Bandcamp: For cleaner music sites

Thoughtfully made site gives indie bands more control of their music.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read

Bandcamp is a relatively new service that independent music groups can use to post and sell their tracks.

Creator Ethan Diamond (formerly of OddPost, acquired by Yahoo), told me he created it for two reasons. First, he said, to give control and ownership of online music back to musicians--to end the "online sharecropping" you see on sites like MySpace and iMeem where the musicians don't have full ownership of their art. Second, to make it easy for bands to maintain their music sites and for fans to find, experience, and buy tracks that they like.

Unlike many other popular social sites that bands use to host their music and build community, Bandcamp is like Blogger and Wordpress.com: The sites users build are under the control of the artists, and there is no Bandcamp branding visible when users first go to a band's site.

Freedom through slavery: all Bandcamp sites have the same layout, although band art greatly influences the feel of a site. Bandcamp

The format for Bandcamp sites is inflexible. Artists can put their own header on the site, and upload album art, and that's it. But Bandcamp sites are nice and clean, and those elements really do define the feel of a site. The big benefit is that, unlike more band-run sites, the navigation is simple and is the same between sites, so fans don't have to figure out how to preview or download tracks different every time they go to a new Bandcamp site.

The service also creates sites optimized for SEO, which is certainly not something you see in many band-run sites, too many of which over-use Flash. Each track also gets its own URL as well as an embeddable player (with a visualizer), making sharing music easy. Bandcamp sites do stream music through Flash, but the surrounding interface is straightforward HTML.

Bands can distribute music for free on the site or put Paypal payments on specific tracks. Prices can even be variable, with a minimum if that's what the artist wants. The service also provides tracking and relatively deep analytics on which tracks are played and purchased.

Nice stats. Bandcamp

Bandcamp only accepts uploads in lossless AIFF or WAV, and the site does all the transcoding when tracks are streamed or downloaded.

There's more, but the upshot is that this service creates clean and usable music sites and also gives bands commerce and analytics engines they otherwise might have to pay for. And it's free; Bandcamp doesn't even take a percentage of Web sales.

Diamond told me the company is still "experimenting" with revenue models, which could include premium services for bands, such as social network features and e-mail broadcasting. I was surprised to hear that he doesn't want to take a cut of download revenues, but he told me he doesn't expect that it would amount to much even if he did, since most indie groups make their money from concerts.

And that highlights one of the things Bandcamp doesn't yet do: It doesn't help bands publish a calendar or sell tickets. That's coming, as are additional features (like a big one, domain mapping) that could help make the sites the service creates actual replacements for a band's current site, not just the listen-and-download feature, which is what Bandcamp is right now.

But this is a thoughtful and clean service, well targeted to its audience and not laden down with competitive branding or frilly and useless features. I hope Diamond is able to keep it focused as he grows its capabilities.