Oh No, Not Another Music Community!

Back when we first started working on Bandcamp, we had no desire to create another online music community. Like many fans, we were turned off by the way the noise in those communities often drowned out the thing that matters most: the music. So we decided instead to focus on being the best possible home for that music, setting aside many of the social features that seemed mandatory for any consumer internet startup at the time.

Apparently a lot of you were also suffering from thanks-for-the-add fatigue, because over the past year and a half, artist signups have steadily accelerated, and today we host a large and diverse pool of music. But every Bandcamp-powered site is still an island, and not surprisingly, one of the most frequent questions we now get is “How do I find out about other [industrial mariachi | new-age horrorcore | death ragtime | etc] artists on Bandcamp?”

When there were just a few hundred artists using the system, our answer was “Why on earth do you care?” When there were a few thousand, it was, “Uh, use Google?” But by the time there were tens of thousands, it was clear we were neglecting a big opportunity: the opportunity to leverage the power of every individual artist’s site to help fans discover new music — your music.

So we sat down and pondered whether there was a way to seize that opportunity without completely screwing up the good thing we had going. Could we somehow activate this large, dormant community while keeping the integrity of every Bandcamp site intact? We think the answer is an emphatic YES, but we’ll describe how it works, and then you can decide for yourself and let us know.

Starting today, you can specify your genre and location, and tag up your tracks and albums with relevant keywords, and fans can browse all the music on Bandcamp by those attributes. You set genre and location in the Account Details section of your Profile page, right here:

Note that location is geocoded, meaning every artist on Bandcamp will have a real location. Stuff like “Mars,” “stepdad’s garage,” “back of beyond,” and “the ionosphere” is fun and all, but only puts you at a disadvantage in terms of fan discovery. So here you enter your city, state, province or country (even misspellings are AOK), and we map that to a discrete, browsable location.

Tags are set on the individual edit pages for both tracks and albums, here:

and finally those tags are displayed on your track and album pages, just below your cover art, here:

When a fan clicks one of those tags, they’re taken to its page, where we show other music by you with that tag, as well as a sortable list of music across the system with that tag:

By clicking the “browse all tags” link, fans can browse by popular tags and locations, like this:

And that’s about it. Pretty simple and obvious really, but we think it has the potential to build a community in the best possible sense of the word, where every individual contributes to its strength. It won’t, of course, be built overnight. At the time of this writing, there are exactly zero tags in the system, but with your help (and the help of the screaming yellow nag-bar that you’ll see next time you log in), it shouldn’t be long before the solitary goal of these new features is realized: make every artist on Bandcamp more successful, by making it easier for fans to find you.

P.S. Search is coming soon.

P.P.S. If you’re one of the many generous artists who have recently released Haiti relief fundraising records, please tag your album with “Haiti relief” and we’ll promote the centralized tag page for it shortly.

Music as Artifact: Introducing BCWax

As I sit here reading over the specs of the new iPhone Jumbo, and look at the guy next to me gazing deeply into his Kindle, I can’t help but wonder whether Steve and Jeff’s ultimate vision for my living room isn’t a padded white cell filled with clear goo, with me suspended in the center, slowly poking at a sleek, silver tablet that dispenses entertainment, oxygen and waste management services. I have some vague concerns about the jacking-in process, but what really bothers me about such a future is this: what happens when my friends come over? Or my kids get a little older? How will they know what books and music are important to me, not just at the moment of my last Facebook update, but in my life up until now? Apple’s solution is likely to be a stunning, incredible, truly revolutionary user interface that looks kinda like the opening credits to Star Wars, from which you can fly through space and time, all the way back to June 19th, 2007, when dad’s Playlist-on-the-Go™ briefly included “Lip Gloss” and the eBook at the top of his Wish List was If I Did It (three year AT&T MobileGoo contract for friend/kid not included). I don’t think I’m just being a crotchety Luddite when I say:

The fact is, if you want to get a quick sense of what a person is about, you can’t beat walking into their house and spending a few moments browsing their living room shelves. The best stuff, like say, Edward Tufte’s 12-color-printed, foldouts-galore Visual Explanations, or Moldover’s circuit board instrument CD, or Cheech and Chong’s rolling-paper-included Big Bambu, always yearns to be picked up and examined, and I think, points to a basic human desire to interact with physical objects. Holding them can feel good, and a talented designer can arrange their atoms in all sorts of pleasing ways that are impossible to achieve with bits alone. Not that we should all erase our hard drives, chuck our routers out the window and replace our iTunes libraries with vinyl. But for the music and books that are really important to us, possessing our own physical versions of those works allows us to express who we are. And when those physical versions are well-made, when they are true artifacts, owning them becomes a source of joy.

This belief in the fundamental value of physical goods recently led us to enable artists to sell merchandise side-by-side with digital music on Bandcamp. Of course, it’s one thing to talk about the importance of offering a physical product to your fans. It’s an entirely different thing to actually do it. And so, in the grand tradition of eating your own dog food, we picked two great, independent artists on Bandcamp who already had strong digital sales but no physical offering, we produced physical packages for both of them, and starting today, we’re selling the first of these packages under our newly-formed unlabel, BCWax (more on its un-ness later). You can listen to and buy it right here.

Besides dogfooding, our other big motive for creating BCWax is to demonstrate what we feel is the right way to make physical goods, and hopefully encourage some artists to emulate our methods. Too many bands nowadays seem to go about the production of their merch with the sole objective of fulfilling fans’ perceived format preferences, and end up with lackluster products that offer no advantages over a download. It’s an unfortunate mindset (fueled by the rise in print-on-demand services) which in our opinion entirely misses the point. Yes, the world still contains a few people who want their music on CD or vinyl simply because it’s CD or vinyl. However, we’re fast approaching the point at which the convenience of digital files is preferred by everyone, and in order to sell, the physical version must offer something the digital does not. It must somehow be made into an object that every one of your fans has to own, has to hold while they listen to your music, and has to show to all of their friends. It must be transformed from a disposable good into something your fans will fetishize.

BCWax’s first release, Love.Life.Ukulele. by Sophie Madeleine, is just such an object. We hope you’ll check it out because above all, it’s wonderful music, but we also hope you’ll take a deeper look because this limited-edition physical package, which includes a killer silkscreened print, mind-bendingly beautiful LP, and high-quality digital download, is a meticulously produced work of affordable art:

A few words about what makes the package so special (best read while listening to it for free or with one eye on Sophie singing the first track, “Take Your Love With Me”:

  • This release, like all BCWax releases to come, was designed by Dan Stiles, the force behind striking poster art for Sonic Youth, Arctic Monkeys, Death Cab for Cutie, and Feist, to name but a very few. In the 1950s and 60s, Reid Miles and Francis Wolff created a series of iconic album covers for Blue Note Records, pieces which were themselves gorgeous and unique, yet clearly part of a whole. Fans were driven to collect them all, and ended up exposed to music they might otherwise have never explored. We aspire to this same lofty goal, and think you’ll agree that Dan (who we stumbled upon at last year’s South by Southwest Flatstock show, standing way out from the hordes) is the perfect man for the job.
  • The print is not simply a reproduction of the cover art. It’s silkscreened, uses an overprint technique that gives it a sense of depth and texture, includes a silver ink not present on the record jacket, is printed onto sumptuous, 100% recycled French Speckletone paper, and is signed and numbered by Dan. You will want to frame it, and you’ll be free to do so without any do-I-hang-this-jacket-on-my-wall-or-do-I-leave-it-on-my-shelf angst.
  • The LP is truly something to behold. Yes, it’s an LP. As in a record. As in vinyl. Not because it sounds better (though it often does), but because of all it allows from a design perspective. A size that allows you to appreciate, not squint at, the cover art. Full lyrics and liner notes right on the sleeve. A die-cut that lets you peek right into the label graphics. And a candy apple red disc that begs to be ogled, handled, and spun around and around.
  • This is an enduring object. The sleeve and jacket are printed onto heavy and even heavier paper stocks (respectively), so the tearing and edge splitting common to lousy vinyl production is not present here. The record itself is pressed onto super heavyweight (200 gram) virgin vinyl, which we chose not for audiophile reasons (though some say a heavier record sounds better), but because of the sense of permanence and quality that a stiffer, heavier disc conveys. When you hold it in your hands, you immediately feel that it’s worthy of the music it contains.
  • There are only 500 copies. In an age of infinitely replicable digital goods, part of the attraction of physical items is the knowledge that only a very limited number exist in the world. It’s just more fun to own number 37 of 500 than to own that thing that anyone can get by clicking a link.
  • The record sounds terrific. This isn’t a lazy direct transfer of the CD. The tracks were remastered specifically for vinyl, and the record went through multiple test pressings to get the sound just right.
  • The digital music files are included. The fact that 99% of the CDs and LPs for sale today don’t come with downloads is beyond comprehension. BCWax records always include the downloads, and in just about whatever format you could possibly want: 320k mp3, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, Apple Lossless, AAC high/low, or mp3 VBR high/low.

That’s the sort of package I want to buy from all my favorite bands. And really, there’s very little stopping them (or you) from offering it to me. Our biggest expense in putting this together has been time, not money. Time finding a great place to silkscreen the prints (like D&L Screenprinting). Time finding a great place to press the records and print the jackets (like Pirates Press). Time finding a great mastering facility (like Mr. Toads). Time finding a great fulfillment house (like…well, it’s the topic of an upcoming post). And time finding a great designer (that one’s up to you, but starting here worked for us). Now please consider thanking us for all the time we just saved you by grabbing BCWax01 before it’s gone, and then making something brilliant, putting it up for sale on Bandcamp, and telling us about it!

So, we’re launching BCWax because a) we believe in the eternal power of physical goods to delight, and to act as a legacy and means of self-expression for their owner, b) we believe software gets better when the people building it actively use it, and c) we want to demonstrate to others the kinds of goods we ourselves would like to buy. But there’s one final reason we’re doing this, and that’s to test out a different kind of model for a record label.

For BCWax, A&R consists of browsing through aggregate system stats, seeing which bands are exhibiting the early signs of success, giving them a listen, and discovering favorites. Production and manufacturing consists of taking an already excellent recording and coordinating the production of an awesome physical package around it. Distribution is Bandcamp itself. And the record “deal” is nothing more than a co-marketing agreement, where we recoup our manufacturing costs and then share the profits with the artist (but take no ownership rights in the music). It’s a model that diverges enough from a traditional label role that it seems wrong to even call it a label. “Unlabel” maybe? Yeah, OK, maybe not.

We hope you’ll collect BCWax releases because first and foremost, they’re great albums and great physical packages. But we also hope you’ll pick them up because you believe in a world where motivated, independent artists can make a living selling directly to their fans, with little outside help. Thank you, get Sophie’s record right here, and watch this space for BCWax02.

P.S. Bandcamp blog readers may enter the discount code “damn” at checkout to receive 15% off BCWax01. As in, Damn, we can’t believe you read this far.

P.P.S. Discount code? What? Yep, we’ve just launched discount codes in support of this release, as well as a merch management table and fulfillment partner accounts. Enjoy!

Discount Codes

You can now create codes (like “ukulele” or “snooki”) that your fans enter at checkout to receive a discount on your music. Discount codes can be valid for anything on your site, or just a specific track, album or package. You can make a code expire on a certain date, or let it remain valid forever. And you can see how many times a given code has been redeemed, so that you can create different codes for different channels in a marketing campaign (YouTube, Twitter, email, etc.) and easily track their effectiveness. All of this is set up from your Tools page, like this:

and fans enter the discount code in the checkout dialog, like this:

Note that you cannot create a discount code for 100% off (essentially, a multi-use download code). We may add that in the future, but no ETA just yet.

UPDATE December 14, 2012: We now support discount codes on all items with prices above zero, including items where you selected “let fans pay more if they want.” In that case the discount simply reduces the minimum price.

Merch Management Table & Fulfillment Partner Accounts

As promised when we first launched physical goods support, we’ve just introduced a simple table where you can see all your merch orders at a glance, mark orders as shipped, search for orders, or filter orders by date and shipped status. Head over to your Tools page and click the Physical Orders > Manage link (or click the new link in any of the “Cha-ching!” email receipts we send you), and you’ll see something similar to the screenshot above.

One of the best parts is that you can grant one or more fulfillment partners access to this page. You click the link to send them an email invite, they create their account, and then they can view and edit the merch orders page but not the rest of your site. It’s dead easy, and it’s exactly how our own fulfillment partner is shipping the first BCWax release. Mmm Puppy Chow.

Physical Goods Update

It’s just too cool seeing all the success you guys are having selling physical/digital bundles through Bandcamp. We expected the feature to catch on gradually, but here we are a little over a month since its launch, and the quantity and variety of goods being sold (and we do mean sold, not simply listed) through the system is astounding. There’s zombie ukulele jams on 7″, CDs in miniature pillow cases and TV dinner trays, music-to-fall-asleep-to in handmade packaging, bundles with silkscreen posters, t-shirts and coloring books, beautifully executed album pre-orders, and discs of jazz from Poland, ambient piano music from Italy, and post-classical electronic from Iceland. The average price paid for all these packages is more than double that of digital albums, and package sales are already 20% of overall system sales for December.

Oh, and congratulations to Malajube, whose limited edition vinyl EP Contrôle sold out in a heartbeat. Awesome.

Physical & Digital, Together at Last!

Once more into the Bandcamp mailbag:

“I like your service but want to add some physical copies, and it would be really nice to use your interface to sell these items so I don’t have two different payment UIs (I worry my customers may be nervous about that). Obviously I would ship the items myself.”

“Does Bandcamp allow us to sell physical items? So, allow the user to select quantity and give us their postal address? If you do, can we do stock control via Bandcamp?”

“Can you guys take payment for physical product via the same route as for downloads and simply forward the delivery details to your bands?”

It pleases us greatly to finally be able to reply, “Agreed, implemented,” “Yes yes yes” and “We can and do.” Starting today, you can sell both your physical merchandise and your digital music from Bandcamp, and better yet, you can sell them together. So, for example, you can easily create a vinyl, poster and download package, give your fans the digital files immediately, and then ship out their merchandise. It looks like this:

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Notice that we provide a simple, clear way to show your fans what you’re selling. They just click the thumbnails, and those expand into nice, large product images. Seems obvious, yet we constantly run across online music shops that rely on nothing but a 75 square pixel cover shot and a few brief sentences to help make the sale. For online physical sales, where customers can’t evaluate the product by holding it in their hands, it’s especially critical to give them as much detail as possible, and now you can do that quickly and easily.

Below the images is a package title and description that you can of course customize, mentioning things like any bonus items (such as videos, or PDF liner note booklets) or hidden tracks that are included in the download. You’ll also see that you can specify the shipping details, and even call out when a package is a limited edition.

checkoutdlog

When the fan clicks “Buy Now,” we display a dialog from which they can adjust quantity, view shipping costs, and pick the format for their download. They then check out, we start up their download, and send you an email with their shipping info and the details of what they purchased (for those who prefer to let someone else do the shipping, we’ll be launching fulfillment house support shortly).

All of this is easy to set up — you just click the edit button on your album page, click the “add” link in the new physical package section, and go to town:

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Note you can specify shipping and handling costs for different destinations and quantities, adjust the shipping time to give yourself some leeway or take pre-orders, and also manually adjust the quantity remaining of limited edition releases. We automatically update the quantity for orders that happen through Bandcamp, but if you’re selling at shows or elsewhere, it’s great to be able to change the quantity yourself.

Now, as anyone who has ever sold physical goods online is painfully aware, charging the proper tax is typically a colossal pain in the ass. In California, for example, there are literally hundreds of different tax rates, and if you’re in say, Los Angeles, and shipping to an in-state fan, the tax is determined by the buyer’s location, not yours. The usual solution to this issue is to allow a seller to set up a bunch of tax profiles, but with so many rates, and increases happening all the time, expecting the seller to create and maintain those profiles is just ludicrous. Many people end up throwing in the towel, and make the risky decision to not charge anyone tax, or charge all in-state buyers a single, flat tax rate and hope things just work out. Fortunately, there is a better way.

In Bandcamp, you go to your Profile page and tell us your location, right here:

taxloc

Then, when a fan enters their shipping address, we take a look at your location, compare it to the buyer’s location, and if taxes apply, we dynamically pull in the current and proper rate.* It’s practically invisible to you, just as it should be.

OK, that about covers it. We’re tremendously excited about this feature, and think that bundling physical and downloadable versions of your music will help drive sales from folks who might a) never pay for a digital download alone, or b) be reluctant to buy a physical copy because of the hassle of ripping or the added expense of a separate transaction. Looking forward to seeing the sorts of packages you guys put together!

*Dynamic tax lookup currently applies to U.S. sellers only – if you’re outside the U.S., you have a choice between charging a single tax rate, or none at all. We hope to improve upon this as we learn more about what’s desired/required (and continue working towards our advanced degree at the EU VAT eLearning center).

How Do I Download an Album? or Why’d the Layout Change?

“Would love to download the whole album…do I have to do it track by track, can’t I just grab all the tracks in one go?”

“I was just wondering if there is a way to buy the whole EP instead one track at a time, I might just be missing it.”

“I see the album download is priced at £2.99 but I cannot find a link to buy the album, just each song. I would like to purchase the whole thing at the special price, please show me how.”

“When do you intend on making full albums downloadable at the click of an icon?”

“I wish there was a download all option on Bandcamp.”

Our response to these infrequent, but still troubling, messages was always the same: “Just click the Download Album link, right above the track list!” That typically elicited a “Whoah! Don’t know how I missed that!” reply. We didn’t either, but decided to poke around a bit and found this incredibly interesting nugget:

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html

Turns out the Download Album link was in a blind-spot, eye-trackingly-speaking, so we’re now experimenting with a layout that puts the main commands in a visual hot spot, and seeing how that performs (we’re also stacking them to better accommodate the reading patterns mentioned in the above article).

While we were at it, we decided to address the problem that when a fan clicked “Download Album,” they didn’t necessarily know what they were going to get. How many tracks? In what format? Are there bonus tracks, or other items, like videos or pdfs? And what if you just want to say something personal about the download, such as “your cash goes straight to me, not Steve Jobs”? The solution is the new download description field, which looks like this:

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and is edited like so:

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Facilitating the Fan/Artist Rendezvous, Odds, Ends

sidebar2In preparation for some larger changes that are coming shortly, we now provide your fans with easier ways to get in touch with both us and you. Over in your sidebar, there’s a new section, “contact/help.” The first link (“for help with downloads…”) sends an email to us here at Bandcamp. It works just like the old help link in the footer, only it’s more prominent. The second link (“for all other inquiries…”) opens a standard contact form. By default, your address is not exposed — instead, the fan submits the form and we forward their message along to the address you’ve specified on your profile page. However, for the elite few who appreciate that a) forms are kinda ridiculous, b) stuff like “email me at tobias at bluemangroup dot com” only insults the intelligence of the script kiddies while doing little or nothing to protect your address, and c) it’s all OK anyway because spam filters more or less work, we provide the option of giving your fans a simple email link instead. And yep, you can make it a different address than you use for official Bandcamp correspondence. You set all of this up on your profile page, like so:

email2

In related news, artists with a lot of material up on Bandcamp may notice that we now limit the discography to display the three most recent releases, followed by a “show all” link. This is to prevent the contact section from getting pushed too far down the page, where your fans might not notice it.  We remember the visitor’s collapsed/expanded preference, so this change should just tidy up your site’s default state, without much impact on how fans interact with it. Browsing large discographies via the sidebar still isn’t ideal, so we have some further improvements in store there as well.

Finally, track durations are now listed on album pages (a little touch we’ve been meaning to get around to for ages), and the text color can be controlled via a new option in the design dialog, “secondary text color” (which also applies to several other interface elements — play around with it, then immediately change it back to its highly-pleasing default).

Now (Further) Hotting Up Your Music for the iPhonePodTouch

If you’ve ever had the extraordinary pleasure of reading through the Bandcamp FAQ, then a) thanks for your indulgence, and b) you already know the answer to this leading question:

Did I know that Bandcamp automatically adds metadata to all of my downloadable tracks?
No, you did not! And it’s totally bitchin’! We can’t tell you how many times we’ve downloaded music from some band’s site, only to bring it into iTunes and find that it has no cover art, a name like “Master 2 (final).mp3” and no information about who it’s by or what album it’s from. Annoying, but not really surprising when you learn what a pain in the ass it is for a band to add all that information to a track themselves. Well, we’ve got you covered. As you add information to your site, we automatically attach that data to the underlying tracks, so that when your fans download and import them into iTunes or anywhere else, they come with their title, artist, album, track number, release date, and artwork intact. Smoove.

Smoover than smoove, however, would be if we also included lyrics, track-level art, higher-res art in general, and supported international characters. And if all of that just worked, without you lifting a finger. It’s more fun to look at than to read about:

A detail for those who like details: there’s no point in putting custom track art on track 1 if you also have album art. Why? Because mp3 players expect the ALBUM art to be on track 1, so we put it there instead. By the same logic, if you don’t have album art BUT you have some nifty art on track 1, mp3 players will use that as the representative art for the album. Details!