Bandcamp begins charging artists for free downloads

Looks like another installment in the continuing story of “No Free Lunch” on the Internet. I don’t think it affects listeners, but Bandcamp is trying to get musicians who give away all their music for free to start selling. Evidently, the site wasn’t getting enough money from its cut of purchased music to pay for the streaming and upkeep of the site, since most of the downloads turned out to be from artists who were giving everything away. Nothing to take a cut from. Now musicians have a limited amount of songs they can give away. After that they have to pay.

300 downloads for $9 USD (3¢ each)
1000 downloads for $20 USD (2¢ each)
5000 downloads for $75 USD (1.5¢ each)

If they sell $500 worth of songs, they get 1,000 added to their free download allotment.

Here’s Bandcamp’s explanation.

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t change anything. I still like Bandcamp because it’s easy to embed in places like this blog, which in turn gives a lot of value to the musician because it’s easier to get spread around and potentially go viral. I can see where it might cause problems for a struggling musician though. How do you sell music when no one knows who you are yet?

I’ve heard from a couple of indie artists about it and one, The Venopian Solitude, whose music I reviewed in March, is unhappy (Here’s her take on it). She wants to give her songs away and not have to bother about money. Although in my opinion, her songs are already beyond the point where she ought to be selling them. She just keeps getting better and better. She’s looking for a free place to host her songs though, other than Reverbnation, which her school blocks, so if anyone’s got ideas, send ’em her way.

Aviv Cohn aka The Widest Smiling Faces basically took it in stride. He gets good value out of Bandcamp and said, “Yeah, it sucks, but it seems fair.” Obviously the service has to be paid somehow.

That’s the reality of the Internet that we keep having to face. Startup services might do cool things that attract a lot of users, but don’t actually pay for themselves. Maybe they have to do so to satisfy investors, or they at least have to break even. They might make drastic changes and basically sell out, the way TheSixtyOne did in my opinion. Or they can do like Pandora and basically pull a bait & switch on us, pretend to be free till they get us hooked, and then spring a surprise cost on us. I don’t think Bandcamp has done either of those things yet. Hopefully they won’t have to.

It’s a huge dilemma for us users and for the startups. There’s a ton of free content on the Internet, some of it amazing and very useful. But when the bills come due, they tend to go away. Either they make changes like I mentioned, or they just get exhausted and let their sites go dead. On the other hand, when they try to start charging for things, some other site is liable to spring up and start giving the same stuff away again.

It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out. Despite the piss poor economy, people still want to make and listen to music. The demand is there. If only we could figure out how all our broke asses can still eat and pay the rent. No answers here, unfortunately. Only questions.

P.S. I recently did an exensive interview with the Widest Smiling Faces which I will put on this blog as soon as I get a chance to edit. Stay tuned…

Note: Jennifer from Bandcamp just replied to this post, saying, “Just wanted to be sure you saw the update on our site – we took the suggestion from several artists to refresh free download credits every month, which seems to work for most bands who give their music for free on Bandcamp.” She also left a link explaining the policy in detail. (see below in comments)

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8 Comments

Filed under commentary, indie, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Bandcamp begins charging artists for free downloads

  1. Oh, this is a thorny issue! One can see how a musician would feel mightily pissed off about this. From the struggling artist “I can’t even give it away” now becomes ” I have to PAY to give it away”. Everybody wants something for nothing or wants to make money off the backs of musicians who are just expected to give, give, give. Ah well, this debate will rage forever. In answer to the artist you mentioned about a place for free hosting/downloading: try Jamendo – I used it for a project last year where I wanted to make a solo album for free download.

  2. Hey MusicMissionary,

    Just wanted to be sure you saw the update on our site – we took the suggestion from several artists to refresh free download credits every month, which seems to work for most bands who give their music for free on Bandcamp. For specifics, check out this page:

    http://bandcamp.com/features

    Glad you like the embedded players!
    Cheers,
    Jen

  3. anon

    This is yet another company taking advantage of artists on the internet. The worst kind imo as they pretend to be all about the artist, they SHOUT FREE FREE FREE to get every artist recommending the site to other artists and finally when they reach tipping point (when they can afford to lose the more intelligent artists who will leave out of principle alone) they do the switch part of ‘bait and switch’. Bandcamp knew from day one they would be doing this, and do it quite hardcore, they knew they couldn’t compete with established stores so basically undercut established stores, tried to steal artists away with ‘free’ and then finally became just like those other stores (or worse as with the other stores they were up front about it).

    There is nothing in Bandcamps new policy that says to me ‘artist first’, from the 15% cut (hella high) to the ‘we take your sales until you hit the target’ to the backwards tiers giving great sellers an advantage over the struggling (just like Zimbalam now does, another bait and switch company ). Ergo as bandcamp as it existed was ‘free and artist first’ and is now neither of those things, it is only the same company in name alone and all previous recommendations for that site/service should be revoked.

    And no a vague hint in it’s FAQ about ‘hey someday we may have to charge a LITTLE’ covers this. Personally I never believed them from day one, once I read that I knew it was coming and have never sold anything via bandcamp and will now remove my account I set up that I will never use.

    I suggest bandcamp artists leave and go somewhere more professional that treats it’s artists with respect and is if they are not stupid. Good luck finding one though.

    • “Good luck finding one though.”

      That’s the problem, though, isn’t it? What else is there? I think an artist just has to decide if Bandcamp still provides value. Maybe try a number of different services to catch the “bait” part of the bait and switch in as many places as possible? What internet service doesn’t intend to monetize at some point? RateYourMusic is the only one I can think of (and it’s primarily for music lovers, not an artist distribution site, though there is a little of that). Even if you have one person running it who is doing it for the love, there’s bound to come a time when they get tired and sell it to someone who will want to make it pay.

  4. Perhaps its time to do what people do with their banks in these shaky economic times: vote with their feet. By that I mean milk them as best you can until they’re not seeing to your needs, and if they won’t change to accommodate you, try someone else. Of course, modern-generation artists take for granted the ease with which you can get your music heard courtesy of the internet. Back in the day, the lucky few made money, but it was very hard to get noticed. The sad fact is, music is not the sell-able commodity it once was. For that, blame the likes of Rapidshare.

    • Rapidshare, Napster back in the day, Soulseek, etc. Yeah, I used to kid myself that wasn’t the case, but it’s pretty obvious. Maybe it was inevitable, but that’s not much consolation. Internet is in the process of killing my livelihood (newspaper journalism) as well, so I better have some respect. I have a feeling people will figure out a way to get paid in both industries, but it might not come soon enough to help those of us who have been doing it for years already under the old system. Fingers crossed.

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