Bandcamp can save us all over again [Guide]

Here’s a complete set of power instructions for de-tangling its interface and finding love as a producer.

You’ve heard the sad stories of streaming revenue. You get a sinking feeling every time you load up Spotify and there’s some weird playlist of unrelated music. And meanwhile, you wonder if anyone is listening to your tracks.

So how do you get some of the joy back in music - and make your releases healthier? It’s not enough just to upload a release to Bandcamp and wait. The reason some people are raving about Bandcamp as a last download holdout is also because they’ve figured out how to make the platform work as an ecosystem. Here’s how to make that work for your own music - and partly by listening as well as publishing.

The last stand

Bandcamp remains the one genre-independent international music store that’s still built largely around music ownership rather than music rental. Everything you see has that ownership model at its center - pay once, and music is added to your collection. That includes owning downloads, but also physical goods like vinyl records and cassettes, each of which have their own loyal following on the platform.

This may seem obvious, but very often artists and labels complain about “streaming” when what really irks them is rental or radio styles of music consumption instead of ownership. So even when you’re streaming music on Bamdcamp, the services focuses on your collection as something you paid money to “buy” and retain. (There was a time when iTunes Music Store pushed the same aspect, but it no longer does.)

Crucially to our context here, this also means you have direct access to data about your fans and a direct line of communication - something iTunes badly lacked even before it went to a streaming model. Spotify and Apple give you a vague impression of that with some interesting statistics, but they keep most of the interesting data for themselves - especially Spotify, which uses data and advertising for their primary business model.

There are other ways to offer up downloads, but Bandcamp offers local currency support in many regions (so you get money in your native currency), it integrates well with social networks and search, it supports embeddable playback, and it has high-quality audio media file support. It also offers its own editorial side and community features to make your music more discoverable.

And there are a host of other advantages, too:

  • Fans can select prices (from free/pay-as-you-will to adding on top of any set price)
  • The fee structure is reasonably artist friendly - Bandcamp takes just 15% of digital revenue and 10% of merch.
  • You get paid fast, too - within 24-48 hours on PayPal for nearly everything.
  • Bandcamp doubles as a really clever, focused newsletter tool, notifying opt-in fans of new releases and giving you a mailing list you can contact directly. (Try that with Apple or Spotify.)
  • There’s excellent support for releasing back catalogs and (provided your fans have a credit card and you have a regular stream of content) even a subscription.
  • You can sell physical goods, too - even extra merch like slip mats or stickers, which you can easily bundle in.

This isn’t just about business models. Even with availability of dance music sites like Beatport or Whatpeopleplay, Bandcamp has become a place where people gather who love the ownership aspect of music and don’t want that feature of digital music to go away. By rejecting the venture capital subscription model, ironically, part of what Bandcamp has done is to build a community of people who keep faith in the old ways. In other words, just as you would go to a record fair to find other people who love vinyl and cassette, you can go to Bandcamp to find people who love finding music and owning it via the Internet.

That makes Bandcamp an excellent tool for discovering music, since you can easily jump down a wormhole of fans and other music they like, even just by starting with a single release. It’s a chance to escape the tyranny and monotony of big charts, as a producer, an artist, a DJ, a fan, or some combination. 

There’s a lot to Bandcamp, so I’ll start now with how listening as a fan is tied to finding fans for your work.

Fans versus artists

Producers using Bandcamp for the first time are likely to just assume they should go to Bandcamp for Artists, upload music, and wait for international stardom. That information is here:

https://bandcamp.com/artists

But in order to be part of a community and ecosystem, it makes sense to be a fan, too - to find other people with like-minded musical interests.  

Basically, if your music is out on Bandcamp - self-released, on a label, or both - you want an artist account. And once you have an artist account, you want a linked fan account. If you don’t already have the artist account, head to bandcamp.com and hit the friendly “sign up” option at top. 

Once you have your artist account, if you don’t already have a fan account, just sign up as a fan while you’re already logged in as an artist. Bandcamp will link the two for you, which allows you to best use both sides of the service at once. 

Ideally, you do want to do it in that order - artist first, fan second. But if you already have multiple accounts floating around, you can typically merge them. If you log into your primary account, then look at the top right-hand corner of the screen, there’s a drop down with all your account options. Choose settings. Under “Fan” you can add your fan username, and consolidate purchases you may have made from multiple email accounts. (Mine now has, amusingly, five different email addresses there I’ve collected over the years.) This will also pull together your purchases in a single collection, even if you made a purchase without a real account. You can also choose Linked Accounts to pull in multiple artist accounts (aliases, for example). 

You can use your “fan” account to promote your music production, too. There’s a section in which you can add a bio. You can also easily link to your artist page - but the music you collect can say something about who you are, too.

The fan profile. Consider making a fan account after your artist account, and putting useful information on the fan page, too.

Uploading your music

Sharing music is part of why you came here, so don’t be shy. Some heavy Bandcamp producer users will use the service almost like another SoundCloud, sharing live performances, sound demos, and rough tracks. Others are meticulous about only sharing fully-formed album releases.

The upload interface for Bandcamp is, to be charitable, a bit old-school. On the upside, while the UI is spartan, it is at least reliable - Bandcamp aren’t always breaking things with changes. Just make sure you have a reliable upstream connection.

Each music track can be no larger than 600 MB (or just 291MB when you first sign up, until you generate some sales). Video is capped at 500MB. Basically, Bandcamp is an audio site, with enough video support to allow you to add music videos, but not to do full, ultra-high-res audiovisual releases - you’ll want a different platform for that.

As an audio platform, though, Bandcamp is fantastic, allowing your fans to easily download lossless and lossy files, properly tagged. Make sure to include artist and track information in the title, as with any upload. From there, your sweet spot as far as format is likely to be:

  • WAV, AIFF, or FLAC (probably WAV/AIFF since few DAWs output to FLAC directly, though FLAC is useful on slow connections)
  • 44.1 or 44.8 KHz (anything higher is downsampled)
  • 24-bit or 16-bit. (24-bit files are retained in FLAC or ALAC downloads - the bad news being, then fans get large files in that format which may not make any audible difference in quality)

Another reason to love Bandcamp is, whereas other sites have onerous ownership agreements that sign away your rights when you upload, and/or muck with file quality (especially when streaming), Bandcamp maintains lossless versions in these formats for fans wanting to download.

Video can be uploaded per-track, which can be potentially confusing, as each track preview will then play a separate video. If you just want one featured music video, it’s best to pick one track to upload.

You can also add small add-ins - think PDF liner notes or possibly even an Ableton preset.

Sharing your music before a release

You’ve already gotten as far as what Bandcamp calls a ‘draft,’ once you’re in the upload stage. So what happens between uploading the music and when the whole album drops?

Release date: This field is exactly the same as listing “March 15” on a press release. It’s a non-binding announcement of the date you intend to put out the music to the public. It’ll stay on your Bandcamp album page, too, but it’s up to you to actually publish the album on that date, on Bandcamp or anywhere else.

Pre-order: This lets you choose individual tracks and add them to a pre-order option. Once published, those tracks can be streamed as a preview by anyone, and will be instantly downloadable by anyone purchasing the pre-order. Bandcamp advises against this in its documentation for newcomers, but hey, if you’ve got a particularly strong track - or a media outlet willing to use your pre-order as its “premiere - why not?

Private streaming: Draft-mode albums are only available to you, when you’re logged in. If you want to make a stream available to someone else, you can do that via track or album using an email invite by adding their email address. This only works if you have a Bandcamp Pro subscription. Since SoundCloud subscriptions offer more options, most artists/labels do their previews and promos via that service (or another promo service) rather than here. But it does work with drafts - and it’s the only way to share the contents of a draft album, so that is probably its most useful purpose (and another reason labels should subscribe to Pro accounts).

Private albums: Get ready here - private albums are not the same as private streaming. “Private streaming” refers to streams of private or draft tracks and albums. But albums set to “private” - an option between draft and published - work with track/album codes. (Top tip: this is also a way to download your own music on Bandcamp as a download, in case you lost your original work!)

Published: Both pre-orders and full releases need to be manually published. This makes them public for everyone, and triggers an email notification to anyone who has signed up for updates via your artist or label page.

Make sure your music is found --

Here’s where we get to the real ecosystem part. Making music successful on Bandcamp is about getting people to take action to own the music - even if that means giving them a code that lets them download that for free (turning it into a gift from you to them). 

Each time someone purchases your music, or redeems a track/album code, it has the potential to trigger a series of useful events - especially if they have a Bandcamp fan account, and they’re logged in:

  • A little avatar icon will appear next to the album or track showing they “supported” the music
  • They’ll have the option to sign up for email notifications from you as an artist (and your label, if this is on a label)
  • The music will appear in their Collection, where they can come back to it easily, or others can find it
  • Their purchase will appear in the Feed of anyone following them on Bandcamp

 

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Remember, this also works for track/album codes (what was formerly known as a “download code”), and it works for pre-orders. So if you have a pre-order with a great track and five friends grab it, and then you hand out codes then, and more at the release, then your music gets some free advertising all over Bandcamp. Plenty of us look around to see what people we’ve been following recently have been grabbing. I won’t say any names, but at least one well-known journalist I follow has led me to buy more music from their Bandcamp feed than their reviews - including some stuff that I suspect was a bit too obscure to make it to publication.


Copying and pasting a Bandcamp page link will now often automatically create an embedded player or preview. Here's what happens on the desktop Telegram client, for that popular instant messaging platform.

You’re not restricted to using Bandcamp alone for promotion. The Share/Embed link on each album gives you easy integration with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and (for blogs and other sites) embedded content, plus a link you can use anywhere. You’ll find various other platforms now automatically generate useful little previews. WordPress for instance integrates with this automatically now, as does Telegram, my favorite chat client. You just copy a normal URL for a Bandcamp album and it does the rest.

That’s significant, though, because anyone coming back to the site heads back to your music, and has the potential to feed this ecosystem all over again.

Each release offers the chance to sign up for a mailing list, as well as a grid of avatar images for Bandcamp fans who purchased the music. Follow any one of them to discover other music you might like, in a human, personal recommendation engine that contrasts with big, commercial charts or algorithmically-predetermined music.

There we go - now we're up to date with releases from the SVBKVLT label all the way from Shanghai, China.

The magic of track/album codes (“download codes”)

The single most important thing to do after a release is perhaps to generate giveaway codes. From your user account - the menu on the top right - under either your artist or label account, you’ll find a link called ‘tools.’ This hidden area offers tons of choices for tracking sales and downloads and seeing if an embed you shared is turning into sales - though frankly most of us don’t have a lot of time for that.

What we should take time to do is to generate track/album codes. Choose the label (if applicable), then track or album you want to give to people. “Export” gives you a CSV file you can use with a spreadsheet or mail merge. “Print” actually makes a pre-formatted, printable set of cards with the album art and individual codes, which you can then take to a print shop and put on nice card stock if you don’t want to mess around with your inkjet. (If you’re a designer, of course, you can do this yourself with the CSV).

Codes generation and export, tucked away in a screen called "Tools".

Codes can only be redeemed once, so the worst thing to do is to accidentally give two people the same code. Even for myself, I put these onto Google Sheets, so there’s an always-online version and each used code I mark as such. This becomes an absolute must if you’re sharing the same codes between an artist and a label or other multiple parties.

Once codes are generated, though, Bandcamp retains whether or not they’ve been redeemed, as well. This means that, for instance, if you have an album from last year, and want to try to get a little more support for it by handing out codes, you can head into the interface again.

You’ll find as you release more music, Bandcamp adds more codes and it’s pretty hard to run out. But the math of that and lots of other details are now included in an updated tutorial the fine folks of Bandcamp have put out:

https://get.bandcamp.help/hc/en-us/articles/360007902593-Track-album-code-tutorial

These codes also work well as add-ons for vinyl or cassette, meaning that printable template can save you a lot of time.

A carefully curated Feed becomes a treasure trove of musical discovery.

But go find and review other music, too

Here is the central, depressive reality of the modern producer. You spend ages cut off from all human contact to make music. Then it’s done, and to share it, you’re tasked with the even lonelier role of begging people to listen to it. We beg not only to try to sell our stocks of vinyl and cassettes or to make enough via downloads to pay for mastering. We beg even to get people to listen to this for free. (Most of those download codes are never redeemed.)

And that’s where the Bandcamp ecosystem really shines. The more you’re active as a fan, the more you discover new music - especially unknown labels and underground artists, even more so from the other side of the world as nearby - the more likely it is that they’ll find your music, too.

In fact, it’s clear to me that a lot of people store up money on their PayPal account and then spend it on other music. I think that’s beautiful - a kind of creative barter economy.

Both the desktop Web interface and the app for Android and iOS excel at this. You can rediscover music people sent to you as promos or that you bought and forgot, in the Collection. You can see what new music is coming from labels and artists you follow, in the Feed - and see what other people are buying and discovering.

I find unknown artists and labels often even write personal thank-you’s when you get your music. That’s a good reminder of how important a connection for music can be. Just one stranger connecting with something you made is beyond any metric.

For techno, I follow the Bandcamp Techno group on Facebook for lots of heavy-hitting underground releases. You can also discover users this way, or by finding them under a release you like. If that’s not giving you enough people to follow, Bandcamp also makes recommendations.

The feed can be confusing when it comes to just discovering the latest from labels and artists you follow, so the workflow is something like this:

  1. Editorial resources, via blogs that cover Bandcamp, and Bandcamp’s own (excellent) editorial, reviews, guides, and mailing list
  2. Email, for the artists and labels you’re already tracking 
  3. The Feed, for happy accidents as you find wild stuff from individuals you follow

You can control which emails you get via Settings > Fan > Notifications. I also recommend setting up Gmail filters so you can keep your useful promos together, and remove stuff that turns into spam or simply ceases to be interesting, but that’s another topic.

You can - and should - also write reviews for stuff you really like. From your Collection, you can click "why do you love this track" and enter a pithy answer. That testimonial then appears on the artist's album page - very good karma.

Write reviews from the Collection page.


Those reviews then appear as endorsements on the album page, automatically.

A world where we actually share music again

Supporting music and sharing on your channels (Twitter, Facebook, a blog if you have one, a mailing list) … is already useful. I see a lot of successful artists who spend only 5-10% of their time talking about themselves, and the remainder about artists they care about.

It’s not even particularly that they get rewarded because others reciprocate. Social media has been rendered unusable by all of us talking exclusively about ourselves. It’s horrible for us, and horrible for everyone else - and so eventually people tune it all out. 

When people talk about music they love, people begin to tune in again. Hearing personal recommendations doesn’t replace journalism, either. If anything, it opens your mind to again reading what people think and finding new things, which makes reading the media better, as well.

And maybe that’s what has really been lost in the conversations about music, and royalties, and revenue. It’s all from the perspective of the industry. The reason most of us started making music was to connect to other people. So if people are loyal to Bandcamp, it’s that platforms where we share music with one another come back to that core purpose. From a tiny weird underground noise release that winds up making a friendship after just one person finds it, to a big release that takes off thanks to the network effect of all these fans, it’s still about love.  Given how much time other platforms are taking out of us without giving that back, that means it’s all the more refreshing that there’s a platform that gets it right. Other platforms could learn these same lessons; hopefully, something out there does. But for now, there’s only one Bandcamp.

I didn’t cover some of the label management features of Bandcamp, and I’m sure this will generate more questions and ideas. Stay tuned for another instalment as we learn how to best use this service, and who is using it best.

PETER KIRN has written about music technology for 20 years and has worked extensively with artists, labels, engineers, and technology producers as background for some of the ideas in this story. He always has time for making music, and now is thinking about making more time to do some of the things he recommends doing in this article. Follow him on Bandcamp - artist page, fan page.

 

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