Dan Le Sac Writes Digital

Dan Le Sac Writes: Subscriptions to musicians are a nice idea, but are they good value for money?

By | Published on Wednesday 18 November 2015

As the digital music sector goes through its big shift from sales to subscriptions, Bandcamp is busy bringing the subscription approach to direct-to-fan. But will fans pay a monthly fee to access any one artist’s subscriber-only content? And can the artist provide enough content to justify the price? Dan Le Sac likes the idea, though wonders whether it can really work.

Dan Le Sac

A couple of months back, Bandcamp opened its new subscription model to all artists on the platform. The set-up launched over a year ago to selected artists and it has seemingly gone well enough for them to roll it out across the site.

The idea is simple, we can now directly give sustained support to the artists we love by subscribing to their page on Bandcamp. In return – other than the warm fluffy feeling you get for being a good human being, a kind of heartburn but without the reflux feeling – a subscriber can get sub-only albums, early access to new material, demos and so on. Free shit basically, whatever treats the artist wants to give you.

Although to me this is a great idea, how will the average music lover justify giving just one artist Bandcamp’s suggested $20 dollars a year subscription fee when you can have literally millions of songs for $120 a year on Spotify? We could think of this model as Patreon tailored entirely towards music – crowdfunding with sustainability maybe – but when we look outside the music industry to other subscription models, it does seem like music lovers are getting the shitty end of the value-for-money stick.

Take Twitch.tv, the gaming website (formally Justin.tv) where people watch and interact with gamers. To you and my mother that may sound odd, but considering that there are websites in this world devoted to watching fully clothed Korean women eat their dinner – seriously, BBC Click did a segment on it – Twitch certainly isn’t the weirdest.

Twitch is free. Whether you’re a viewer or broadcaster. When a broadcaster grows to a certain size and has a decent number of concurrent viewers, they can become partnered with Twitch. In short, a partnered channel can earn ad revenue if they wish and its viewers can support the stream by paying an optional monthly subscription of $4.99 (of which half goes to the streamer).

Let’s be clear, there is no paywall between the viewer and the content. You can always watch for free, you don’t even require a Twitch account. Yet, even without a paywall, plenty of the 11,000 partnered broadcasters/streamers on the site earn enough to do it full time.

For example, Excessive Profanity, aka Cody Hargreaves, a variety streamer from Melbourne, earns his living from his entirely free content. The question is, why is Excessive Profanity’s occasionally foul mouthed content worth six albums a year to myself and upwards of a thousand other people?

In a good year, musically, I could potentially create one fully-formed LP, with maybe two EPs and access to demos for your 20 buck subscription on Bandcamp. That’s around two hours of content that you’ll listen to maybe 30 times over the course of twelve months – so 60 hours of entertainment.

Now compare that to Excessive Profanity, he streams on average 50 hours a week. That’s 50 hours of intelligent, engaging, downright funny content for free, or optionally 60 bucks a year if you’re one of those humans with a supportive, heart-shaped wallet. It would seem the value for money argument falls entirely on the side of “fuck musicians and their stupid faces”. But value for money isn’t everything, the things we love don’t always make sense to our wallets.

The point, the lesson that Twitch can teach musicians, is basically this: humans aren’t dicks, when given the opportunity to support someone they ultimately have respect for, they will support them, but we have to show faith in those humans in the first place.

So for me, if Bandcamp subscriptions are to work then there cannot be any paywalls. It’s scary to say it as an artist scrabbling around to pay his rent each month, but maybe we need to have faith in our audiences’ willingness to give us the opportunity to create. Maybe by giving away our content for free, or at least “pay what you want”, on a platform like Bandcamp, will make it possible for us to stop focusing on how hard piracy or streaming or fucking YouTube are screwing us, and finally get back to seeing that this is a relationship between us and the listener?

I know the formats are different, Twitch being akin to TV, and music happening out of sight until its finished, but for the audience it is the same, we want the people we respect and the things we enjoy to be respected and enjoyed by everyone. And ultimately we know that for all these beautiful things to continue to be created in this world we need to support the creators. What the creators need to learn, however, is to simply have faith that those who can help will.

To be clear, I’m fully aware that this is a fairly idealistic viewpoint and that in practice the music industry is too entrenched an organism to adopt this kind of change. But at a time when artists ranting on Twitter that it isn’t worth paying for music, because they don’t get paid anyway, is teaching the audience to be cynical, surely this kind of idealism is a way to stem the entropy our industry is facing.

The one thing I know – well I hope, anyway – is that, if I ever write another record good enough for people to hear, I am brave enough to give it away and let what happens happen.

Find Dan on Twitch using salty language and playing games badly at www.twitch.tv/danlesac_idiot