“Don’t screw this up.” That’s what Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond hears over and over again from artists and labels about the company he founded in 2008. In the era of plummeting revenue from actual recorded music, Diamond’s service has evolved into the information-age equivalent of your favorite indie record shop, a place where hundreds of thousands of artists and around 6,000 labels sell music and merch directly to fans.
“Somebody recently told me, ‘This platform was the reason I was able to quit my job and focus on my label full time,’” he says. “It simultaneously feels really, really great and it also creates this fierce sense of obligation and loyalty.”
Before Bandcamp, Diamond co-founded webmail service Oddpost, later bought by Yahoo! and whose interface influenced Gmail. When he launched Bandcamp, he and co-founder Shawn Grunberger simply wanted to provide a way for musicians to showcase their work that mirrored the simplicity of text platforms like Blogger. But Bandcamp soon carved out its own niche, thanks to low-key branding and top-notch sound quality, seeming less like a commercial platform and more like a mini movement: a model for how fans might ethically and sustainably engage with music online. The company takes a clear-cut 15 percent of all digital sales, which drops to 10 percent if the artist sells more than $5,000 in music, and 10 percent for sales of physical merch like T-shirts and vinyl.
A little over a decade after launch, the result is a thriving marketplace — the service recently reported paying musicians more than $7 million in one 30-day period — featuring artists representing the furthest reaches of the underground, from Indonesian screamo to East African DJs. (The platform has always attracted a diverse collection. In the early days, there was “for whatever reason, a lot of music from the furry community on Bandcamp,” Diamond muses. “And these records were selling more than music from significant indie labels — if they had added UPC symbols, it would have been charting music.”)
Bandcamp is, by nature, an indie-music marketplace, and Diamond says he doesn’t see the service working with major-label artists anytime soon. Instead, his focus is on providing additional resources, including a crowdfunding option for custom vinyl pressings and performance opportunities at the company’s Oakland headquarters, to the service’s loyal users. “We’re building out this fully integrated suite of services that allows any artist to manage their business and engage with fans in a single platform,” he says. “Stuff like merchandising, marketing, funding, commerce, communication.”
Bandcamp’s commitment to artists has brought about equally intense devotion from its users. As the indie metal auteur Trevor William Church told Rolling Stone earlier this year, “Bandcamp is like my life source.”