Bury Your Credit Card
We recently had a training exercise at work which took the form of a quiz on various compliance topics. The quiz was competitive, with each player picking their favorite musician/band as their username, and answering questions for a chance at getting on the five player deep leaderboard (I came in sixth, right behind Metallica). There were so many people who picked Taylor Swift as their username, you could hardly tell who was in the lead. I imagine that even the players who picked the name didn’t know where they stood in the rankings. Taylor Swift is eating the whole music universe, one mega-concert at a time.
Bandcamp is one of the tools in fighting Swiftification. They offer editorial content that paves the way to new and obscure music discoveries. They make digital downloads and physical media accessible for even the fringiest of artists, but certainly for those outside the mainstream. Bandcamp is one of the most beloved internet services, but it is showing signs of trouble. Bandcamp lost roughly half of its workforce after the recent acquisition by Songtradr, following the service’s divestiture by Epic Games. The deepest cuts came in support and editorial. It goes without saying that this doesn’t bode well for the platform that music fans and musicians alike have come to rely on for music distribution. Philip Sherburne sums up the many concerns about Bandcamp’s future in a piece for Pitchfork.
Sherburne starts with the layoffs and departures, which he makes sound even more ominous than some initial stories indicate.
Bandcamp’s former executives, meanwhile, “all vanished on September 28, and no one has heard from them since,” says the ex-employee.
When I read this passage to my lady friend, she wondered if the executives had been taken out back and summarily shot, so bleak is that statement. The shedding of employees to boost the bottom line, and probably likely because they had a union, doesn’t scream confidence in the overall business model. What does this mean for the indie music industry?
And if Songtradr did implode—or, perhaps worse, strip Bandcamp for parts and discard the rest—the consequences could be catastrophic for independent music. Whether the death of Bandcamp came in one fell swoop or as a result of a thousand cuts, artists and labels would find themselves deprived of both a crucial income stream and their extensive mailing lists of supporters. Digital download sales would stagnate. More power would shift toward the major streaming platforms. And for listeners, it would become that much harder to discover strange, singular, unpopular new music outside of established scenes and communities.
Clive Thompson wrote recently about “solastalgia” and how it relates to online communities. “Solastalgia” is a term coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht, which refers to a type of melancholy brought on by a change in one’s environment. It’s a version of homesickness that occurs when one hasn’t gone anywhere. While it may be a first-world problem, music is one of my main hobbies, and a substantial change to the online music ecosystem feels tectonic to me. Along with potential changes to Bandcamp, it seems fees are going up on Discogs, potentially signaling a sale of the service. Since those are two of my most frequently used internet services related to music, another acquisition could affect my music habits substantially. That’s just as a consumer. Particularly in the case of Bandcamp, the artists would surely be impacted by any degradation in the platform even more strongly.
Sherburne is honest in his pessimism.
It’s another reminder that the independent music ecosystem is far more fragile than anyone would like to admit.
It is fragile indeed.
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