Note perfect: Why Bandcamp’s direct-to-artist subscriptions are a brilliant idea

In bucking the all-you-can-eat trend, Bandcamp could amplify artist/fan relationships while encouraging far more new music, says Craig Grannell
Note perfect: Why Bandcamp’s direct-to-artist subscriptions are a brilliant idea

In technology, it seems everyone wants a winner, a sole victor who crushes the competition underfoot. 

In computers, Microsoft and PCs won out, and people argue Android will emerge similarly triumphant in the smartphone market, having beaten Apple to death with a ludicrously expensive iPhone case. In gaming, there’s even talk we’ll one day see two out of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo slain, the champion standing atop its rivals’ corpses, bloodied controller in hand, while fans of the fallen forever echo Private Hudson in Aliens, quietly chanting: “Game over, man! Game over!”

Such certainty even pervades music. Assuming you’re not a scoundrel pirate, the argument is that everyone in the future will simply pay a monthly subscription to an all-you-can-eat streaming service, in return receiving access to more songs and albums than anyone could possibly hope to force into their ears in a lifetime. Any suggestion an alternative might be a good idea will have you branded a colossal idiot.

Bandcamp chief executive Ethan Diamond must be King Idiot, then, because his company is trying another way: single-artist subscriptions. Joking to The Guardian that it’s "kinda like what U2 and Apple did, except that it’s music that you actually want”, he outlined his system. Punters will be able to subscribe to an artist’s output, and then gain access to whatever they include in the subscription, which can range from new works to an entire back catalogue.

Predictably, many people assumed Diamond had lost his mind from listening to too much loud music, which had turned his brains to mush. What kind of fool would splash out anything from £20 to US$200 annually for a single artist’s music, when the high end of that price range would get you the literally millions of songs on Spotify, and still leave enough cash left over for an extra large bag of jelly babies?

Spotify isn't the only way

Note perfect: Why Bandcamp’s direct-to-artist subscriptions are a brilliant idea

But what those tiresome responses showcase is a complete lack of understanding about the nature of how fans operate, along with a stubborn unwillingness to recognise that different business models can happily coexist. To my mind, Bandcamp’s idea isn’t crazy - it’s fantastic and necessary. I already buy as much new music as I can on Bandcamp, on the basis that my money is often going directly to the artists. It’s a far cry from throwing cash into the Spotify pit, the proceeds from which are largely divided up on the basis of popularity, leaving heroically battling smaller indies with pennies.

The way I see it, musicians who make money end up making more music. If artists can use the likes of Bandcamp subscriptions to get a more direct connection with their fans, the result can be a virtuous circle, money going to artists who then create new material, which reaches subscribers and keeps them happily feeding the machine. This is even more important for indie artists who, for whatever reason, cannot tour and so rely solely on their recorded output.

Naturally, like with the largely similar Patreon, not everyone’s going to emerge with the funds to make a living. As journo chum and musician Gary Marshall recently said about his own output: “Thanks to the internet I know exactly how few people give a shit”. (Incidentally, his music is on Bandcamp and well worth a listen.) But for artists, it’s at least something different from the Spotifys of this world; for everyone else, it’s a chance to get more of what you want, through putting your money where your mouth is, and get the satisfaction of knowing you’re directly supporting music you love.