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Paid Downloads: How to Stop Corpos from Feeding off Our Scene

Updated: 18 August, 2023 Created: 27 July, 2023 By:Andrzej Category: Blog
You see, independent musicians have always been ripped off left right and center. Do you as a fan want to be a part of it? Because it does not have to be this way – you can change this.

In this post I am not saying you should stop buying downloads. I just share my opinion on why – in it’s current state – it is not the best thing you can do if you care about independent music.

I want to help you to become a smart, aware and responsible supporter. Because sometimes the fan has to be smarter that the band.

In the title I say “paid downloads” but nowadays – at least in our dark independent scene – it became synonymous with “Bandcamp downloads”. Bandcamp is simply the most widely used platform.

If so, there is an important question that is begging to be asked:

Who owns Bandcamp?

I bet you never asked yourself this question when you happily paid their fees. So let me tell you.

Bancamp is owned by Epic Games, a game industry behemoth from the USA.

But who owns Epic Games? It is owned by Tim Sweeney who holds more than 50% of the company. The remainder is owned by Chinese video game company TenCent, which holds 40% of Epic Games.

Who owns TenCent you may ask. Well check wikipedia, some rich people who are on good enough terms with the Communist Party of China to be able to do business in their human rights and democracy loving country.

What is my point? That unfortunately your good-hearted donation (music purchase is in fact a donation) to an underground band also feeds billionaires and corpos.

It is even worse, as some of them are coming from not overly freedom-oriented places, to put i mildly.

We are talking about 23% or almost every fourth donation going to the nice guys in suits.

That is, if the label does not take their cut as well. I have numbers for this estimate, I show my calculations further down.

All this happens not because there is no other way, but out of convenience, habit and because bands themselves foolishly promote this model. Thus my a little provocative tittle.

You begin to see the point now, don’t you? Or is it just me who feels like a punk rocker working at McDonalds?

Why do people buy music?

Another important question to ask.

I have experience with people who were crazy enough to buy physical CDs I manufacture in my basement, while having “free download” link next to the “buy” button.

This was rather unorthodox concept back in the days. People still bought CDs. You can see how it looks in our store.

I kind of know why they do this as I spoke to great many of them in person.

Some of them collect CDs, but this is not their main motivation.

They do this to support the artist, to show gratitude and appreciation. They hope their money will further artists’ development and career.

Buying music to be able to listen to it is completely pointless these days. Everybody can listen online to anything, as much as they want and for free.

There is crazy abundance and overflow of music. Just listening to a particular song is a favour and an act of good will, given how much choice exists.

Why would I listen to some halfwit teens’ garage production if I can listen to the latest VNV Nation album completely free? Well maybe something tells me that this gibberish may one day turn into the next VNV.

Let us be clear: paid download has almost no real monetary value. It is a donation disguised as a transaction.

Apparently everybody is using Bandcamp for their digital sales these days. This is why I found it important to know who is behind this company.

Sometimes the bands have their own account. Sometimes the music is sold through label’s account – example: Alfa Matrix huge Bandcamp profile.

I guess third option is that the label has control and manages band’s Bandcamp.

I understand Bandcamp is extremely convenient, but it does cost money.

Bandcamp says 7 dollars for digital album download is the sweetspot, best performing price. This means that according to them (remember: they have the data) 7 dollars price brings in most revenue.

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You price it at 8 – less people will buy. You price it at 6 – more people will buy but not enough to make up for 1 dollar loss compared to 7 dollars price.

So I assume 7 dollars as an average price paid for a download in my calculations.

Bandcamp takes 15% cut up to 5000 US dollars in sales, then 10% if you go above in a given year. It is easy to assume 99.9% of bands in our scene never get out of 15% commission tier.

An artist has to make 720 single sales 7 dollars each just to go above 5000 dollars threshold that lowers the Bandcamp comission to 10%.

When they reach 5000, they give 750 dollars to Bandcamp. Paypal will take 400 or 8% on top of that (2.9% + 0.35c comission, 0,35c is almost 5% of 7 dollars).

Off your average $7 album sale, Bandcamp takes 15%, PayPal takes 8%. So 23% of our money does not go to the band. In the best case scenario. Sweet.

Just a few examples so it can sink in:

Band sells $100 worth of music, they get $77, BC&PP get $23.
Band sells $500 worth of music, they get $382, BC&PP get $118.
Band sells $2000 worth of music, they get $1460, BC&PP get $540.
Band sells $5000 worth of music, they get $3850, BC&PP get $1150.

So nearly every fourth person who bought actually supported not the band, but Bandcamp and Paypal.

I understand that community on Bandcamp can drive some sales through recommendations. Bandcamp itself claims that 30% of monthly sales come from Bandcamp’s ecosystem itself.

Of course it is not automatic or guaranteed, but according to them – doable. How?

All you need to do is to “tell your Facebook friends and Twitter followers they can follow you on Bandcamp”. Or “add a follow button to your website”. Simple, huh?

So this is how you conquer the music business…

In layman’s terms: you need to advertise your Bandcamp releases using your own channels in order to get sales. Was it not supposed to generate sales itself?

What will happen if you don’t do the above, if you do not advertise?

Thankfully, it is very easy to check. Create a Bandcamp account, upload your music, fill all the tags and wait.

My guess is you’ll wait for a good while, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

But what if you are managing multiple artists making sales in excess of 5000 dollars? Bandcamp fees can go into tens of thousands. This is fans’ money literally down the drain.

So far we are talking about the best case scenario, when the band itself controls the Bandcamp sales. But oftentimes their labels do.

What does it mean? That most likely the label takes their cut and band is left with even less.

Everyone is happy, so why do I care?

Because as a fan I care about bands, music and the scene. I do not care about labels, PayPal, Bandcamp and their respective billionaire and corporate owners.

Fans who buy downloads effectively make a donation, leave you a tip. They can listen as much as they want online. There is Bandcamp, Youtube, Spotify and whatnot.

They do buy, because they want their money go to the band. It is a voluntary act of support and gratitude, not a purchase.

Giving 23% of that donation to Bandcamp and Paypal, and then another cut to the label is not a particularly good deal. Neither for fans, nor for the bands.

I think it is simply immoral in this small and underground scene of ours. I am fine with you thinking otherwise.

Sales fixation, a common problem

Bands themselves promote this current system and the sickness starts very early on in their career.

I met upcoming musicians who were fixated on these small time Bandcamp sales.

It was the Holy Grail to them.

They were making just a couple of hundreds of euros tops (200-300) off a fresh release, but still it was immensely important to them. They were not living in poor countries where such money could matter.

They were ready to sacrifice opportunities to be heard and known in order to make more sales that changed nothing in their career.

They were doing foolish things to get those damn sales, things that jeopardised their development.

These guys were full of shit with ideas that giving people a free download means that they are not big enough, that they are not stars. Well they were not and still aren’t.

If the bands themselves send this message, that buying these downloads is the most important thing, the fans do follow.

They like the band, they want to please them. If this is all you need – here you go, here is my tenner. Good luck!

By giving the man this tenner for the download you stroke his ego a bit, but you do not further his career. You give him a fish, not a fishing rod. He feels good for a while, but he is not moving forward.

As a responsible fan you should save the bands from their own stupidity. No, your ten euro Bandcamp purchase is not the best thing you can do, even if the band says so.

It is not easy to be a smart musician these days, but it is also not easy to be a smart fan either.

How to be a smart supporter of a band

I believe that direct donation is the best way to support a band financially. In the current system buying digital downloads is an ineffective and wasteful way.

Transactional costs are too high because of Bandcamp fees and because PayPal’s fees are particularly punishing on small (like a couple of euro) transaction, as 0.35c fee is a large percentage of small amounts.

So if you want to support the band financially, ask for their PayPal account email and donate directly without bothering with the symbolic act of download purchase.

Donate larger amounts less frequently as this means larger percentage of your donation will reach the band.

You see all these downloads or merch that bands sell are ways to make your exchange into a transaction, not a donation. Well what else than a donation is “name your price” next to the album?

The same album you can listen to in good quality without taking any extra steps?

It makes sense for both parties – bands and fans – to stop pretending.

Both parties will be better off if they do. Bands will get more money, fans will know their support goes to the band, not to some corporate middlemen.

I think bands are ashamed of asking their fans for financial support, try to make it into an exchange and loose a lot in the process.

Merch is probably even worse than paid downloads as it costs money to manufacture. Small quantities add to the price too. So the merch has to be very expensive to let the band get it’s cut.

Just think if you really need that crappy chinese hoodie costing 50 euro. Maybe just give that cash to the band instead.

Here is my free crazy idea: maybe you could email your new album to anyone who sends a donation? Use Wetransfer, you can send your release in mp3, FLAC, 32 bit wavs and whatnot. Why nobody does this?

Your fans will be happier as there will be a personal contact. You will be happier knowing that you fed as few corporate sharks as possible.

This is how you forge your fan base, by being up close and personal, not through some faceless formal transactions facilitated by corporations.

The best thing you can do to support the bands

As a self-appointed music promoter I can tell you exactly how you can make a real impact. By giving your time and your social media.

You see, if a band is ever to make living or real money out of music, it will be by playing gigs.

They will never get to the level of being paid for gigs if they do not have enough fans.

This is how you can make real and long lasting difference: by helping the band to be heard. There is no better thing you can do.

If you ask me if I want a tenner every year or a couple of posts with my music on your social media – I take the posts hands down. Every sane musician would do the same.

In the good days of Halotan Records we had a bunch of hardcore supporters that would help us to spread the word.

They were priceless. They were making things possible. They amplified our message and let the snowball roll.

Such people is what upcoming bands need, not money.

Being such a person for a band of your choice is something they will always remember. A personal relation will be forged with those early supporters. You will always be in the inner circle.

So by actively supporting the bands of your choice on your social media and other places you control you give them the most, and you give them exactly what they need.

Download purchase can be just icing on the cake, but real value is in amplification of their message.

Don’t be shy, give them some love instead of some money. If not convinced – give them both and see what worked better.

Show your love for music and I guarantee – you will get the love back.

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