Will Epic’s ownership of Bandcamp affect the music industry for better or worse?
Last week, Epic Games acquired indie music platform Bandcamp, the latest in maker Fortnite’s line of creator-focused offerings.
Bandcamp was founded in 2007 to give musicians a place to sell music fairly, at a time when distribution was starting to go digital. From the start, the site was designed to give creators full power over how they sell their work and for how much.
It also became a home for independent developers to sell soundtracks; Bastion’s music, Terraria, Super Meat Boy, and Undertale are just a few examples of games that have had OSTs sold through Bandcamp.
Although the terms of the Epic deal weren’t disclosed, Bandcamp co-founder Ethan Diamond made a point of saying that the services Bandcamp creators depend on won’t go anywhere – including Bandcamp Friday, a monthly initiative launched in 2020 where the site takes 0% of sales from any artist for 24 hours. But even with that, many creators felt uncertain about the site’s future under such a big umbrella.
Kenny Young, sound designer and composer of games like Astro’s Playroom and Little Big Planet, questions the announcement’s promise to create more opportunities for creators, and whether this deal is more about games than traditional artists.
“It’s tempting to think this purchase must be gaming-related, but the more I think about it, the more unlikely it seems,” Young said. GamesIndustry.biz.
“It’s certainly possible that they’ll explore low-friction ways to integrate Bandcamp’s music into games – this should be an ‘opt-in’ for artists as Bandcamp doesn’t own any of the music on their service and therefore do not have the right to license it without first obtaining permission from the rights holders.
“But honestly, using licensed music in games is a tiny niche that would only benefit a handful of artists on the platform, so I don’t think that alone explains or justifies the acquisition.”
Matt “2 Mello” Hopkins is a heavily gaming-influenced hip-hop songwriter and artist, best known for his Jet Set Radio-inspired album.
Hopkins said he would prefer to remain as independent as possible, and the increasing rate of consolidation in the industry has made him nervous.
“It was a shock to wake up to the news and find that my little corner may also be affected by this ongoing consolidation of everything”
“I’ve put a lot of tokens on Bandcamp and always thought ‘everything will be fine as long as Bandcamp is here’. For that reason, it was a shock to wake up to the news and find that my little corner can also be affected by this continued consolidation of everything.”
Antoine Bordeleau, head of audiovisual at game marketing agency Purple is Royal is in a unique position; he creates and sells music professionally through Bandcamp but also works with independent titles.
Even from both angles, the acquisition came as a bit of a surprise to Bordeleau, as Epic’s presence on a company with grassroots support was immediately questionable. It’s not just Epic either; an even bigger shadow hangs over Bandcamp – Tencent.
“The pay-as-you-go model and implied independence of using the platform has always been hugely appealing to independent artists as well as music fans wanting to give back to the acts they love, without the a big company won’t grab most of the money from said transaction,” says Bordeleau.
“Epic’s – and by extension Tencent’s – involvement in Bandcamp can be seen as an immediate cause for concern in this department.”
As part of broader consolidation, the music industry is becoming increasingly intertwined. Tencent Holdings owns a 48% stake in Epic Games, and while that doesn’t directly affect Bandcamp, Tencent has slices of other companies that could tip the scales.
Tencent Holdings owns a 58% stake in Tencent Music, and both have a 10% stake in Universal Music. Universal has a 3.5% stake in Spotify, while Tencent Music has a 9% stake and Sony Music has a 2.9% stake. While the percentages are all relatively low, the tethers are still present and unnecessary art ownership is all the trouble Bandcamp was created to avoid.
Ella Hagi, senior campaign manager at creative studio Yrs Truly, highlights the authenticity of Bandcamp, particularly its crucial role in uplifting black artists over the past few years. That said, she remains open-minded at the moment and curious to see what Epic can bring to the table.
“There’s an authenticity to Bandcamp that no other underground music company of this stature can claim. Epic, as we know, has a soft spot for indie projects,” says Hagi. “Who’s to say the Epic Store will remain limited to games? Will they introduce a Bandcamp subscription model?”
“We know the influence that games have had on music, but the influence and credibility of musicians is certainly not at its peak when it comes to promoting games, so this may open up new avenues for this regard.
“The involvement of Epic – and by extension that of Tencent – in Bandcamp can be seen as an immediate source of concern in this department”
“I’m definitely being cautious here, but I think the days are over where we just have to dismiss people or businesses as sellouts, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens – I just hope whatever what’s to come allows Bandcamp to continue to put artists first.”
Bordeleau also noted that the deal between the two could bridge the gap between the gaming and music industries.
“If Bandcamp and Epic could find a way to bridge the gap between labels, artists and game developers, there could be a whole new way to sell your music and reach new audiences somewhere in there” , he said.
Young also reflected on the positives, taking a moment off the games angle to see how Bandcamp could be improved and how Epic could help. Last year, the company acquired artist platform ArtStation and 3D marketplace Sketchfab, as part of its vision to create a marketplace ecosystem for all types of creative disciplines.
“Streaming is how most people consume music these days, and Bandcamp is not a streaming service.” Young explains. “Technically, it exists, but it’s a bad experience.
“More ways for people to find and listen to independent music that pays artists fairly can only be a good thing”
“It’s partly a business decision that emphasizes purchases, downloads and merchandising. But the 2000s service design also suggests the company lacks the technical intelligence to enter the market. streaming market even if it wanted to. If that’s the case, teaming up with Epic might make a little more sense.
“I find myself romanticizing that Epic is going to take on Apple Music, but an artist-friendly streaming service isn’t attractive to major labels, so I’m not sure there will be a lot of competition for the big names out there.. So it definitely feels like an altruistic buy to me – more ways for people to find and listen to indie music that pays artists fairly can only be a good thing.”
Epic and Apple have been at odds for a few years, mostly in the form of a lengthy lawsuit that erupted after Apple pulled Fortnite from the App Store after Epic tried to circumvent the $30 platform fee. % of the platform. Bordeleau notes that Epic has garnered both goodwill and badwill from consumers and developers as a result of this battle, but ultimately Epic is taking less money than its competitors.
“The reduction in Epic Games Store transactions is less than half of what Google and Apple siphon off from their respective app stores; this could be a ray of hope that if Epic wants to change the way music is consumed and purchased on Bandcamp, it could be moving toward a better model of wealth redistribution for artists than is the norm with streaming services,” he says.
Hopkins views Bandcamp as his primary source of income and believes the platform is the best option for receiving ongoing revenue from a project. He also notes that streaming alone. is not a reliable or sustainable source of income for many musicians.
“Bandcamp has been the best option to receive a fair income from music,” he says. “As an indie game composer, I think Bandcamp is also the best option to receive ongoing income from soundtrack work by negotiating with your development team to sell your soundtracks through the site and keep those profits.”
With that in mind, he’s a bit more reserved about how Epic might alter Bandcamp’s offering, even if he doesn’t really intend to.
“Although I work in games, I have no experience working with Epic Games, so my involvement in games makes this acquisition more bizarre and surreal than anything else,” he adds. “I’ve seen how this pursuit of endless growth can change a service that was doing perfectly fine on its own, and I’ve always hoped that the temptation wasn’t there for Bandcamp at all. It’s true that we don’t know how it will go, but I don’t think it’s too unreasonable for artists to already have their defenses against this development.”
While Epic’s revenue slicing is positive, the buzz of buzzwords such as NFT and metaverse persists, and Bordeleau worries that Bandcamp’s pursuit of a deal may have accelerated after the financial lull. of two years that the music industry has faced in the wake of the pandemic.
And the company has already established its position on blockchain technology. While Valve claimed that NFTs would not be allowed on Steam, Epic was quick to take the opposite stance, saying that crypto-enabled games and services would be welcome on the Epic Game Store provided they are compatible. ‘align with platform guidelines.
While there’s no reason to suspect that these things will impinge on Bandcamp in the future, the likelihood is never zero.
“According to someone who remembers MySpace, you really never know when your favorite platform is going to shut down or morph into something that’s not aligned with your values (or those of your favorite artists ),” says Bordeleau.