Thoughts and links relating to the recent ownership change and possible alternatives
For some time, Bandcamp has been essentially the online music store for independent artists and their listeners (especially those who aren’t keen on streaming), but the recent sale to Songtradr and subsequent layoff of a large chunk of workers, which seems to have disproportionately hit members of the recently-formed Bandcamp United union, has some artists thinking about or actively seeking alternatives. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there doesn’t seem to be a direct replacement. While there are options for online shops, Bandcamp has several features that go beyond just a place to buy music. The editorial/curation elements, fan accounts, recommendations from bands that you buy from, etc. add a lot to the experience that doesn’t seem to be available elsewhere (yet).
Songtradr claims that they are “committed to keeping the existing Bandcamp services that fans and artists love,” but that statement is hard to reconcile with the fact that they have laid off around half of the employees. A representative from Songtradr reportedly told SFGate that part of the criteria for deciding who to lay off was “whether a similar function already existed at Songtradr,” which suggests that they intend a higher level of absorption and restructuring than we saw under previous owners Epic Games. While I don’t want to engage in too much speculation, I think it’s reasonable to consider what kind of company we’re dealing with in the new owners. A page title that shows up in web searches for Songtradr reads “Where Music Meets Data,” while a blurb in an Adweek article about a recent Songtradr deal with Taco Bell describes the company as “the world’s largest full-stack B2B music platform helping brands, content creators, and digital platforms find their voice and connect with audiences through music.” Taken together, this all sounds to me like a great recipe for enshittification.
To be clear, I’m not writing this to push anyone to leave Bandcamp. As artists, we’ve always had to deal with unsavory characters to get our music (or other art) out into the world, and we all have to decide for ourselves where we choose to draw lines we don’t want to cross, for whatever reasons we may have. I think Radio Free Fedi said it quite well on Mastodon:
“For many reasons there is a massive diversity in our agility, ability, stress, needs and resource[s] in balancing art, ethics and survival.
While platform vision may differ from one other, let’s try not to project our wish lists as absolutes upon each other as creatives or listeners.”
That said, there will be those who choose to leave, and even those who stick around may be interested in checking out alternatives.
I think the best solution, both to help provide immunity from these kinds of corporate shenanigans and in terms of flexibility, is probably self-hosting. However, this option certainly isn’t the easiest or most affordable, and probably isn’t feasible for everyone. For those who are thinking of going down this route, Jessica B. Kelly has written a helpful guide to creating a storefront for your music using AWS S3 and SendOwl. Another option here is Simon Repp’s free and AGPL-licensed Faircamp, which Meljoann has written a handy setup guide for. There is also a Faircamp webring (remember those?) as well as lists of Faircamp sites at the software’s homepage and Maxwell Volume’s website.
[Update: I have put together a sort of example directory structure with .eno files for building a Faircamp site of your own: fsa-faircampexample.zip]
If self-hosting isn’t for you, what follows is a list of a few other platforms you may want to look into. As noted above, none of these are direct, complete replacements for Bandcamp, but one or more may fill some gaps for those looking for something else. Although I will share my thoughts, this shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement or condemnation of any given platform for others to follow (unless you want to). Nor is this necessarily an exhaustive list of every possible option, just the ones I’ve personally come across or have seen people talking about on social media (mostly Mastodon).
Ampled – An artist co-op that works something like a music-focussed Patreon, or perhaps more accurately, Comradery just for musicians. While the co-op thing is a big plus, it isn’t designed as a music store. This isn’t intended as a criticism, as that isn’t the model they’re even going for, but it does mean that you’ll probably still need a place to host and distribute releases if you want to. Another point in their favor is the level of transparency about the operation which is available on their website.
Itch.io – As you may know, this is actually a game/software store, but they do have a “soundtracks” section, and there are already people selling/releasing music there that isn’t game soundtracks. Some helpful folks have even created tools such as Scritch, Blamscamp and Bandcrash to help with the process (note that these tools aren’t necessarily only useful for itch.io). One issue here is that there are certain account and project limitations that may be problematic, although at least some of these can apparently be lifted by contacting support. Also, the fact that it isn’t specifically a music store, and there are a huge number of projects there, means it probably isn’t an ideal way for people to find your music.
Gumroad – The last two points mentioned above also apply here, and being a general-purpose web shop means the final point probably applies even more. Of the two, I would also expect Gumroad to be more susceptible to future corporate BS, but I will admit that opinion is purely based on what you might call “vibes,” and I would have said the opposite about Bandcamp just months ago, before the sale to Epic. I will say that this platform seems to be bit more music-friendly in the sense that there are no default limits to number of projects, and the file size limit is much larger (16GB) for downloads with a listed price over $1.00. Free/PWYW downloads are limited to 250MB per file. Also, the “Download all” option they provide is only available if the combined files for a project are less than 500MB, but you can get around this (at least for paid downloads or small enough free ones) by uploading a zip file of all of the files in the project yourself (as an example for our purposes, all the tracks of an album plus artwork).
Funkwhale – Decentralized Fediverse music streaming/downloading. It’s quite barebones, and has no shop or anything like that. Each instance has their own space limitations, and some are pretty small. I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but there’s not much here to make any sort of “home” for your work. What it could do is give you a place for people to hear/download your music, or at least some of it, perhaps in combination with some other solution for the “home” part.
Ampwall and Artcore – I’m lumping these together, even though only one has actually launched, because they both fit a certain profile. The plucky upstart company with the visionary leader and DIY ethic is a romantic idea, but we artists have seen this shtick before, and all too often it hasn’t worked out that well for us. This may sound a bit harsh, and I will admit to a certain level of cynicism at this point, but I also think that’s justified.
Jam.coop – A worker co-op platform that hasn’t launched yet, but definitely sounds interesting. According to their website, “It will be 100% run by and for the benefit of musicians, fans and the people who make it.”
This list may be updated as things change.
See also: Ah Fuck, Bandcamp