June 3, 2016

Case Study: The Unexpected Rise of Bandcamp

How one company has managed to stay afloat in a declining industry.

When it comes to the term ‘profitable’, the independent music industry is generally not the first thing that pops into your head; this is not exactly a secret. Music sales, both in the virtual and physical world, have been on a steep decline since the concept of torrenting floated into the collective consciousness. Of course, this has resulted in a plethora of issues most predominately being the parasitic relationship between musician and consumer. Artists simply cannot afford to continue to make music without financial support from their listeners. However, listeners are refusing to pay. With the advent of streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Soundcloud, this stalemate has eased, but only slightly. For smaller, independently signed artists, these streaming services make little difference with their marginal payoffs (a reported $0.011 per play for Spotify).

Enter Bandcamp. Started in 2007, Bandcamp is an online music platform that directly connects artists and listeners. Since its conception, Bandcamp has been heralded by musicians and consumers alike as the prodigal ‘win-win’ that is so lacking from other music services. So much so, that while nearly all music outlets have experienced a decline, Bandcamp’s 2015 saw a 35% increase. So how have they achieved what was deemed the unachievable?

As per the norm, there are a number of factors that have led to this success. Bandcamp’s structure as whole, their unique relationship with their consumers, and their timeliness and adaption to the ever changing music industry are just some of the ways Bandcamp has achieved their success.

The Business of Bandcamp

Bandcamp’s predominant strength is the product itself. Its first point of attraction is its ability to please both sides of the creator vs. consumer conflict. In premise, Bandcamp allows musicians and bands to create a customizable web page where they can upload and share their music. Music plays on the site for free, and listeners can purchase content (either digital or physical copies), often at customizable prices. Thus allowing users to pay what they like for content.

The real kicker is that uploading music is free, with Bandcamp taking only 15% of sales and if an artist makes more than $5000 in sales this drops to 10%. This model is a far more manageable format for independent artists. With this method, Bandcamp has allowed listeners to pay over UD$147 Million to artists.

Good Guy Bandcamp

Bandcamp as a brand has achieved phenomenal success through a number of smart branding initiatives. The entire brand centres on the fundamental ethos that creators deserve payment for quality content. Their content marketing further reinforces this brand ethos. Bandcamp’s blog provides interviews, videos and creative content from their best artists, establishing themselves as both tastemakers and curators in the independent music scene. Any wandering internet goer gets the very strong impression that Bandcamp actually cares about music and the people who make it.

Through their hands-on approach, Bandcamp has fostered a brand community within the already strong community of the independent music scene. Bandcamp is ‘one of us’ as opposed to an evil, domineering company milking the life force out of everyone it interacts with.

Adapting to Change

Now, this may sound like some sort of fairy tale. In what world does a large body of consumers offer to pay for content that they could simply get for free? This factor is perhaps one of the most curious aspects of not only Bandcamp’s rise, but an increasing trend in the modern consumer. People are willing to pay for content provided that it’s actually good. Take a look at Netflix, currently one of the world’s strongest brands; they have built a multi-billion dollar company on online streaming – which is as crazy as it sounds. Bandcamp has followed a similar notion with providing quality content directly to the consumer for a reasonable price.

Furthermore, they follow the trends of their industry. With vinyl record sales taking an (incredibly) unexpected increase, Bandcamp provides an affordable avenue to purchase vinyl from bands. Bandcamp Vinyl sales saw a 40% increase last year. Bandcamp has also allowed the record labels themselves to set up shop on the site, allowing nearly all major players in the music industry (consumer, creator and seller) to exist in one co-operative space.

All in all, Bandcamp is a great example of how a brand in an abysmal market can emerge above the rest and carve a success story. Through Bandcamp’s authentic wish to do well by their consumer, their clear belief in sticking to their personal ethos and their ability to change and adapt to the market, they have achieved success not thought possible.