The Bandcamp Acquisition by Epic: the meh, the bad, and how to build something better

Yesterday it was announced that Epic Games had purchased Bandcamp. I won't go into too many words describing the particulars of the merger, but I will say that this felt like yet-another-gut-punch for me. Bandcamp is one of my primary sources for discovering and purchasing new music. would not have been nearly as good had it not been for Bandcamp making it easy to find and connect with artists. The community aspects of Bandcamp were second-to-none and I fear that even if every promise made in the "we've been acquired" note comes true there will still be palpable consequences from this acquisition.

I have no experience with Epic Games ever since they stopped distributing their games on CD-ROMs and floppies. I can't because as a Linux gamer they don't support Linux. So everything that I know about the current company is hearsay at best. What I do know is that the current macho gaming culture has driven me away from video games as a whole. I still play games from time to time but I'm not nearly as invested in them as I was when cartridges, CD-ROMs, and floppies were how we delivered games. Hearing that a video game company has overtaken my favorite music store doesn't give me much hope for a pleasant outcome. There is mention in the "we've been acquired" note about how Epic will allow Bandcamp to grow in areas they were unable to achieve on their own so that might be a positive. But again, I have a hard time getting excited about this part.

The bad is that Epic is 40% owned by TenCent, which a cursory search on the internet shows is not a nice company. They made their fortunes with microtransactions and seem to be quite bullish on expanding that into other financial instruments via gaming. And since I suspect the reason for Bandcamp being sold was because some Venture Capitalist's turkey-timer went off I'm expecting that the folks at TenCent are going to expect even bigger returns. Expect the artists on Bandcamp to have to somehow make up that difference.

So I grieve. I grieve that the community of artists I care about are going to suffer through no fault of their own other than choosing a good platform to sell their music and merchandise.

What are the alternatives?

Let me be clear: there are no good alternatives at this point. Period. I'll explain this by showing what I believe is necessary to rebuilding Bandcamp on a different platform. I hope this will make it clear what we have lost and what we'll need to do to fill the void when Bandcamp is no longer Bandcamp.

Here's what we'd need to rebuild Bandcamp:

  1. Full song previews. Some sites allow listeners to preview a snippet of a song. What made Bandcamp such a welcome change was that you could listen to the entire song before purchasing. Even more radical, artists on Bandcamp were encouraged to make their whole albums available to listen. This is key. It's one thing to tell me that your band sounds like Mr. Bungle meets Industrial Metal, but if I can hear that Track 4 sounds like Mike Patton being run over by a steamroller with a wall of guitars then I'll know what you mean. Many sites do not offer this, and they do so at their peril. Full song previews are crucial to any alternative.

  2. Easy merchandise purchasing. What set Bandcamp apart (and made me be on a first-name basis with our postal carrier) was the ability to sell things to anyone in the world with as little effort as possible. Artist sites, IndieMerch, Big Cartel, et al are not going to cut it. Most shopping cart sites are unpleasant to use. Bandcamp nailed the experience and made it simple to not only buy a digital album but also pick up a CD or a T-shirt. The best existing alternative is Amazon. Full-stop. Unless your artist site is as simple to use as Amazon it's not going to fly.

  3. Community. Bandcamp allowed folks to follow other folks that had similar music tastes. There were also community forums on artist pages and the ability for artists to email their fans about upcoming shows, new releases, or why the vinyl of their album is still 3 months delayed. Bandcamp treated music as a social experience. This is crucial because music is a social experience. Folks tell other folks about the music they like. The closest alternative to this is, but even that is stretching it. Bandcamp built something special and it'll be difficult to replicate.

  4. Subscriptions. Bandcamp offered the ability for folks to subscribe to their favorite artists each month. There are alternatives like Patreon for this but I think in a post-touring world this is going to become more relevant for artists.

  5. Tags. Bandcamp had unparalleled discovery options. You could follow a tag like "mr bungle" and find the folks that feel their sound is like Mr. Bungle. Or "techno". More often than not a tag search got me to find my new favorite obsession. And there needs to be more than one word in the tag! "metal" tells me one thing, but "technical death metal" tells me so much more. Also allow the artists to define their tags. Don't just stuff things into Genres, which are almost useless for today's musical variety.

  6. Bandcamp Daily. Bandcamp posts newsletters of curated lists of music highlighting either an artist, a label, or a group of similar artists. These are well-written pieces that can give folks an introduction to something they might not have heard before or allow folks to do a deeper dive into an artist's catalog. They really helped me with some artists that I knew of but didn't really dive into their catalog.

These are essential for any rebuild of Bandcamp. Making a competing streaming service denies the physicality of music. Making a series of band pages denies the community aspects of music. What Bandcamp did was fuse together the best aspects of social, merchandising, and discoverability.

This is why I grieve this acquisition by Epic because unless they understand this and literally do nothing to upset this delicate balance they will destroy an entire ecosystem. As someone who was on social platforms that folks didn't understand until it was too late (Google+ anyone?) I can only lament what will be lost and hope to find some islands of respite in what was a thriving metropolis of music.