So, you want to make a Bandcamp...

The sale of Bandcamp to Songtradr and the subsequent layoff of half of Bandcamp's staff has gotten a lot of folks thinking about Bandcamp alternatives. That's fantastic, and I really hope that several of these take off and become successful. But I'd like to caution folks on missing the mark of what makes Bandcamp so successful and how to make something that musicians and labels can use and enjoy.

I wrote an article about this back in 2022 (The Bandcamp Acquisition by Epic: the meh, the bad, and how to build something better). I won't expect you to have read it but this article will build heavily from that article.

My experience is as a podcaster and music aficionado. I've been in more record stores than I can count. I've bought thousands of albums on Bandcamp. I've talked to musicians and labels for my podcast Open Metalcast. In short, I've been around and have been interested in music for most of my life.

With that in mind here's things that you'll need to consider in your Bandcamp alternative:

Musicians are harried folks. They are concerned about making music and getting their music out there as quickly and painlessly as possible. They don't give a shit about licenses or federation or any of the things that techies care about. They are just trying to figure out how to pay for that new dingus that makes their songs sound better. That also means a lot of integration with services that musicians use to distribute their albums to iTunes, Spotify, and the like, and integrating with services to help musicians get paid. This is not optional. The more of these services we integrate the more musicians will be able to use our services.

Remember: Solve musician problems first. If your service is "just one more service" that folks need to log into then they'll ignore it. They'll use that time to ship merch or read email or any of the myriad other things that working musicians need to do.

This leads to the payment processing. You need to think like a busker, not a technologist. Payment processing and first-class merchandise handling are key to any platform's success. Bandcamp is, first and foremost, a storefront. Any solution needs to start with the payment processing first. Full stop. No serious musician is going to adopt any solution that doesn't make collecting money for merchandise a primary goal. Musicians already have all of the promotional materials they need. What they need is a way to get folks to help fund their expensive instruments. That means tools for helping with shipping and doing conversions as well. Buskers don't pass the hat at the end of the performance or expect someone to walk two city blocks to find their merch truck. There needs to be a "buy now" while someone is listening to the album. And it needs to take actual human-recognized currency. Cryptocurrencies need not apply. We're buying goods and services, not grifts and laundering here.

This is unfortunately the trickiest part but any platform that doesn't figure this out is doomed. No musician will take it seriously.

While we're on the subject you also need to consider music labels. Musicians form labels to handle merch and the logistics of merch. Talk to labels about what their needs are. You might think that in this brave new world of the internet that labels are immaterial and you'd be mistaken. Labels represent the majority of musicians on Bandcamp. Period. And labels are not just one field in an artist record. There needs to be artist management from the label's perspective. I'm not a label so I can't pretend to know what they want but in most cases when I was talking with the folks handling the merchandising it was through a label. Folks like Hypnotic Dirge Records and Discos Macarras are on a first-name basis with me, and I'm just a podcaster. Trust me, you'll want to talk to a bunch of labels.

I mentioned in the previous article that tagging is key. This will need to be flexible, and ideally controlled by the artist. Artists know better than you what genres their music fit into so making anything with strict genre rules is foolishness. I can't even name the metal genres out there and I'm ostensibly an expert in the music. Bandcamp managed to get this right better than most. Steal from the best on this one.

Another thing to steal from Bandcamp is their delightful ID3 tagging. I can't tell you how many times I've downloaded something from the Internet Archive only to delete it because the song / artist / album was either missing or complete nonsense. Bandcamp was one of the few places that I could rely on consistent, usable fields.

And if you're doing classical music please for the love of all that is holy follow an actual classical music style guide. MusicBrainz has their classical music style guide and while it's not perfect it is the closest our fallen world can come to perfection. Apple Classical screwed it up. Classical music is not popular music. It's not "tracks". It's albums and works and pieces. They're collections. Again, talk to folks who are critics and musicians who understand the damn music.

Still with me? Hopefully you are because this last point is crucial.

If we've learned anything from social media in general and the Fediverse in particular it's that good moderation is key. That means that you're going to have to build in the ability to remove and hide albums. Not only are we talking about the albums that nobody should listen to because they're made by horrible people but also the artists themselves may want to hide or remove an album, either because it's combined into another work or because it no longer represents who they are. You'll need to accommodate that, as frustrating as it may seem to all of the archivists out there. You'll also need to moderate comments from users that are inane, hurtful, or just plain awful to the musicians you serve. That can be anything from "this album is not 'Trve cvlt metalllll. Death to false metal!", "I have a grudge against your band for replacing the lead singer", and worse. People who listen to and participate in music are passionate folks so assume that they'll have mean things to say. And if you don't believe me may I introduce you to Simone Appolloni, a reviewer on AllMusic that is not only prolific but apparently hates the things you like. When you build your new Bandcamp keep this page open in another tab and think about Simone.

I'll have more thoughts on this later on but for now these are the ones I'd consider critical to any successful platform. Understand that any Bandcamp replacement needs to address the needs of working musicians everywhere and make it so they can turn listens into cash into musical dinguses into songs and back into listens and cash. Talk to professional musicians and understand what they need vs what you might think they need. As someone who promoted music for nine years I've had many conversations with musicians. They want to make music and get paid. That's all. Licenses are immaterial, and federation is just one more damn thing to learn. Start with "how do musicians get paid and how do fans get merch" and move from there. Also think about how to protect musicians so they can keep making music. And build your tools so that labels can manage their musical roster as easily as they can under Bandcamp. I knew Bandcamp was huge when Nuclear Blast posted their roster to Bandcamp. Bedroom producers are nice but I'd love for the Fediverse to welcome a Nuclear Blast, a Naxos, or even Metal Blade. If we build it right then we can scale up to those levels. Anything less is just replacing Jamendo and the Internet Archive.

There's a lot of work to do. I'm happy to consult if folks have questions. Feel free to contact me and I'll do my best to answer any questions.

Good luck.