Bandcamp Roulette

October 10, 2010

Bandcamp is not a netlabel distribution system.

Due to recent changes at Bandcamp, which I wrote about over at PublicSpaces Lab, I have seen several times where free netlabel albums were no longer free because the artist or netlabel had reached the 200 downloads for the month. Given that this blog reviews Creative Commons music that is given away for free, I will no longer recommend any albums that are solely hosted on Bandcamp.

Please don’t get confused over whether I disagree with Bandamp’s business model, my disagreement is with the netlabel curators and artists who today are “kind of” giving away their music for free at Bandcamp. Free music should be free whether is is the first or the fifteenth or the thirtieth of the month. If a netlabel or artist would like to charge for their releases, then they should do so. I have no qualms about that. However, I do not want my readers to have to pay for a release which 200 people have downloaded for free.

Curators and artists need to understand that Bandcamp is not a distribution system for free netlabels.


14 Responses to “Bandcamp Roulette”

  1. I’m one of the artists who released all their stuff for free on Bandcamp. The BC policy change sucks dick, and I have nowhere else to go. My downloads are now homeless, so-to-speak.

    Instead of complaining, why not give us a few alternatives where to host our crap?

    Much obliged!

  2. displatypus Says:

    Leonard, thanks for reading. Two obvious choices are and SonicSquirrel.

  3. gurdonark Says:

    I agree that it is a very different analysis to determine whether bandcamp’s model is a good one, from the issue of whether an artist who solely releases there can be considered to have released an album for free.

    I agree with you that if the album is subject to a charge to the 201st downloader, it’s not really a netlabel release.

    I think that in prior movements, such as mail art, folks got worried if money mixed into the process anywhere. We in the netlabel movement see things much more simply:

    a. if you want to make money for your music, fine, sell it for money; but
    b. if you charge for your music, it’s not netlabel music, it’s music sold for money;
    c. we find a positive virtue in releasing music for free;
    d. we don’t restrict how anyone else releases their music–but if it is not free, it is not a netlabel release.

    Your new policy sounds like an extension of this sound principle.

  4. jtarch Says:

    In order to be called a netlabel, all of your music must be free? Since when? According to who? Thanks for presuming to speak on behalf of the entire netlabel movement.

  5. displatypus Says:

    @ jtarch, I know your comment is more directed to gudarnark, however let me comment on the assumption that netlabels are free. It’s always been that way. If you look at labels than span both worlds, they have have a netlabel section and a cash section.

    Also, take a look at the granddaddy of them all‘s description.

    “These ‘netlabels’ are non-profit, community-built entities dedicated to providing high quality, non-commercial, freely distributable MP3/OGG-format music for online download in a multitude of genres.”

    Non-profit and non-commercial have always been a key part of the netlabel movement.

  6. gurdonark Says:

    I cannot pretend to have originated the idea that netlabel music refers to free download music. A few other places you’ll find that definition include:
    The netlabel index:
    the folks at

    and I could list many other examples.

    It’s a definitional thing–nobody is saying you can’t release music for paid download.
    A number of artists, such as Mystified, to name but one example, release free on netlabels and release on commercial small labels.

    The notion of the “netlabel”, though, imparts free download music. Debates sometimes erupt on fine points, as with Thinner’s effort to offer commercial material, and the notion of some labels that CDs and tangible products can be sold on an otherwise free netlabel.
    I tend not to be interested in these kinds of issues on which reasonable minds differ.

    But jtarch, I’m anything but “speaking for” the entire netlabel movement when I recognize the very traditional definition that netlabel music means music issued for free download, usually under a liberal license.

  7. Simon Roy Says:

    I liked Bandcamp for a while, it’s easy to browse by tags, the interface is simple and straight to the point. It was hard to find true “free” releases (no e-mail in exchange), but I didn’t really mind, I’m used to dig hard to find material for my show. I’m glad I didn’t rely too much on Bandcamp, many links that I have posted would sometime no longer provide “free” music.

    I would be very curious to hear from 12rec. They made the switch entirely to Bandcamp, do they feel betrayed or still prefer the platform for their releases ?

    I use the Internet Archive a lot and make sure every year that I make a donation. I hope everyone remembers to contribute financially, I don’t want to imagine the consequences if they have to pull the plug one day…

  8. Kert Semm Says:

    I also like Bandcamp and I do rely much on it. Even the free music at Bandcamp will be charged, yet, Bandcamp will also further fulfill the expectations of music consumers (who want listen to it before to buy it) and show up some new models of music business in any cases. Anyway, and Jamendo (a lot of artists do share their music via Bandcamp,, some netlabels, or their homesite simultaneosusly; or having some mix of them) are special platforms to share artists` music. There are a lot of netlabels available around having their ground on wordpress and blogspot recently. Though a pity by this point, I think there is no reason to think of the death of net music. Our task is promote this music as much as possible. I think recently the CC movement is much more endangered by different kind of associations being closely related to huge music conglomerates (some signs are available around already). However, every artist who does search for its expression is worth to get released and reviewed anyway. Commercially or as free output.

  9. Edwin Says:

    Why not just host your stuff on soundcloud? and allow a free download? I can hardly get anybody to download my album – even for free. But Bandcamp does have a nifty shopping cart system and big servers. I dunno. I used to make websites for $2,500 and old clients expected that to be the case forever. I increased my price and the quality of client has gone up. Mostly professionals now who have the money to pay and on time. I guess bandcamp is learning that they maybe should have charged at least a bit up front – like soundcloud. Be interesting if they survive this “free” music onslaught.

  10. Edwin Says:

    Hm. Seems I subscribed to this BLOG by leaving a comment. Bit rude to ask after the fact. Maybe nothing is ever free. Now I see Bandcamp’s dilemma.

  11. roland Says:

    Funny, the same discussion (what is a netlabel and what not) has just been made (in German) on – as a billion times before I think.

    @Simon Roy. I know from the 12rec guys that they’re aren’t very happy and of course they leave Bandcamp now (luckily enough the main catalogue were still on archive / sonicsquirrel – and probably they will return there again.)

  12. gurdonark Says:

    Roland, you’re right–the debate about what is a netlabel may be subject to a billion discussions.

    With hindsight, I would focus my comment more on “I am all for free music in the netlabel world” and less on “whose wiktionary is the best one to define the word ‘netlabel'”.

    All the various parties to these “debates”,
    on either side of the issue, usually favor sharing music. My main concern is that people do voluntarily share their music, and that’s a good thing.

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