Do your civic duty to musicians and music: go buy some music on Bandcamp tomorrow

This Friday, May 1st, Bandcamp is waiving their share of revenue for all purchases, which means every penny you spend on Bandcamp goes directly to artists (or small indy labels). Last time they did this, on March 20th, they raised $4.3 million for their musicians, “helping artists cover rents, mortgages, groceries, medications, and so much more”. Spotify, which is considerably more capitalized, gave less and is now promising to go “up to $10 million” in matching funds for organizations when users donate money on top of whatever they are paying for subscriptions, which is typical corporate PR, while Bandcamp should surpass the 3rd time they do this by turning over their profits.

Why use Bandcamp instead of Spotify or Apple Music? Because they are better. Musicians on Bandcamp already have a better deal than streaming platforms in terms of their share of revenue. Bandcamp is also the closest thing I have found online to ye olde indie record store, except there are no asshole clerks. Bonus. They have real live people curating things and promoting them on their blogs–there are daily and weekly options and cover a wide range of genres. I find things on Bandcamp that are frequently unavailable on other platforms, and I know that when I pay for a record, the money mostly goes to the musician rather than the intermediary.

Unlike Spotify and Apple Music, Bandcamp is also profitable while distributing a fair share to musicians. Apple Music probably isn’t profitable, and it is striking that while Bandcamp is doing fine during COVID-19, Spotify’s stock has actually declined. Think about that for a moment. In a time when people are locked in and craving novelty and distraction–have a look at how Netflix is doing right now–Spotify use has actually decreased. I think that says a lot about the streaming business model. I’ll leave aside the differences between machine learning and person-made lists of music recommendations for now, but as someone who studies music and machine learning, let’s just say I prefer the latter even if the “hit rate” for stuff I actually like is lower. Another point for Bandcamp.

Would I like to like in a socialist utopia where all music is free and musicians are cared for and not treated like bait for diverting revenue to rich peopled (along with almost every other category of worker)? Yes, I would. But since we aren’t there yet, supporting outlets like Bandcamp that are actually viable and a universal basic income for everyone seems like our best option. these are not panaceas–they are band aids–but they’re the good, sticky kind that doesn’t fall off easily.

And yes, there are other things you should do too.On a day other than May 1st, if you are able to make ends meet right now, consider sending money groups supporting restaurant and venue workers, venues, Indigenous organizations, shelters, food shelves, and organizations supporting people in your community who may not be eligible for financial support for the government (undocumented people, sex workers, people in the grey market economies, casual labourers, etc.). Here’s a good list for major Canadian cities. Find the people in your own city and make giving and organizations part of your bill paying routine right now. I’ll say more about that in another post.

Musicians aren’t special compared with other workers affected by COVID-19. Music just has a special place in my life, which is why I am paying attention to music especially. If literature, or film, or painting, or performance, or sport is your thing, fine, go support those people. For me it is music. There’s more to say on that score, but I’ll save it for next month.

So Friday, go buy some music on Bandcamp. I’ll post some of my favourites by then.