While I don’t deny the convenience of streaming music and video, I often am left wondering what these services are really doing to help the artists. Streaming, like most of the internet so far, is a winner take all better. It is good for Drake, Beyonce, and Post-Malone. Not so much if you are an experimental pianist from Argentina or Iceland. You don’t make much money. You don’t get as many plays as the superstars. And whatever money you get, it cut many different ways. Sure, some independent artists are delighted with what they get from Spotify. But not everyone is jumping for joy.
As I wrote earlier, we need to reward the musicians differently. I currently pay for Spotify and Apple, and yet I feel compelled to support the artists by buying their music. Over the past few months, instead of spending money on espresso shots, I have spent my monthly budget of coffee on music. And I bought it from Bandcamp; a company started by one of my favorite people — Ethan Diamond. It was while writing about him and the first company he co-founded with Iain Lamb, Oddpost, I met Toni and Tony, who became best friends and eventually to my current role at True Ventures.
I love Ethan because he knows what he stands for and why he has embarked on a mission. I remember my first conversation with him when he was kicking off Bandcamp — True were believers in him — he stated the why of Bandcamp very clearly. The company has lived in the shadow of its sexier and glamorous rivals for a long time. So perhaps it was a joy to see them get some attention. The Guardian ran an in-depth profile of the company.
“The growth of the company has been almost comically steady. For 11 years it’s a line like this,” says Diamond, holding his hand out at a gentle incline. “This year will be the first year where there’s a noticeable change in the growth rate, and that is because of the pandemic and the awareness that has been raised around the need for fans to directly support artists.”
As part of supporting artists who got impacted by COVID, the company waived its 15 percent cut of the transactions as part of special events organized the first Friday of every month. That has resulted in over $15 million going directly to artists. Spotify in comparison gave a $10 million donation. To be clear, when Bandcamp is enabling is not charity.
The idea of ownership is crucial to Bandcamp’s success, thinks Diamond, because of the connection that is made when money changes hands. “By doing that it makes [fans] feel like they’re part of that music’s creation,” he says. This is in stark contrast to streaming, an experience that is led by the listener’s needs, in theory – unlimited music at rock-bottom prices – but actually turns the listeners themselves into the product, by harvesting their data and selling it to advertisers.
This did, of taking a stake in the success of something you believe in, is an excellent way to think about fostering creativity in the future. I mean, why just music? We are all stuck with Instagram as the only place to follow photographers, but we don’t have any tools that put the interest of photographers first. Instead, it is all about the algorithm and how many ads it can push. This new digital idea of patronage — coming from an appreciation of the creator could transcend categories. I understand that people have Patreon, But that isn’t a purpose-built place to encourage a type or genre of art to foster.