Op-Ed: Why Aren’t More Metal Record Labels on Bandcamp?


Bandcamp logoBandcamp is easily the best download and streaming platform available to bands. It has everything a record label could ever want, too: the ability to offer streams and/or downloads, customizable pricing options, high quality audio, easy merch store integration (for physical product and t-shirts) and embeddable widgets, all wrapped up in the simplest, no-bullshit interface imaginable.

It’s also got incredibly artist-friendly pricing: Bandcamp takes only 10% of merch sales and 15% of digital sales, the latter of which drops to 10% once the store has grossed $5,000 worth of sales in any 12-month period (any label worth their salt should have no problem crossing that threshold). By comparison, iTunes typically takes 30%.

So why aren’t more of the bigger metal labels on Bandcamp?

A whole bevy of smaller, independent metal record labels use the service; the website MetalBandcamp.com does a fantastic job of cataloguing which labels’ wares are available and keeping track of their releases. Some of the bigger labels listed include Prosthetic, Relapse, Basick, A389, Candlelight, Deathwish, Earache, Hydra Head, Listenable, Profound Lore, Season of Mist, Seventh Rule, Southern Lord and Willowtop. That’s a pretty decent group to be sure, and doesn’t even include some of the more underground labels.

But there are some pretty big names noticeably missing: Century, Metal Blade, Nuclear Blast, Roadrunner, Sumerian.

My guesses as to why:

1) Labels might be oblivious to Bandcamp’s great pros and fantastic set of features. Further, they might be unaware of the thriving community of music fans who regularly use the site.

2) Labels might perceive Bandcamp as being for more “undeground” artists, or for “demos.” While the underground community on Bandcamp is thriving, it’s definitely not the only scene there. Prosthetic and Relapse have the likes of Mastodon, The Dillinger Escape Plan, High on Fire, Gojira, The Acacia Strain, Animals as Leaders, Skeletonwitch, Nile, etc. available on the service. And both tell me they do quite well with selling those releases on Bandcamp.

3) Distributors are complicating things. Oftentimes labels are locked into distribution deals that are exclusive for both physical and digital product. Those distributors might not be equipped to deal with Bandcamp accounting, might not want to threaten their relationships with iTunes, Amazon, etc., or might have the same reservations listed above in #1 and #2. At the very least, more cooks in the kitchen means things get accomplished more slowly. Also, the distributor’s cut would lessen the amount the labels end up receiving.

Here’s the thing, though: we have it on good word that labels like Relapse, Prosthetic and Earache go directly through Bandcamp without having a distributor in the middle. A 90% take on Bandcamp vs. a 70% take on iTunes before the distro even takes their cut. Do the math: if you were a label, which platform would you push for digital sales?

4) No geo-targeting. A lot of labels still operate on the 20th century model of staggering release dates by territory, and Bandcamp can’t accommodate that: once something is out on Bandcamp in one country it’s out in the whole world. As it should be.

I totally understand why labels have different teams in different countries, and why some bands even have entirely different labels in different territories: it makes sense that people who live in a particular market would have a better understand of how to sell records there.

But labels need to get together and agree upon a universal release date. Monday, Tuesday, Friday, who cares? Just agree on a day. It doesn’t even need to be the same day each week, or the same day for each release. Fans will buy an album whenever it comes out, they really don’t give a shit, and since we’re talking Internet-based sales here it’s not a matter of the habit of going to the record store on Tuesday — the record store is your computer, whenever you want.

Sadly, labels’ insistence on maintaining the 1990s status quo of staggering international release dates is keeping them off Bandcamp. It’s also driving fans towards piracy, but that’s a topic for another day.

5) Emphasis on first week sales. This issue extends beyond just Bandcamp, but that’s another topic for a different day. Staying on point, the geo-targeting issue outlined above wouldn’t be such a big deal if labels, agents and managers didn’t place such a huge emphasis on how many units a record sells in their home country only in its first week of release. What if it were a coordinated effort between all parties involved worldwide? What if, say, a U.S. label had more incentive to push a European band they recently inked a licensing deal with even though the record has already been out for a few months? It wouldn’t generate the spark and buzz of a hefty first week number or give labels a convenient number to hold up as proof that Band X is popular, but it’d absolutely be a good thing to do for the band and their long-term success.

If I had to succinctly summarize the above five points, I’d boil it down this way: labels being stuck in the past and relying on old business models. A little fear of the future, too.

Let’s lobby to get Century, Metal Blade etc. on Bandcamp. The platform is too great to be absent their albums, and the labels are missing out, leaving money on the table. It’s any label’s responsibility to make their music available to fans wherever those fans may be, and as is they’re failing miserably at it by ignoring a sizable group, just as many of them did with Spotify before they finally got hip to it. What’ve they got to lose by giving Bandcamp a shot?

MetalSucks has a Bandcamp profile! Check it out for a collection of bands we heart. 

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