🔵 Bandcamp turmoil, Discogs unrest... is the grassroots indie scene under threat?
... and other transgressive thoughts from the coal face
Hi there, and welcome to our first edition of Network Notes on our new Substack home!
Looking around at news and social media chatter this last few days, it has felt like The End of Days for grassroots indie platforms. Much talk is circling around Bandcamp, and what may or may not happen as it transitions over to new ownership under Songtradr. Equally, I’ve seen The Verge’s article about the supposed downward spiral of Discogs go viral too. So, let’s get into this all.
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With Bandcamp, it feels like the speculation is outweighing any actions at present. Put simply, Songtradr is still completing the process of acquisition, so isn’t in a position to actually do too much for now. The attempts by Bandcamp staff to unionize remain a hot topic though, with the Bandcamp United team getting very vocal about its desire to have Songtradr recognise the union.
I have to be honest: I suspect this won’t end well. In general, businesses tend to prefer not to work with unions, purely because it creates a powerbase among staff, which in turn - to those in charge anyway - just creates problems.
With Bandcamp moving across to Songtradr, I’d think there’s more than enough means to quietly dampen down the whole unionisation move here, most likely by simply removing the main ringleaders from the process by making them redundant.
To be clear, I’m not justifying this - at all - but in business terms it feels like quite a logical outcome. Of course I could also be wrong, and Songtradr may embrace it with open arms, but frankly that’s not a gesture I’ve ever seen a large business make (aside from Secretly, who did - and fair play to them).
For now then, I feel we have to at least give Songtradr the chance to show what it can do. Not every change is for the worse…
… unless you are Discogs, at least according to a cross-section of longtime users/retailers on the site, who are complaining about rising fees and how that is affecting sales.
The article is worth reading on The Verge, if only because it seems oddly self-defeating somehow. In short, Discogs has raised prices, and added a tariff to its postage, but even with those increases, it is apparently still cheaper to sell through than eBay et al.
Equally, inflation has spiralled upwards, so everything has become more expensive. Certainly here at Motive Unknown software prices have all increased, as our wage overhead as we increase salaries, and that all has a knock-on effect to our clients. It has to. So is Discogs as evil as its being made out to be? Not in my view.
All that being said, I feel that we are seeing unrest at a time where Universal for one is keen to replace streaming remuneration with something that stacks the deck in its favour. Times are changing, and the DIY artists - the kind who will certainly make heavy use of the likes of Bandcamp - need to have safe, assured spots through which to ply trade. Ditto indie retailers who sell via Discogs.
For now then, I don’t feel we have huge existential threats going on - but equally, I think this should all be a gentle reminder to the music community not to take these platforms for granted. Change is afoot, and the biggest error the indie sector can make is to take the likes of Bandcamp - and yes, Discogs too - for granted.
Let’s not be realising the true value - culturally as well as economically - only after these platforms may have died or hit a terminal decline.
Have a great evening,
🎶 listening to “Untitled” by Hardnoise. There was a moment back in the late 80s/early 90s where a certain strand British hip hop came out punching like Tyson Fury. Anger was directed into the beats and what emerged was something quite unlike US hip hop. There’s no better example IMO than this track, which still delivers one of the heaviest beats out there, some 33 years later. Incendiary.
📺 watching “Why Moog Died (As We Know It”)”, another terrific video essay from Benn Jordan, this time looking at Moog’s ‘death’ as it gets subsumed into the InMusic world. Really though this is about these music megabrands like Behringer and how it is affecting other companies by copying products. A must-watch IMO.
🤖 playing with RipX, which I finally purchased. Capable of not just splitting stems but allowing pitch correction, harmony addition, FX and all manner of other things within the track itself, this frankly feels like wizardry to a man of my age. Incredible.
Stories from the Music Industry:
While Spotify’s customers are capped at paying a maximum of $10.99 per month, the spending of any given Bandcamp customer is theoretically limitless—and affected by nearly endless variables. For example, one of my earlier analyses of the platform found that customers voluntarily paid more money to musicians from their own countries, as well as to those whose releases were associated with charitable causes. Some customers buy one track a year, while others spend thousands of dollars. Jazz listeners are more likely to buy CDs, techno DJs are more likely to buy individual digital tracks, and so on.
👆🏻Hot take: I think this is a simple truth that can often get overlooked, but it speaks not just to Bandcamp’s potential as a business, but also just how much it underpins the grassroots level of indie artists worldwide.
The problems started in earnest when the company raised its fee from 8 to 9 percent on May 22nd of this year, and — crucially — started charging that same fee on shipping costs for the first time, an issue considering how international the record market is.
👆🏻Hot take: at a point where most prices have risen by 10% or more due to inflation, I’ll confess that I don’t find Discogs actions to be all that controversial. Just me?
Every US AMC Theatre location will run at least four showtimes per day on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with tickets priced at $19.89, plus tax; while children’s and senior tickets are priced at $13.13, plus tax. The announcement of the film arrived amid unprecedented demand for tickets for the artist’s concert tour, which, as reported by the Wall Street Journal in June could surpass $1 billion in gross revenues.
👆🏻Hot take: this is an interesting counterpoint to the indie stories here. TS is a unicorn, so there’s no wider learning for artists here IMO until they ascend to a similarly massive level. Either way though, it’s oddly reassuring to see any artist generate this level of response from fans.
Songtradr says it will ‘work towards a fair and equitable outcome’ for Bandcamp workforce, following layoffs at Bandcamp made by former owner Epic Games
Songtradr told MBW in a statement today: “We have received Bandcamp United’s letter and are reviewing it.” The statement added: “Supporting the Bandcamp community will be our number one priority once the purchase is completed.” Songtradr further clarified that it “does not own or control Bandcamp yet”, and that “we are in the process of acquiring Bandcamp from Epic Games, and we expect the transaction to close within the next few weeks”.
👆🏻Hot take: I feel this story is still unfolding, but what will be worth keeping an eye out for is whether union advocates will be quietly removed or made redundant in the transition over to Songtradr’s ownership.
Over & over, through 50 in-depth conversations, I’ve found artists to be articulate, informed and often ahead in their thinking about the business side of music. Of course, any artist should know about the structure of the music biz. They should know the basics of copyright and how to read a royalty statement (and how to make sure they actually have one). But my guests on the Art of Longevity have shown real insights and wisdom about understanding fans, marketing and of course, creators’ somewhat diminished position in the music industry value chain. They get it. And they want to fix it.
👆🏻Hot take: I think a really good point is being made here - namely that often artists are far, far more informed about all things music business than some give credit for.
Stories from the Broader World of Tech:
Adobe is set to announce a new AI-powered photo editing tool at the Adobe Max event next week that makes it much easier to alter images without prior editing experience. According to a promotional video (seen via Techspot), the new “object-aware editing engine” — dubbed Project Stardust — automatically identifies individual objects in regular photographs, allowing them to be easily moved around and changed.
👆🏻Hot take: I’m keen to see what this will be like. For one thing, Adobe has a a lot of business to potentially lose here, so it’s safe to assume this will be pretty amazing.
Rooster Teeth senior writer and showrunner for RWBY Kerry Shawcross posted a video on Thursday announcing the change, explaining that “YouTube revenue is just not cutting it for us right now.” Shawcross said Rooster Teeth also moved Camp Camp to the site, where episodes will continue to be ad-supported and free to watch. He added Rooster Teeth gets “approximately 5 – 10 times more value” from ads it runs on its own website, adding that “animation’s hard and it’s expensive.”
👆🏻Hot take: I am conscious one move =/= an exodus, but it is nonetheless notable that a business of Rooster Teeth’s scale is effectively saying it can now make better money away from YouTube.
Ultimately, Miller says, the five shipping Arc Max features made the cut because they’re fast, they’re useful, and they actually help you use the internet better. And less. “People already have full lives,” he says, “so how do you make those little moments that are faster, fewer clicks, and not make them learn or invent anything new?”
👆🏻Hot take: I’ve become a huge fan of Arc since it launched, and this is the kind of AI deployment I am really enjoying - i.e. pragmatic, genuinely useful features, not wild attempts to upend an entire model. Grab your copy here.
Need something else to read? Here you go:
Tips for feeling motivated, embracing bad ideas, getting over creative blocks, and more.
👆🏻Hot take: in the absence of ever owning the Oblique Strategies cards, I’m all in for Lego’s equivalent. Not joking!
I love Spotify. I’ve been using Spotify for the past five years. However, the absolutely WORST part about being a Spotify user has to be the updates.
👆🏻Hot take: I’ll admit I was admitting a bit of a whinge post here, but actually some very good points are raised. Hoping someone at Spotify reads and takes note!
Temu’s meteoric growth – and its astronomical marketing budget – has experts asking whether its business model is sustainable
👆🏻Hot take: Temu has been quite the topic here at MU. Yes, this stuff is dirt cheap, but as the article asks, is it sustainable? Surely not…
The latest from Motive Unknown's world:
This performance of “Motherless” from Killer Mike, brilliantly assisted by Robert Glasper and Eryn Allen Kane, is simply stunning, arresting stuff, which takes the original song and turns it into a fragile, beautiful elegy to Mike’s late mother and grandmother. It’s a must watch.
As ever, we remain a proud part of the Run The Jewels team, and an equally proud part of the Loma Vista team working on Mike’s solo album “Michael”. Now go watch that clip! ❤️
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