Bandcamp should be Substack for musicians

I’m sure someone else has written this, but it’s on my mind, so…

I’m waiting and hoping for some major musical artist to say, “Screw this. I’m taking my music off all of the streaming services, and instead will sell it from my website and on Bandcamp.” I don’t understand why this hasn’t happened already.

Of course, many artists don’t have the choice as long as they are under contract with a record label, but there must be some artists of stature who are between contracts and who could therefore make this move. Maybe the economics aren’t what I think they are, but everything I’ve read about the minuscule payments the streaming services offer musicians suggests that artists who already have a following stand a very good chance at least of breaking even by selling rather than streaming; and moreover could set an example for others that might lead to a breaking of the streaming services’ hold on music.

And I say advisedly “hold upon music” as opposed to “hold upon artists,” because as has been amply documented, the way that the streaming services work has exerted enormous power on every aspect of the songmaking process, down to the details of composition. Just listen to this BBC radio documentary for the ugly, ugly details. For instance, because listeners have to stick with a song for 30 seconds on Spotify in order for the artists to get paid, some writers are putting the choruses at the beginning of songs in order to grab people’s attention right away. The very idea of a song building slowly to a climax, or taking an unexpected turn partway through, has become a financial impossibility. In other words, the streaming services are Taylorizing everything about the music industry, which was headed in a Taylorized direction anyway. (Seventy-two songwriters worked on the assembly line called Beyoncé’s Lemonade.) 

And yet, with Bandcamp and, in a somewhat different way, SoundCloud, we have options to do things differently — and thereby to preserve the integrity of musical creation. Bandcamp in particular is well-positioned to do for musicians what Substack is doing for journalists: offer them a way to escape a broken system full of roadblocks and perverse incentives. I’m really hoping that a musical act with a big following takes a chance on one of these options. It will definitely be better for the quality of music and in the long run, therefore, better for listeners like me. Even if it costs me a little more money. 

February 19, 2021

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