Over the last two years, Bandcamp – one of the few places a musician can make a fair buck in today’s streaming age – has gone through two important sales. The first was to Epic Games, the company best known for Fortnite. And the second, just last week, was to Songtradr.
Those with even a passing knowledge of how businesses work will realise that a sale very rarely spells good news – particularly two in a row. More often than not, a sale speaks to a company in crisis, cutting its losses and selling cheaply while things are on the downturn.
Half of Bandcamp’s employees laid off since Songtradr acquisition
Bandcamp's new owner Songtradr fired Bandcamp's entire union bargaining team and then lied about it.https://t.co/vvi90H20B1— ???????? (@deerhoof) October 18, 2023
As Pitchfork reports, there’s already been a profound and concerning change to the company: following the sale to Songtradr, about half of the employees were laid off during a period of transition that descended into confusion and crisis.
Then there’s the woe signalled by Songtradr itself. A music licensing service, Songtradr claimed the purchase was designed to “help Bandcamp continue to grow within a music-first company and enable Songtradr to expand its capabilities to support the artist community.”
“Continue to grow”, huh? Laying off half of the staff doesn’t speak to much of a commitment to growth – and that bit about “expanding Songtradr’s capabilities” is bad news too. Why? Because Bandcamp was one of the few places on the internet where musicians could be properly renumerated for their work. It wasn’t just a way to discover music – though it was certainly that – it was a place where a fair share of the profits went directly to the artist.
Bandcamp Fridays, launched during the pandemic, was a scheme where, across the course of a single day, 93% of profits went directly to artists. There’s no real ethical buying or selling under capitalism, but Bandcamp was at least moving towards a model where artists could make real money, away from the tiny dividends paid out by Spotify.
Such initiatives meant Bandcamp was fair, but not exactly a money-maker. It was never designed to be – in its purest form, the platform aimed to support artists.
Its acquisition by a company that makes big bucks through licensed music is therefore concerning. Whatever Songtradr’s “capabilities” are, and whatever changes are forthcoming, it certainly doesn’t seem like supporting artists is the remit.
Which is bad, obviously, for artists. But it’s also bad for listeners. Music lovers thrive in a scenario where artists have the “room to fail”; the economic support to experiment, and try new things, and go for broke. The periods in history where music has been at its most exciting are the periods in history where there’s been a proper flow of capital.
And that’s not what we’re looking at here. Far from it. Stay tuned for more updates as they come.