Musicians Respond to “Pay-for-Free” System

On September 9, the music-hosting service (where a lot of netlabels and electronic musicians have made their home) announced a change in its pricing policy, specifically in regard to free downloads, which had previously been unregulated (a la the Internet Archive, at Subsequently, over a certain threshold, the musician (or label) would be required to pay for additional free downloads, ranging from three cents per download to half that amount, depending on the payment plan.

The immediate response by musicians was such that Bandcamp quickly revised its announced plan, providing monthly allotments of free downloads, rather than one initial batch.

I weighed in, after some reflection, on what Bandcamp might need to do next, and have since then checked in with musicians and label proprietors, to see how they’re responding to the change:

”¢ Thomas Park, best known for his work as Mystified: “the allotted download amounts should suffice”:

Basically, for me, the new configuration, with 200 downloads for free a month, should work out fine, as long as I keep my number of releases limited. The reason for this is that I get a lot more “plays” (streamed audio) than downloads. Unlike where a download is a click away, Bandcamp has a bit of a complex downloading utility. I think it causes some people to prefer streaming to downloading there. So, as things stand, the allotted download amounts should suffice for my purposes. Since I like the simplicity of the interface in general at Bandcamp, and also the ability to obtain flac as well as mp3 files, if desired, I think I will stay put.

Visit Park at, and listen to his retro-proto-electronica and his urban mutescape.

”¢ Leonardo Rosado of the FeedbackLoop netlabel (, who forwarded an edited version of what he’d posted at PublicSpace Lab ( “Bandcamp is rejecting the foundation of [Creative Commons] licensing”:

I started using Bandcamp because it offered the chance to serve FeedbackLoop Label purpose of collecting some donation / pay what you want for a release, in order to gather money to release physical editions (one of the objectives of FbL). What I think is that the main appeal of Bandcamp was the integration and offering of several different business models for artists and labels, which in this shady days of commercial music is the best idea to implement flexible systems, that can shift quickly and adapt to change. By simply “ending”the Free Downloads what will possibly happen is the loss of artists / netlabels that can in the future be using their Payed Services going after other services. And what is really interesting (from a negative perspective) is that Bandcamp is rejecting the foundation of CC licensing in music, which is their biggest mistake. When a lot of people is going for CC licenses in everything (music, writing, photos, video) Bandcamp is going the opposite way, embracing the Copyright system.

For a sense of what the FeedbackLoop label is all about, check out a recent Landrecorder EP, for which I wrote the liner notes, and the pianotronic work of Adam Williams and Rosado.

”¢ Diego Bernal, San Antonio beatmaker: “They didn’t go Napster on us”:

I have mixed feelings about it. Bandcamp is a great way to get your music out — it’s easy to use, nearly bugless (in my experience) and professional. Thus, I’m not particularly happy about it, but I think that in the context of moving to a pay model the terms are relatively reasonable, especially the monthly “recharge” and in light of the fact that downloading an album counts as one download, regardless of the number of tracks. As much as we all like the service, I don’t know that we’re entitled to it. There’s no right to Bandcamp, it’s just that no one likes to be surprised. There is something to be said about free music. Some artists, like myself, depend on the site to distribute our records. For us, it’s just about getting the word out, not making money. For popular, high-traffic artists, this change could pose a problem. They may have to reorganize, and I don’t know of any alternatives that are better, honestly. It’s certainly not unworkable, just potentially more inconvenient. I don’t like it, but I also don’t blame Bandcamp for doing it. They didn’t go Napster on us.

Check out Bernal’s Besides… EP and his For Corners album, which I listed as one of my 10 favorite free downloads of 2009. Visit at

”¢ Aboombong (aka J.C. Thorne): “For the kind of music I make, that is a good problem to have”:

I like bandcamp and will continue to use it because it supports my “name your price with no minimum” policy. I think Bandcamp has done a good job with their new policy protecting artists with smaller audiences while putting together a business plan that will allow them to survive and (I would hope) eventually make a profit without getting taken advantage of by popular artists looking to cut corners on a large “free give away” style promotion. As currently implemented the new policy will only effect a few hundred of their more popular artists. As aboombong is one of the artists right on the cusp of the level of popularity that would be impacted, I crunched the numbers to make sure it made sense to keep using the service. For aboombong, between 6 and 7 percent of people who download music name a price above zero with a range from 1 cent for an album (all of which goes to paypal, so I am not sure what the point is) to over 20 dollars for a single track (average about 4 bucks an album paid if anything is paid). In the end, when you factor in free downloads, I make about 25 cents per download (most of which are full album downloads). Since band camp charges $20 dollars for 1000 free downloads (2 cents a pop), at my current return, about 95 paid downloads covers the cost of 1000 free downloads (factoring in the 15% profit share that goes to Bandcamp). But, of course, that only becomes an issue when free downloads exceed 200 per month. For the kind of music I make, that is a good problem to have. For those who have significantly more downloads than I do and don’t want to go with a name your price strategy, well, there is always the internet archive. The short version of all of this…much ado about not much, but I hope it will lead to Bandcamp-like distribution replacing the current big-boys in the industry. Not too many time in the past has 85% of a sale gone directly to the artist. Certainly a step in the right direction.

Check out Aboombong’s Amnemonic EP. Visit him at

Read the Bandcamp announcement at

4 thoughts on “Musicians Respond to “Pay-for-Free” System

  1. And what is really interesting (from a negative perspective) is that Bandcamp is rejecting the foundation of CC licensing in music, which is their biggest mistake. When a lot of people is going for CC licenses in everything (music, writing, photos, video) Bandcamp is going the opposite way, embracing the Copyright system.

    I wonder if Leonardo could elaborate on this point. CC licensing is a way for artists to clearly state what they view as fair use of their works. I don’t see anything in Bandcamp’s practices that is inconsistent with that…pretty much the opposite, actually. But maybe I am missing something in his comment.

    1. Hi,

      first of all sorry for the late reply, I only saw this today. Regarding my argument, my answer to you is this one (bear in mind that this is my opinion).

      Analysing CC licensing from a purist perspective what you have is a system where the artist gives away freely his work for listeners to listen and redistribute. Now, for me the key issue is FREE, which means ultimately the artist that puts albums in CC licensing scheme shouldn’t expect anything in return, asides listening time. Well, Bandcamp by making you pay the Free Downloads (in whatever way they feel like – they are entitled to do whatever they want, and probably they have to do it in order to survive) they are perverting the spirit of the CC concept, by introducing objectively money into a part of the system.

      Hope I have given you an objective and clear answer. If not, just let me know.

      Best regards,


      1. Leonardo,

        Thanks for the elaboration. I am not sure the “FREE” aspect is at the core of the CC movement. To me the foundation of CC movement is more about clear communication between creators and users of creative material. The heart of CC says that the artist gets to control their art and let’s others know the precise nature of the control they have retained or given up. Sure, this can include things like “I am okay with you giving my stuff away for free.” But it can just as easily say…”I am okay with you making your own art with my art, but I AM NOT okay with you giving it away for free, or selling it yourself.” Both are CC licenses.

        As far as Bandcamp goes, however, what you are saying is different. You are saying that because an artist has decided to ALLOW others to distribute their music for free, Bandcamp should foot the bill for that distribution. I don’t see how I have the right, as an artist, to require someone else to spend money to help me distribute my music. Even if I want to distribute it for free. Even if I encourage others to help me distribute it for free.

        In fact, when an artist chooses a CC license like this one ( the artist is specifically saying it is okay for others to make money off of distributing the work as long as they attribute the work to the artist.

        Perhaps those that want to provide listeners with unlimited free downloads at Bandcamp need to make sure they use this kind of CC license so that Bandcamp can directly recoup their cost without having to charge the artist or even coordinate with the artist.

        Anyway, I do appreciate the concept you are promoting. At its core music is about sharing. The business of selling music will always be parasitic to that.

  2. p.s.,

    To avoid any misunderstanding.

    You, of course, point out in your comment that Bandcamp is entitled to compensation (even if that compensation perverts the process in your view). I guess I just don’t see their efforts to maintain a viable distribution system for artists as rejecting the core principles of the creative commons. Compared to older models where the distribution system took the majority of the money and artists were left with a pittance, it seems pretty CC friendly to me.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *