Sometimes it feels like the entrenched music industry (embodied by the big labels) is doing everything it can to keep us feeling like pirates for wanting to download music. But no matter how much they try to keep the old model (“artist to label, label to consumer”) alive, it is actually dying. Things are changing, and artists have amazing tools for reaching listeners directly these days.
We, as listeners and fans, only stand to gain. One of the best tools on the scene today, for artists and listeners both, is Bandcamp. We have mentioned Bandcamp before, when Tina listed the site as one of 5 Resources Used To Find Free MP3 Albums For Sound Sunday. Today, I’d like to take you in for a closer look at the site from the listener perspective.
Bandcamp lets artists put their albums online and let users listen to the music right on the site. The artists selects what tracks users can listen to (usually, all of them). These are not previews or 30-second snippets, but the full track. And you can listen to it as many times as you want, without having to pay anything. The typical album interface looks like this:
Look at everything you can do here. The large button at the top lets you play the whole album. The playlist at the bottom shows you what song is currently playing, and you can also read the lyrics, skip between songs, and buy individual songs. The artist can offer specific songs for free – the first two songs in this particular album (Diablo Mambo) are offered for free, in exchange for a subscription to the artist’s mailing list. This is what happens when you click the Download button:
So you share your email with the band, but if you like their music enough to want to download it, you probably won’t mind.
Finding Music To Listen To
Okay, so we’ve seen a little bit of the individual artist interface, and we’ll get back to it later. But before delving into it in further detail, we need to answer an important question: How do you find stuff to listen to?
Bandcamp lets you directly search by artist, track, and album names, and even by lyrics. But if you’re not looking for anything specific, you can browse the library by either genre or location:
For example, here’s a list of artists from New Zealand:
Another good way to find artists is via Bandcamp’s featured music tag on their blog. This is a relatively new venture for Bandcamp. Once per week, a detailed review of an album is published. The reviews are well written and compelling, and span many different genres from hip-hop to folk to electronica.
The Current Activity List
There’s one more way to find new music, and it’s actually my favorite. Bandcamp’s front page has a running stream of music selling right now. The stream is constantly updated in real time, and watching it feels a bit like standing next to the cash register in a “real” record store:
There’s a big difference between just listening to music on the site and deciding to pay for it. When a user decides to spend real money on an album, that means the album is at least worth a listen. Spending money is a fantastic filter.
Name Your Price, Pick Your Format
It’s hard to put a price on something as intangible as an album. So, why not let the customer decide how much they want to pay?
If you look at the list above, you will see that the top four albums were sold for “more than the minimum”. In fact, they were all available for download for free, (a $5 purchase that is $5 over the minimum means the album was available for $0) and yet users opted to pay for them.
Other albums do have a minimum price:
Here, it is at least $10. But again, you can usually listen to the entire album online over and over again before deciding to spend that money.
Bandcamp is an incredible way to get to know new music. It’s how I found Marian Call, great Ukelele covers of Radiohead by , and lots of other fantastic music that stuck with me. This is clearly the future of music, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you really should take it for a spin. Let us know what you think of it.