New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Do Fees Rationalize/Incentivize Communal-Culture Ecommerce?

The recent decision by bandcamp.com, the music-hosting service, to charge for free downloads has been met with understandable rancor. The site had situated itself as a constituent part of the Internet’s music ecology. Musicians and labels had made it part of their tech infrastructure, especially netlabels, which give away their music for free.

The relationship between Bandcamp and netlabels makes this development of particular concern for this website. A search on this site for “bandcamp” suggests how thoroughly the service has become part of the Creative Commons community, notably in the case of musicians like Diego Bernal and Y?arcka, and deeply non-commercial enterprises such as the multi-artist One Minute for the Sun compilation.

Bandcamp secured a certain elevation in the crowded field of music-hosting services, and then it went and changed the rules — and not one of those semi-cursory mutual-agreement notices, like when Apple changes its iTunes Store terms of services what seems like several times a week.

A September 9 post on its blog (blog.bandcamp.com) introduced a new system in which only a set number of free downloads would be available per user, this in stark contrast with what had been the case, a system that allowed unlimited downloads. The decision wasn’t surprising. Downloads require bandwidth and infrastructure, and bandwidth and infrastructure cost money.

What was a surprise was Bandcamp’s surprise. This is the opening graph of that notice:

Our hope was that free downloading might be highest amongst the artists who were also selling the most ”“ for example, a band giving away a track or two in promotion of a paid album. That way, the revenue share on the artist’s sales would naturally cover the costs associated with the streaming, support and storage of their freebies.

Given the preponderance of free on the Internet, from YouTube to the Internet Archive (aka archive.org), it seems peculiar that the people who put together Bandcamp expected free solely to be used as a kind of loss-leading promotional opportunity.

David Dufresne (of bandzoogle.com, a “band website platform” whose business is not dissimilar to that of Bandcamp) summed up the issue well in a response to a story at hypebot.com:

I think the major grudge that some people hold against their latest announcements is that they built their customer base of tens of thousands around a VC-money-fueled free service, offering little transparency as to how they would end up monetizing (probably wasn’t clear to the founders either, as they got started). Only after people had invested time and resources in building and promoting their Bandcamp page do they find out how much it will cost them.

In other words, it seems like the real loss-leader here was Bandcamp’s own: allow the free downloads for a long time, build a participatory audience, and then begin charging a fee. Before and after the Bandcamp decision, musicians host files on Bandcamp, collect them as albums, and charge what they want for downloads, along a sliding scale (a la Radiohead’s milestone release, In Rainbows) from zero to whatever the consumer’s heart desired and wallet allowed. The difference is that members now have a set number of free downloads, after which they have to pay to allow additional free downloads, pricing ranging from three cents (U.S.) to half that, depending on how many credits are purchased.

On Twitter, musician @joshwoodward noted:

WTG, BandCamp – with your new pricing, it’d only have cost me $39,000 to give my music away for free through you.

A commenter on Jason Sigal’s freemusicarchive.org writeup said:

Blaming us for using what they offered. I just thought that was unfair

The comment was in response to this section of the Bandcamp announcement:

It’s obviously unfair to burden every Bandcamp artist with the costs of a few outliers giving away hundreds of thousands of free downloads, so we’re making some changes to button that up.

And musician Phil Wilkerson over at his blog (philwilkerson.wordpress.com) wrote:

The romance with Bandcamp is over for me. I won’t be recommending Bandcamp to my friends or to other artists. In fact, I will have nothing positive to say about Bandcamp henceforth. You have to wonder about their business acumen as well. Bandcamp has denied themselves an important way of generating site traffic and positive vibes and goodwill from the Creative Commons community. They have virtually spit in the face of the Creative Commons artists and netlabels who have driven traffic to their site.

The situation is unfortunate, to the extent that Bandcamp even revised its revision; instead of 200 free downloads, each account will get 200 free downloads per month (in addition, there are incentives).

What happens next at Bandcamp will be interesting to observe. Will pageviews and usage drop significantly? If they do, will the decrease in free-related traffic offset such drops? Will someone finally, as musician and netlabel administrator @hecanjog suggested, “[build] a front-end to archive.org as wonderful and slick as bandcamp.com”?

One of the issues with Bandcamp’s switch is how it treats all accounts equally, even though 200 free downloads for an individual artist’s page doesn’t correlate with 200 free downloads for a label’s page. There’s also no apparent easy way for users to offset an artist’s (or label’s) free-related debt. Bandcamp has, all these gripes aside, proved itself responsive to the input of its users. After capping a maximum upload size, the following addendum was posted on September 8: “Some Serious Ambient Artists have helped us realize that our thinking on this issue was very uptight, so we’ve modified our policy: once you’ve made a few sales through Bandcamp (totaling $20 USD or more), we’ll increase your upload limit to 600 megs (that’s like, one whole LaserDisc!).”

Anyhow, just as the Internet has introduced a wealth of micro-cultures in place of long-running Top 40 mono-cultures, I wonder if the same will be the case for financial interactions. Different people shop differently, consume differently, store their possessions differently. (I don’t know the background of those Serious Ambient Artists’ input, but it might have had to do with the fact that much ambient music is significantly longer than the average pop song.) Bandcamp’s system has many things to its credit, among them an easy “trade an email address for a download” interface, and the sliding-scaled, multiple-format (MP3s at various compression rates, Ogg, etc.) download system.

I wonder if the next best step for Bandcamp is to figure out how to provide a broader range of financial alternatives. For example, if I enjoy a recording, I might be inclined to, after the fact, donate a small amount of funds to allow for future listeners to themselves experience a free download of the same track or album. This is along the lines of Cory Doctorow’s manner with the free versions of his ebooks; he says that if you enjoy the book, rather than paying him after the fact, buy a copy for a library (“Cory Doctorow Aids Libraries with Donations-for-Downloads Program”).

As Wilkerson himself put it, the issue of what it costs to promote one’s music on Bandcamp is largely an issue of framing: “I will pay what amounts to a hosting fee. I am not opposed to that at all. I suppose I could look at Bandcamp’s fee as a hosting fee.”

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Leave a comment ]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*
*

Subscribe without commenting

  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

  • Field Notes

    News, essays, surveillance

  • Interviews

    Conversations with musicians/artists/coders

  • Studio Journal

    Video, audio, patch notes

  • Projects

    Select collaborations and commissions

  • Subscribe



  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
    • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org).
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

  • disquiet junto

  • Background
    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

    Recent Projects

  • 0548 / Drone Vox / The Assignment: Make a drone using just your voice.
    0547 / Genre Melee / Combine two seemingly different genres.
    0546 / Code Notes / The Assignment: Make music that includes a secret message.
    0545 / Unself-Awareness / The Assignment: Learn from feedback intended for others.
    0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.

  • Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 548 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts