don’t need them to be downloadable.

Because there’s another problem approaching.

Streaming, cloud computing and all that is coming. But it is coming from above, with big businesses like Google, Amazon and Apple heading the charge. And you kind of have to be a big business to be in.

Major labels, major distributors – they can get you onto those services. But what about everyone else? And why do you have to go through someone to get your music online anyway?

That’s surely what Sufjan Stevens and Amanda Palmer are thinking. And a whole slew of indie Australian bands. Almost every indie artist I talk to. And we just need a couple more medium level artists to jump on board to really create a groundswell.

Bandcamp is going to be big – and in the next year. And I’m excited about it. It’s going to fill a gap left by MySpace. And it’s going to put money in the hands of indie artists. And it’s free entry – and a breeze to set up.

So get involved. The sooner this joins the public consciousness like MySpace did, the better it will be for everyone. Go check it out and if you’re a musician, get involved.


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Wk16: Up In the Air – the battle for Cloud Computing

Just a really good album with the word cloud in it

Amazon opened up a Pandora’s box a few weeks ago in the US. They offered a “cloud service” to their customers for music. A 5GB (or 20GB with conditions) “locker” where you can upload your music and stream it back to your devices. It opened up a larger debate about the legal issues – what new rules are needed in this new space.

But does it matter? Will technology once again speed past the ability for lawyers to make decisions. The conversations around cloud computing – are they the right ones?

And the fight over the rules for music – how does it effect the internet as a whole? Are we short changing the idea of the cloud for something as small as music?

Tech heads have been talking about “cloud” computing for a long time. But it’s been with us for a while now – in the form of webmail. No need to download your emails to a computer – it’s all online to be accessed from any net capable device. That is the idea behind Amazon’s service – for music.

Record companies and Amazon immediately locked horns. Amazon didn’t seek permission from labels to do this – they just did it. Whereas Apple and Google have been talking to labels for months about doing the same thing.

This has good and bad consequences. Good that progress is made by those willing to drag the rest of the world to it. Bad that the pressure is on and some snap judgements could be made in hot blood.

I will say this – at this level of business, and with the money at stake, it’s pretty silly to imagine any new business ventures involving music can be done without talking to lawyers. Which makes Amazon’s move much more interesting. Is it bravery, or bravado? Have they decided this is the way the world is going, and they might as well get there first?

It is the way the world is going, and it’s interesting once again that the fight is over music when it could be over anything. And it will affect everything.

Cloud computing should ultimately stream anything. Documents, videos, books and more. The ramifications for what Amazon is doing will affect everyone. The laws put in place now will govern all other industries.

It’s surprising that it’s left to music lawyers to clean this up. With the record companies barely the bones of what they once were, are they really the best team to be doing representing all content? Especially in their desperate state?

And like piracy before, will we wait another ten years before the might of the TV and film studios get involved? Or books?

Because here’s the problem – if the cloud is our only way to “own” content, should we be paying for each play? Or should there be ads in that space. Should everyone have access to my locker to see what I bought so they can advertise to me?

Above and beyond retail (like Amazon) and industry (like the Music Industry), who is protecting the consumers?

Another big pro for cloud computing is we don’t have to worry if we drop a harddrive on the ground. My friend Bret recently took his hard drive into work to copy a few things and ended up corrupting it somehow. It is this sort of stuff that will seem as hokey as those circular dialers on telephone. The idea of losing a file – ever – will be gone.

This is a wonderful thing – yet we still have to argue about red tape.

What the hell are these companies complaining about?

It’s a bigger issue than music.

I have seen some discussion about how “cloud computing” validates piracy. It seems a petty thing when the ideas around ownership are challenged.

Music is also in a unique place when it comes to the idea of ownership. It is one of the few “media” we are used to owning. For decades, the music industry has fed itself on the revenues of sales – music fans buying a record or CD outright, playing it as many times as they wish.

In TV and film, this is new. Movies still make money at the cinemas, and TV on the box (although that money is quickly going away). We as consumers don’t really have that sense of ownership with movies. Many of us are happy to watch a film and not buy it. And then there are years of video rentals. This is a bit more like what music companies want from streaming – a bit of money per play, not per customer.

Then there’s books. Libraries have started to stock e-books! And the idea of accessing a book for free for a read has been around for centuries. Should publishers get money per “play” in the digital era?

Everything in the digital world comes down to ones and zeros. Books, films and music are all the same. All can be placed in a cloud.

We approach each media differently, but someone will have to come up with a rule that fits everyone. And someone is not going to be happy.

Of course, it all comes down to money. A recent Guardian article (link) published that Lady Gaga made only £167 for 1 million plays of Pokerface on Spotify. A figure used by recrd companies to show how unviable streaming and the “cloud” space are.

But lets unpack that figure. These are PLAYS, not SALES. In the CD era, how many times do you think people would have listened to this track per sale? Once? Twice? Ten times? Considering how beloved she is, and how some rabid fans probably listened every day, lets say it was ten plays. That’s 100K of listeners for £167.

Still seems like very little, but Spotify only has 1 million customers anyway (as of March this year). Might seem like a lot, but last year Apple had 50 million. Facebook has 500 million. We are dealing with global figures, and huge internet properties.

Think of it this way. If there was ONLY a Spotify version of Pokerface, worldwide – what would the plays be?

Would it be 500 million users? Lets follow our above formula (one in ten Spotify users listened to Pokerface ten times).

500 million plays.

500 x £167.

£83,500 for one track.

Now forget it’s Lady Gaga for a second. Does that not seem like a kind of reasonable amount of money for one hit pop song?  We are supposed to be moving away from flash-in-the-pan one hit wonders. And Gaga – with many singles, touring, YouTube royalties, publishing etc – sounds like it’s leading to a reasonable pay day – not a ridiculous one.

But we are so worried about now. And now isn’t going to matter in a couple of years for music. Everyone else will fly by us, and we will still be arguing about rates and royalties still. I looke at Metallica’s continued boycott of iTunes and laugh. And wonder if the entire music industry will go the way of Metallica.

There’s still a long way to go. Amazon’s opening salvo has it’s limits. It doesn’t play on Apple devices for example.

But it’s a start. And it’s a start that could get stifled really early. And push back cloud computing for a few years – or hamper it with stupid licensing rules forever. Luckily, I have faith in the piracy and boffins sector to circumvent any rules. With any luck, industries will remain short sighted about technology loopholes.

So if someone doesn’t build lockers for us, we will start building them ourselves. The beauty of the open internet.

Technology moves on. We can see this now, more than ever.

Yet big companies, especially in entertainment, still try to hamper progress. They have their reasons – money, rights – but they are trying to hold back a wave.

It’s time to ride the wave, and while you’re on the beach metaphor, look up and see how wonderful the clouds look.

Spotify sales article in the Guardian – [http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/apr/18/sam-leith-downloading-money-spotify]

Apple’s iTunes number – [http://www.informationweek.com/news/storage/virtualization/225800173]

Spotofy’s One Million users – [http://www.spotify.com/int/blog/archives/2011/03/08/spotify-reaches-one-million-subscribers]