There’s (some) hope for independent music

Irreversible Entanglements, an experimental jazz group, encouraged fans to buy their new album Who Sent You? on Bandcamp

The coronavirus pandemic is devastating for smaller artists. But last week proved that fans are willing to reach into their pockets to help.

Opening up Bandcamp last Friday (20th March) it looked like there was a glitch with the site. The scroll bar at the bottom of the screen moved so furiously and erratically that you were unable to see the details of the releases featured. In reality, what you were witnessing was the real time purchases of tracks and albums taking place across the world, moving at such a pace that the site was almost overwhelmed.

Independent artists and labels tend to favour Bandcamp over the streaming giants. This is because the site gives them a comparatively bigger cut of any revenue generated. It also gently encourages you to buy the releases you’ve streamed a few times (“The time has come to open thy heart/​wallet,” the notification reads), and it celebrates obscure music scenes with its editorial content. And last Friday, as musicians and DJs saw their tour schedules crumble due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bandcamp once again positioned themselves as the good guys by waiving their share of the sales revenue so that all money went directly to artists. With [touring revenue] drying up almost entirely, finding ways to continue supporting artists in the coming months is now an urgent priority for anyone who cares about music,” Bandcamp’s CEO Ethan Diamond posted in a statement.

Twitter blew up with thousands of people sharing their purchases or giving recommendations. Within 18 hours more than $3m dollars had been paid directly to artists, and Bandcamp claims the site has generated $15m for artists in the last 30 days. Of course we’re in the early stages of this nightmare and there are tough times ahead for everyone in the industry, but at the very least this offered a glimmer of hope that there’s enough good will to keep independent music alive.

I nearly made a whole month’s rent off of Bandcamp orders in one day, which is totally unprecedented. It might take a solid year of healthy streams to make something like that amount.”

William Doyle, independent musician

Independent music publications – who’ve lost a lot of advertisers overnight due to the majority of this summer’s music festivals being cancelled or postponed – have also been calling on their readers for support. Crack Magazine, which has been publishing a free print edition since 2009, launched a new paid subscription service to help them through tough times, and it was met with a supportive and emphatic response across social media. Loud & Quiet – a London-based freesheet – put up rare old archive copies of the mag on the site to help out cash flow and they all sold out within an hour. Resident Advisors Save Our Scene initiative – an open letter calling on collective action from the electronic music community to save our scene” – has received thousands of high profile signatures from all over the world.

One independent artist that had shows cancelled, including an expensive trip out to SXSW, was William Doyle (fka East India Youth). The Bandcamp initiative, and people’s response to it, had a big impact on him: I nearly made a whole month’s rent off of orders in one day, which is totally unprecedented. It might take a solid year of healthy streams to make something like that amount.”

Spotify have yet to respond to artist requests to triple royalty rates during such difficult time (they currently stand roughly at a measly £2.74 per 1,000 streams) which further hits home how key Bandcamp is for artists right now. This is a real chance for artists to be able to give some perspective to listeners on the financially exploitative situation steaming has put us in,” Doyle says. I feel this is a chance for fans – myself included – to consciously listen in a different way; knowing that putting on music as an automatic function doesn’t have to be of negligible benefit to the artist, but that one small purchase can ensure a longevity to the music that brings great meaning and understanding to our lives.”

Stuart Stubbs of Loud & Quiet has too felt the generosity and spirit of supporters. People have been really responsive,” he says. We’re not talking about it being company-saving amounts of money, but the boost in morale is so valuable to us. It takes me back to the heart of what Loud And Quiet is – an independent zine that is made for people who are engaged in new music and DIY culture.”

Stubbs also feels that this signifies something of a change that needs to take place in order for such positive stories to feature more prominently in the future too. The industry as a whole needs to shift back to a reader-based support system, where people support the mags, sites, bands and projects they care most about,” he says. As companies of all sizes freeze their ad spends for the foreseeable future, all the power is in the hands of fans to keep independent culture going.”

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