Bandcamp sells to Epic: can a video clip activity enterprise help save unbiased audio? | Audio

Ora Sawyers

Musos and avid gamers were still left scratching their heads previous Wednesday as Bandcamp, the on the web record retailer hailed by independent artists as a bankable choice to the razor-thin royalties of streaming, declared its acquisition by Epic Video games, makers of the on-line gaming phenomenon Fortnite.

Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond framed the offer as a boon for artists, indicating that the two US providers shared a eyesight of developing “the most open, artist-helpful ecosystem in the world”. A blogpost from Epic underlined the need for “fair and open up platforms” to allow “creators to continue to keep the the greater part of their tricky-earned money”.

But Bandcamp people reacted with shock and disappointment to the sale of the indie juggernaut, lamenting the reduction of “our” retail store, as drummer and Spotify critic Damon Krukowski tweeted.

“We all just bought sold,” lamented media theorist McKenzie Wark. Bemused players and tech authorities, meanwhile, puzzled what probable makes use of a firm these kinds of as Epic – itself 40% owned by Chinese gaming megacorp Tencent – may have for the direct-to-admirer market for MP3s of specialized niche musical genres like vaporwave and chiptune.

Since its founding in 2008, Bandcamp has turn into a cornerstone of the world-wide underground music financial system through its “pay-what-you-want” download framework and very low commissions, getting a 15% slice of each and every sale. For the duration of the pandemic, the San Francisco-based firm earned kudos for waiving that payment on the 1st Friday of every single thirty day period, making hundreds of thousands of pounds for artists, as very well as donating to racial justice campaigns which include the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Epic has its possess monitor record as a plucky indie, having remained largely in the arms of CEO Tim Sweeney considering that its founding in 1991. Like Bandcamp, Epic requires a comparatively compact cut from developers, setting its fee at 12% in contrast with Apple’s 30%. Epic even took Apple to court docket – and missing, at terrific price – to accuse the tech large of monopolising the cellular gaming business. But the company’s fortunes have soared in latest a long time following the achievements of Fortnite and other free of charge-to-perform games. Now valued at $28bn, and facing its very own controversies around data collection and Retail store exclusivity, it is no lengthier a feisty underdog.

Quite a few impartial artists, by now squeezed by the collapse of physical revenue and – given that Covid – a extensive hiatus from touring, see the Bandcamp sale as an additional disappointment in a prolonged custom of indie sellouts. But tech experts and neophyte musicians have also been speculating on the probability of new integrations involving Bandcamp’s wide catalogue of songs and Epic’s slicing-edge activity engineering. These assortment from dwell-streaming situations such as Fortnite’s virtual live shows, which have witnessed artists Travis Scott and Marshmello placing on trippy performances for hundreds of thousands of emoting avatars, to social areas these kinds of as Party Worlds, built for digital hangouts fairly than battle and destruction.

‘It has often been section of platform capitalism, in which expansion is paramount’ ‘… Zola Jesus. Photograph: Barney Britton/Redferns

Past the chaotic globe of Fortnite, Epic could also be wondering about quick routes into licensing songs for software package builders applying Unreal Engine, the open up and no cost-to-use development platform designed by Epic’s Sweeney. There are apparent opportunities for integration with Harmonix, the games studio behind Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

Additional importantly, Sweeney is a longtime proponent of digital actuality and its buzzy reincarnation as the metaverse, the promise of a virtual 3D atmosphere developed from interconnecting areas and social networks. “The most plausible way the metaverse is heading to increase,” Sweeney said in 2020, “isn’t from one company, even Epic, creating this factor and forcing most people to use it. It’s going to be from a lot more and a lot more providers and brand names connecting their solutions and expert services.”

In that sense, Epic’s acquisition can also be browse as a enjoy for the hearts and minds of the upcoming generation of musicians and tunes lovers who have developed up in virtual worlds these as Fortnite. Somewhat than making an attempt to change digital natives into record-getting traditionalists, the intelligent move could be to meet Era Z in which they now are, between the 160 million players inside the Epic Game titles Store.

Advertising to Epic might also have introduced itself as the minimum worst choice for a organization below force to offer returns for its early investors. Bandcamp been given enterprise funds backing in its early years, and although the specific numbers concerned are unfamiliar, market place logic dictates that VC-backed startups eventually get started on the lookout for an exit: either float on the inventory market, which performs for companies showing remarkable development and important foreseeable future valuation, or market up.

Regardless of whether or not which is the circumstance for Bandcamp, it won’t do a lot to cheer up the musicians and enthusiasts who prolonged ago discovered Silicon Valley economics as the supply of their woes. On social media, the offer was met with cynicism by some of the musicians who make up Bandcamp’s world neighborhood of creator-individuals. “It’s VC-funded and has often been portion of system capitalism, in which growth is paramount,” wrote experimental artist Zola Jesus.

The irony is that Bandcamp has usually positioned itself as a “community” rather than a market, nonetheless that group has not been provided a say in the destiny of the worth it has designed. The option, say some artists, is to take again handle – both by going above to a system like Resonate, a streaming cooperative owned by its customers, or checking out new World-wide-web3 protocols for collective ownership. Austin Robey, co-founder of option tunes system Ampled, advocates for an “exit to community”, a model the place startups are taken above by the people and stakeholders who rely on the product or service or services they’ve designed.

Still, no other indie system has nonetheless accomplished something like the scale or charm of Bandcamp, and the shift to alternative platforms will have to have a leap of complex literacy that most artists and enthusiasts are not prepared to make. In the short phrase, Bandcamp stays the slickest immediate-to-lover operation in city – and is nonetheless paying out tens of millions to artists.

“The items and providers you count on aren’t heading anywhere,” certain Diamond in his statement. Very little will modify in the small expression, is the assure – despite the fact that it is the exact one that accompanies each identical acquisition. Those old enough to don’t forget losing their MySpace audio right away might be experience itchy. Phrase to the clever, suggested one suspicious person, “download all your Bandcamp MP3s if you have not yet”.

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