Cheaper than Free

A few months ago, we began tracking the starting point of every sale that happens on Bandcamp. In the course of looking at the data (which we’re using to help us plan out what to do next), we’ve noticed something awesome: every day, fans are buying music that they specifically set out to get for free.

For example, just this morning someone paid $10 for an album after Googling “lelia broussard torrent.” A bit later, a fan plunked down $17 after searching for “murder by death, skeletons in the closet, mediafire.” Then a $15 sale came in from the search “maimouna youssef the blooming hulkshare.” Then a fan made a $12 purchase after clicking a link on music torrent tracker What.CD. Then someone spent $10 after following a link on The Pirate Bay, next to the plea “They sell their album as a download on their website. You can even choose your format (mp3, ogg, flac, etc). Cmon, support this awesome band!”

We see these sales as proof that Bandcamp can effectively compete with filesharing and other free distribution platforms by a) giving fans a clear, easy way to directly support the artist, and b) offering them a better user experience. Our favorite recent example of this was an $8 sale that started with the search “milosh flac -torrent.” So here was a fan looking for a Milosh record, wanted a high quality flac, but didn’t want to have to sift through a bunch of torrent sites. And that led them right to Bandcamp, and right to putting money in the artist’s pocket. Beautiful.

A little more uplifting info to ring in the new year:

  • In the month of December alone, Bandcamp artists raked in more than one million dollars in music and merch sales (bringing the total to-date to $12.6MM).
  • 22% of those sales happened because of Bandcamp, driven by things like tags, the home page, recommendations, and search.
  • 40% of the time, fans pay more than the asking price for name-your-price albums.
  • 53% of all purchases are made by fans located outside the U.S. (Check out the countries in this recent snapshot of the live sales feed.)

When we first launched Bandcamp, the conventional wisdom was that music retail was moribund, and that artists’ futures were all about those terrifically lucrative tours you guys go on, supplemented perhaps by trickle-down advertising revenue generated by millions of listeners enjoying your tunes while doing their best to ignore ads for toothpaste. Fortunately, it appears there’s still a thriving community of fans who understand that the best way to support the artists they love is by handing them money. We aspire to present this truth as clearly as possible, and provide a service that respects both the integrity of the artist, and the intelligence of any serious music fan. Thank you for being a part of it!

How We Work, Selling Right Now

The Bandcamp team is spread out all over the world, which means we don’t have lunch together, we don’t bump into each other in the hall, and we don’t have impromptu across-the-table conversations. In short, we don’t do many of the things that are often considered crucial to any startup’s success. To make up for this, we’ve developed a fairly disciplined system of communication that includes a daily company-wide video call, a comprehensive wiki where all of our projects are documented, lots of one-on-one Skyping, and a few in-person meetups each year.

Our most important mode of communication, however, is our group chat system (we use IRC). We all have it open all day long, running side-by-side with whatever else we’re doing, and we use it to ask each other questions, share links, coordinate feature rollouts… all of the stuff that elsewhere might happen in a hallway or over a desk. But what this system lacks in eye contact, it more than makes up for by being fully participatory (nobody is ever left out of a conversation), persistent (conversations happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), and most critically, archived and searchable (so regardless of when you’re offline or for how long, it’s easy to read the transcript and get caught back up).

The coolest part of our chat setup, though, is that it also doubles as the heartbeat of the business. In addition to the room/channel where the team communicates, we have another channel where a script announces every signup and every music sale, in real time. It looks like this:

We originally implemented this site activity ticker for the simple reason that we wanted to celebrate every signup and sale. It’s fun, helps focus everyone’s energies on our core metric (artist sales), and acts as one of our warning systems when things go wrong (the few times the feed has stopped, we could practically hear the flatline tone from the heart monitor). But it also has had an amazing, unintended side-effect, and that’s that it’s a brilliant tool for music discovery.

For years now, we’ve all glanced over at the feed a few times a day, been intrigued by an artist or album name, clicked it, and discovered new music that we loved. At some point someone suggested that we should add album art to the feed, at which point someone else said yeah-we-should-but-this-is-ridiculous-we-should-share-this-with-everybody.

So now we do. Take a look at “Selling right now” over on the new home page. It’s a bit of a firehose at times (particularly Tuesdays around noon PST), but it turns out that “someone just paid money for this” plus “this cover looks cool” is a great filter. It’s kind of like lurking at the checkout counter at Tower on a Saturday in 1997, and the line has three switchbacks and the clerks are ringing people up as quickly as they can, but in this case the Tower is at least three times bigger, you can listen to everything that’s being bought, and the customers are from every corner of the globe. Yes, you may end up questioning some of their taste, but just as often you’ll go “Whoah, what is this!? This is awesome!”

Bio, photo, and links sidebar

You can now display your bio, photo and links in your sidebar. Above, for example, is what that looks like for Cristina Bautista. In the past, we’ve seen artists resort to placing their links and bio in each of their albums’ liner notes (where the information just gets buried), so we’re excited to provide an official, prominent spot where you can tell fans a bit more about yourself. It’s a simple feature, but there are some nice touches, like zoomable photos and URL prettification for the more common services (e.g., just “Facebook” rather than “http://facebook.com/goldparts”). All of this is of course optional, but we hope you’ll consider adding it, since a carefully selected image and a few thoughtful words can help establish an emotional connection with your fans (and in turn, boost your sales). Setup is done on your profile page:

U.S. Patent Application 12,973,070: Inter-net Shopping “Cart”

It’s true, every Bandcamp-powered site now has a shiny new shopping cart. You can add stuff to it, remove stuff from it, and even umm…check out. And yet we’re sincerely excited about it, and think you should be too. Why? Well that requires a story. It’s kind of long, but as you’ll see, that’s kind of the point.

The other day I received an email from one of my favorite artists announcing her new record. I clicked the buy link in the message (click count = 1), which then took me to her label’s (non-Bandcamp) site, where I was immediately redirected to a page prompting me to either log in or create an account. I clicked Create Account (2), filled out required fields for name, sex, date of birth, phone number, email address and home address, clicked OK (3), arrived at a page congratulating me on creating an account, clicked Continue (4), and then finally landed on a page containing her record (it was in the middle of a page with nine records by others artists, but that’s another topic). I clicked the Add to Cart button (5), but nothing happened. I clicked it again (6), and this time the page flashed. That seemed like an important clue, so I carefully scanned the page, and up in the corner noticed some oh-so-subtle text that said “Shopping Cart now in your cart 2 items.” The “2 items” part was a link, so I clicked that (7), and was taken right back to the log-in page (apparently I’d spent a little too much time looking for the cart link). I logged back in (8), was taken back to the product page, clicked the “2 items” link again (9), was taken to a cart confirmation page, changed the quantity from 2 to 1, clicked Checkout (10), and was then informed that I would be charged an additional £5.88 in shipping (incidentally I’d already changed my currency to USD on the previous screen). I clicked Continue (11), and then — and I swear I am not making this up — I was asked to log in again. I did that (12), clicked the cart link yet again (13), and was taken to a screen informing me that “This is currently the only payment method available to use on this order: PayPal Website Payments Standard.” Well all-righty then. I clicked Continue (14), saw that my quantity was still set to 2, not 1, clicked Edit (15), checked out again (16), saw the quantity was still wrong, and realized that instead of changing the quantity and then clicking Checkout I needed to change the quantity, click the Update Cart link and then Checkout. I did so (17 & 18), clicked Confirm again (19), and there, after 19 clicks, 13 field edits, two log-ins and one Ativan, was a PayPal screen. The saga didn’t end there (I still didn’t have the music, after all), but for the sake of brevity (!) let’s pretend it did and move on.

This particular buying experience may sound like an extreme case, but it is, sadly, not at all unusual. In just the past few months of casual music shopping, I’ve ended up on sites that sprung major shipping and handling fees on me only after collecting all my payment info, sites that required me to go through onerous account creation processes, sites that bungled basic currency conversion, sites that waited until the very end of the checkout flow to inform me that a limited edition item was already sold out, and even one site that required me to grant a Facebook app permission to do everything short of inspecting my underwear drawer before I could make a purchase. Throughout all this I kept asking myself one question: why’s it gotta be so damn hard to give some money to the artists I love?

The worst of it is that these sorts of hurdles don’t merely annoy customers – they prevent them from buying at all. If 10 of your most dedicated fans were faced with the checkout gauntlet described above, how many would make it through? One? Two? The result is that something as banal as an online shopping cart can actually end up doing something as catastrophic as keeping artists from making a decent living. Helping artists make a living is of course Bandcamp’s raison d’être, so when we set out to add a shopping cart to the site, we made it our objective to knock every last one of those hurdles out of your fans’ way.

Here are a few of our cart’s more noteworthy features:

* It doesn’t add a single additional click to the existing checkout flow. If your fans want to use the cart, it’s there, if they’d rather bypass it and check out immediately, they still can.

* It’s conspicuous. When a fan adds an item to the cart, they won’t be left wondering where their cart is or how to checkout.

* It doesn’t require an account. The cart’s contents are still remembered in between sessions per machine (so a fan can always come back to it, or use it as a wish list), but there’s no cumbersome account creation process for your fans to slog through.

* It uses location wisely. Once a fan sets their location, they’ll be able to see an item’s shipping costs up-front, view pricing in their native currency, and even checkout in their own language.

* It not only works across all Bandcamp sites, it works across custom domains too. So if you’re a label with custom Bandcamp URLs like digital.fangisland.com and store.omar.com, fans can buy items from both artists in a single checkout.

The cart is active on every Bandcamp site now; there’s nothing for you to do other than sit back and bask in the cha-chings. However, if you’re selling physical goods, please read about how combined shipping works – you may want to make a tweak or two to your shipping settings.

The final reason we’re excited about the cart is that it means we can now get on with the business of giving your fans more ways, and more stuff, to add to it. Please try it out yourself so you know what your fans are experiencing and, as always, let us know if you have suggestions for improvement. Enjoy!

Album Pre-orders

After you click play, below, be sure to click “HD” in the upper-right corner.


We’ve just made it incredibly simple to create album pre-orders on Bandcamp. You can give fans one or more tracks immediately when they pre-order, and then when you release the record, we’ll automatically email those fans a link to download the full album and we’ll report your pre-sales to SoundScan. Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Get the album as close to its release-ready state as possible: create all its tracks, upload all the audio (or as much of it as you have), add lyrics and liner notes, etc. You’ll want to keep the album hidden during this phase, but leave its tracks set to visible.
  2. Go into the album editor and check “this is a digital pre-order”:

  3. In the new “include in pre-order” column, check the tracks that you want to give fans immediately when they pre-order. The other tracks will be shown in the track list, but only the pre-order tracks will stream and download.

Then you just set the album to visible, save it, and you’re taking pre-orders:

When you’re ready to release the pre-order, return to the album editor, choose “release pre-order now,” and save:

Now all your fans who pre-ordered will receive an email with a link to download the full album, we’ll report your pre-sales to SoundScan, and fans who buy the record from here on out will receive all its tracks in their download.

Some things you may be wondering:

How do pre-orders work with physical packages?
If you want to include a digital pre-order with a physical package (such as the vinyl or CD version of the album), then you just follow the instructions as above, and in the package editor, make sure “include immediate download of album with purchase of this package“ is checked. We’ll then give fans an instant download of the pre-sale tracks with their physical purchase, and email them a link to download the full album whenever you release it.

You can also set up pre-orders for physical versions of albums that are already out on digital. Just set the package’s release date to whatever future date you like, and that’s that.

I’m in the middle of a pre-order right now (using the old, kinda clunky method, where I email download codes out myself). Can I switch it over to this new system?
Yes, but you’ll still need to manually email codes to the people who have already pre-ordered, and existing sales won’t be part of the SoundScan holdback.

Can I set my pre-order to automatically release at a certain time so that I can just go to sleep?
What, and miss all the action? This is your big album release! If you’re not up and refreshing Twitter non-stop and talking to fans and high-fiving your bandmates we respectfully submit that YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.

Please back up to the beginning. Why would I want to do a pre-order?
If your music career is just getting started, you’re almost certainly better off avoiding pre-orders and instead getting your full album out, letting people hear it, and building up your fanbase. It’s conceivable that someone who has never heard of you might pre-order your record on the strength of a few teaser tracks, but it’s pretty unlikely.

If you’re a more established artist, however, setting up a release as a pre-order can have a few benefits. First, it gives your biggest fans an easy way to make sure they get your record the moment it comes out. Second, it gives you a way to build up excitement and demand for a release, beyond just talking about it. And finally, it can increase the likelihood of your album reaching the weekly Billboard charts, since all your pre-orders are reported to SoundScan as if 100% of them were placed the week you release the record. We were as surprised as anybody to learn that that’s how the game is played, but hey, we’re here to help you play it.

Recommended Albums

Our favorite part of Filter Magazine is the band interview section in the front. Not for the interviews themselves (though those are plenty good), but for the little section at the bottom, where the band tells you about three albums that they love. It’s a reliable source of new discoveries, and each band’s tweet-length blurbs about their favorite records are always interesting and fun to read:

We see artists doing more or less the same thing on Bandcamp all the time. Danny B recommended Laura Shigihara, for example, but the link was in his liner notes where it was pretty easy to miss. Amanda Palmer recommended Tristan Allen, but did it by adding his album to her own account — not really ideal either. Better would be if any artist could make recommendations in a way that wouldn’t distract from their own site, yet would be impossible for their fans to overlook.

The recently-launched download page provides the perfect space to do just that. Fans only see it when they’ve decided they love your music enough to buy/download it (which also means they now consider you a trusted source), and while fans wait for their download is just the right time to send them off to do a little exploring. The download page also happens to be hit 1.2 million times each month and climbing, so recommendations there have the potential to drive a ton of new exposure to all the artists who use Bandcamp. Here’s what it looks like:

Setup is done over on your profile page, and looks like this:

We’re pretty excited to see how you guys use this. Personally, we’d much rather get a recommendation from an artist we love than, say, view an algorithmically-generated list of suggestions for a 30 to 39 year-old male who enjoys strawberry Pop-Tarts, recently listened to Friday from start to finish, and did indeed purchase /\/\/\Y/\, but for his brother. Enjoy, hope to see you at the SxSW meetup!

UPDATE November 15th, 2011: Thanks for all the great feedback! Per the suggestions of Makell, Allen, DJ Rotten HD and Creidieki, recommendations now not only appear on the download page, but on their own dedicated page as well (linked to from the sidebar). And as Martin proposed, we now notify you whenever your music is recommended.

South by Southwest by Bandcamp

If you’re coming to South by Southwest this year please drop by Botticelli’s on Thursday, March 17th between 3 and 6pm (we’ll be hanging out in the back garden). Talk shop with other Bandcamp artists, drink beers, and tell the team about the features we should be building and bugs we should be fixing. Please RSVP to sxsw@bandcamp.com. Hope to see you soon!

Speaking of SxSW, we invite you to listen to the 452 artists on Bandcamp who will be performing at the festival. We had a blast putting this together, and made some key improvements to the API along the way.

Game Soundtracks as Record Industry Bellwether. Also, Furries.

Something wonderful, and a little surprising, has been happening on Bandcamp lately. Indie game soundtracks have not only proliferated on the site, they’ve also been selling. A lot. The music for games like Super Meat Boy, Plants vs. Zombies and Shatter is often right up there on the top sales chart next to albums from artists like Sufjan Stevens and Amanda Palmer. This wasn’t something we expected to see on Bandcamp, and at first mull it seemed a bit odd. If you’ve played through any of these games, you’ve already listened to the music for dozens — or in some cases hundreds — of hours (damn you P vs. Z!). Furthermore, gamers tend to be dismissed as the sort of punks who would just utilize their 1337 skillz to get all their music for free. So what’s going on here?







We suspect the answer is pretty simple. Gamers, like any artist’s fanbase, are a passionate community, and when given the opportunity to support the creators of the music they love (and when the relationship is clearly a direct one with the artist), they jump at the chance.* Many people are undoubtedly buying the music to get the music, but a large portion are likely buying it to tell composers like Danny B, Laura Shigihara and Jeramiah Ross, “Hey, we love what you’re doing and we want you to keep doing it.”

And this phenomenon isn’t restricted to the gaming community. Right next to the sorts of great and strong-selling artists that we always hoped/expected to see (like Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Dub FX) are big sales from niche communities we never anticipated: dance music for furries, a webcomic soundtrack, and a student-produced college musical regularly top the sales chart. Their sales might not put them in #Bieber territory, but it’s so exciting to see these tight-knit communities defying the abysmally low expectations heaped upon this generation of music consumers and instead supporting the creators they love. These artists are already an important part of Bandcamp’s business, and we think this bodes well for the record business as a whole.

*How passionate? We recently got this email: “The game Curse of the Crescent Isle just dropped on XBL, which we did the soundtrack for and I was crushed to see that we weren’t able to upload the .nsf files as bonus material! These are .midi like files that you could get onto your modded Super Nintendo to hear the tracks played on the actual chip, instead of software modified. Nerds and audiophiles around the world would be grateful if you could help us out with this!” Happy ending: we whitelisted .nsf immediately. Disaster averted.