Business Interviews Digital

Q&A: Andrew Jervis, Bandcamp

By | Published on Monday 8 December 2014

Andrew Jervis

This interview from the recent M For Montreal conference appeared in the December 2014 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium

Despite the booming streaming music market – and the very vocal debate about the pros and cons of freemium and premium subscription services that has rumbled on for much of the year – for me the most exciting development in music enabled by the internet remains direct-to-fan, and the ability for artists and their business partners to better service core fanbase, who are often willing to spend more money on their favourite acts if only the industry provides the products and services on which they can spend.

And just like the streaming market, the D2F domain has also seen quite a bit of development in the last year, though you still sense that some labels, far from seeing direct-to-fan as another area for industry growth (possibly the biggest area), instead see the rise of D2F platforms as a threat. “I understand where that comes from”, says Bandcamp Editor At Large Andrew Jervis, “and perhaps we still have to do a better job educating people what Bandcamp is about”.

“It’s true that when we started we were primarily a tool for artists to sell to their fans directly”, he goes on, “so I can see why labels might see that as a threat. But there are lots of labels using the site, and we’re actually just launching a range of features specifically for labels, to make the platform more intuitive to use. Some of the big labels to recently join include Sub Pop, Epitaph and Anti – in fact there’s a whole slew of them”.

Labels can join the direct-to-fan party on two levels, first by assisting their artists in developing their D2F businesses, and also by building their own direct fan channels as a label brand.

Although direct-to-fan platforms are generally cheap for artists to use, using them well arguably requires time and expertise. Look and feel is important for example – “How you present yourself, whether an artist or label, makes a huge difference”, says Jervis. “If you have a crappy looking artwork or Bandcamp page, that’s a hurdle”. And labels can help with that process.

But also, too, says Jervis: “If you’re one of those cult labels, a Sub Pop for instance, you have fans who want everything on your label, so why not engage directly with those fans?”

Direct-to-fan is, of course, about core fanbase, and will never replace more mainstream distribution channels for reaching more casual fans. But core fanbase was often under-tapped and therefore under-serviced by the traditional music industry. And two trends on Bandcamp show that core fans will spend more if given the opportunity.

“On Bandcamp albums outsell tracks five to one”, Jervis observes. “The industry-wide standard, I believe, is something like seventeen to one tracks to albums. Direct-to-fan is working because people feel an engagement with the artist, and so they want the full product the artist is putting out, not just the hit they heard elsewhere”.

Perhaps more interesting is the ‘name your price’ function most direct-to-fan services offer. “You can have a ‘name your price’ album where the minimum might be zero – and some artists excel at this – fans can choose to take the music for free, but actually the artists still generate revenue. Of course, if you’ve invested a lot of money making your record, the thought of allowing people have it for free is scary. But you can set a minimum price, something that seems fair, but give the fan the option to pay a little more if they can afford to”.

And, says Jervis, “over 50% of the time, where an artist has given fans the ‘pay some more’ option, fans have done. Which is super encouraging”.

Although direct-to-fan platforms usually enable artists to sell a variety of products, selling music downloads has often been key. Does Jervis think that this element of direct-to-fan might be hit as the digital music market at large seems to shift from download to streaming?

“We actually offer another model, which we need to speak about more, which allows a streaming experience. If, as a fan, you have a Bandcamp account, yes you can download a high quality file from an artist’s page, but when you buy the album you can also stream those tracks via your Bandcamp collection on your phone. The tracks automatically appear in your collection, but you’ve paid the artist directly for the music”.

The shift to direct-to-fan streaming is interesting – and is at the heart of Bandcamp’s efforts to build its own community, from which 20% of purchases stem, Jervis says – though the more exciting development for me is the recent launch of subscriptions on the direct-to-fan platform. “People aren’t subscribing to Bandcamp”, Jervis stresses. “They are subscribing to artists”.

Basically Bandcamp is helping with the long-awaited commercialisation of the good old fashioned fan club. “If I’m an uber-fan, I want everything”, Jervis says. “And I don’t want to have to wait for social media to tell me about your new releases, or for you to pay a PR to tell me about them. So I’m happy to pay 20 bucks a year – or $250 if you’re putting out enough content – to automatically receive everything. It just arrives on my device, a bit like the U2 thing, except you want this music! We are opening this element of Bandcamp to artists first, though will extend it to labels too”.

In the midst of the most recent Spotify debate, Taylor Swift’s label said that it was uncomfortable taking money from core fans who buy the singer’s albums, while others could access them on demand for free via freemium streaming services. It’s a credible concern. Though the solution – rather than pulling content from Spotify et al – is probably providing great direct-to-fan experiences, so provide core fans with more rather than giving casual consumers less.

This report from the recent M For Montreal conference appeared in the December 2014 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium