“What is a Sufjan?”

On the off-chance that you’ve been without tubes for the past 96 hours, on Friday Sufjan Stevens released his epic new EP, All Delighted People. It sold more than 10,000 copies in a single weekend, and that was exclusively through Bandcamp (it didn’t arrive in other stores until yesterday). We spoke with John Beeler of Sufjan’s label, Asthmatic Kitty, to talk about the release, Bandcamp, and the future of mankind.

Update Thursday, August 26th: The EP debuted at #9 on the Billboard Independent chart and #48 on the Billboard 200 this morning. That’s from three days of sales on Bandcamp alone (it was released last Friday, wasn’t available on iTunes or anywhere else until Monday, and the charts are based on sales for the week ending Monday, so yep — three days on Bandcamp and it blew right past Taylor Swift). Congratulations to Sufjan and John, who accomplished this feat with none of the typical six-weeks-of-preorders-counting-as-a-single-week-of-sales chart manipulation nonsense. Just an email and social network blast, and then strong word of mouth about a great record from a talented artist. OK, on to the interview!

How has the release gone so far?
It’s been excellent. Honestly, I expected some hitches – but nope, things have gone so smoothly it’s surprising. And it’s been very rewarding to see the feedback on Twitter, Facebook and the blogs. It seems like people are really enjoying the EP. Which is kind of the whole point.

You released the album on Bandcamp first. Why?
We really have nothing against iTunes (it’s probably the most trusted online music brand, and they have a sharp awareness of indie music), but we did go with Bandcamp first on this one. That’s because we believe each release and artist deserves a custom strategy. What has worked for All Delighted People may not have worked for another release. And for this EP we wanted to get the music to the fans as quickly as possible. We wanted them to be able to hear it in one place and then support it right away without having to work to buy the album, which is often the case with promotional streams. That one-stop-shop experience that Bandcamp offers is hard to find elsewhere on the internet.

How did you promote the release? What was most successful?
We sent it out first to our mailing list; they tend to be our most informed and dedicated fans. Shortly after sending the email we posted it as a news item to our site, then tweeted it, then ran it on Facebook. Our stats from the email were very encouraging but we honestly expected that. Hey, it’s Sufjan!

What we didn’t expect was the response on Twitter. “Sufjan Stevens” became a trending topic, not at all unlike Arcade Fire a few weeks ago. It was really fascinating and entertaining to watch the progression of that phrase as it spread throughout Twitter. I think it was at that point that people started asking, “What is a Sufjan?” – which, despite the wording, is a very valuable point to reach. Finding new fans is hard to do these days. And it helped that people were including “sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com” in nearly every tweet.

And frankly, I don’t think that kind of hubbub would have happened without Bandcamp. Being able to essentially share the entire album via Twitter is a powerful tool. You tweet, your friend clicks, and boom they’re listening to the record. If they like what they hear, they can buy it right away. That’s pretty cool.

Facebook is harder to track as we can’t see the context of the link but we did see a whole slew of web referrals. I appreciated that Bandcamp just works within Facebook. You don’t even have to leave Facebook to stream the whole album. Or click buy. Very nice.

All of the tracks from this EP can be streamed in their entirety on Bandcamp – no 30 second snippets. Do you think you lost sales because of that?
No way. I think it really helped that people could stream the whole album. My personal theory is that people can stream anything in its entirety anyway; YouTube is essentially a giant on-demand playback setup ala Spotify these days. Type in a song and artist and bam – you’re streaming right away. The question for record labels and musicians is how far the buy button is from that stream.

What’s next for Sufjan? Asthmatic Kitty? The music industry?
Sufjan is touring in the Fall. He personally selected many of the venues, so I imagine he has quite a vision for this tour. It’ll be a great show. Tickets are selling very quickly, so we’re urging fans to get them now.

Asthmatic Kitty’s Library Catalog series is a real undiscovered gem. It’s mostly instrumental so it’s hard for some to just pick up and listen but the music is top-notch (all eight releases are on Bandcamp). Fol Chen is getting a lot of buzz right now so it will be fun to watch that pan out. And we have some really big releases in the works from our roster-at-large.

I think the music industry has been in a state of constant mope since Napster showed up and this year is no different. But I think I can speak for everyone at Asthmatic Kitty when I say that yes, it’s a dangerous time to be a label, but it’s also very, very exciting. The ways in which we find and discover and support good music are changing so quickly it’s hard to predict what’s next. There will always be a “Napster” – whether it’s torrents or RapidShare or psychic hologram transmission (the next big wave!) – but we believe that fans of our music are good people at heart and will always find a way to support us and the artists. Bandcamp makes it very easy for them to do that, so we’re thankful that Sufjan’s EP was a part of what Bandcamp is doing.

9 thoughts on ““What is a Sufjan?”

  1. Could you clarify what he meant by this:

    “I appreciated that Bandcamp just works within Facebook. You don’t even have to leave Facebook to stream the whole album. Or click buy. Very nice.”

    Is there a way to integrate Bandcamp within Facebook?


  2. We (indie-monkeys) have known that Bandcamp was THE game-changer for us for a year. Great service, streaming, end to end friendliness…

    But this is the point at which it changes EVERYTHING for music. By handing total control back to artists who bother to host their audience in their own webspace, it actually encourages community building by big artists. Sufjan benefitted because his audience care, not because his label paid someone to pap pictures of him on the beach with a model… Instead of the strategy being ‘get 5 million people who care just enough to drop 99c on a download they’ll listen to twice’, it’s ‘be interesting, invite people who are interested to be a part of what you do.’

    Dear bandcamp, well done for being the first service that actually understands the relationship between a passion for music and the internet. While it’s baffling that every other platform has missed it, I’m beyond delighted that you get it.


  3. Kevin-
    It just works automatically…that’s what’s so great about Bandcamp.

    Log into Facebook, search “Megaphono” and you can see our compilation. Just click, and you can listen to it within Facebook….no redirects needed.

    Fantastic- keep it up Bandcamp!

  4. Kevin wrote:
    Is there a way to integrate Bandcamp within Facebook?

    Oh God I do hope not. Facebook is possibly the worst UI in the history of information systems, it has a security model that was designed by goldfish and it lacks purpose and mission.

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