Musos and gamers were still left scratching their heads past Wednesday as Bandcamp, the on the net record retailer hailed by independent artists as a bankable alternative to the razor-slim royalties of streaming, announced its acquisition by Epic Games, makers of the on the net gaming phenomenon Fortnite.
Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond framed the offer as a boon for artists, declaring that the two US firms shared a vision of building “the most open, artist-friendly ecosystem in the world”. A blogpost from Epic underlined the want for “fair and open up platforms” to help “creators to continue to keep the majority of their tricky-gained money”.
But Bandcamp end users reacted with shock and disappointment to the sale of the indie juggernaut, lamenting the decline of “our” retail store, as drummer and Spotify critic Damon Krukowski tweeted.
“We all just got marketed,” lamented media theorist McKenzie Wark. Bemused players and tech professionals, meanwhile, questioned what achievable takes advantage of a firm this kind of as Epic – itself 40% owned by Chinese gaming megacorp Tencent – could have for the direct-to-lover marketplace for MP3s of area of interest musical genres like vaporwave and chiptune.
Considering that its founding in 2008, Bandcamp has come to be a cornerstone of the international underground songs economic climate by way of its “pay-what-you-want” download composition and very low commissions, taking a 15% lower of each and every sale. Throughout the pandemic, the San Francisco-centered business acquired kudos for waiving that charge on the very first Friday of each individual thirty day period, creating hundreds of thousands of pounds for artists, as nicely as donating to racial justice campaigns which include the NAACP Lawful Defense Fund.
Epic has its possess monitor document as a plucky indie, obtaining remained mainly in the fingers of CEO Tim Sweeney since its founding in 1991. Like Bandcamp, Epic will take a relatively compact cut from developers, location its fee at 12% compared with Apple’s 30%. Epic even took Apple to court – and lost, at good expenditure – to accuse the tech big of monopolising the cellular gaming marketplace. But the company’s fortunes have soared in new decades after the good results of Fortnite and other totally free-to-engage in video games. Now valued at $28bn, and dealing with its personal controversies above details selection and Shop exclusivity, it’s no more time a feisty underdog.
Many impartial artists, already squeezed by the collapse of bodily profits and – since Covid – a extensive hiatus from touring, see the Bandcamp sale as yet another disappointment in a extended tradition of indie sellouts. But tech industry experts and neophyte musicians have also been speculating on the chance of new integrations amongst Bandcamp’s broad catalogue of tunes and Epic’s slicing-edge game engineering. These variety from reside-streaming functions this kind of as Fortnite’s digital concert events, which have viewed artists Travis Scott and Marshmello putting on trippy performances for thousands and thousands of emoting avatars, to social spaces these as Social gathering Worlds, built for digital hangouts instead than battle and destruction.
Past the hectic globe of Fortnite, Epic could also be wondering about quick routes into licensing new music for program builders employing Unreal Engine, the open and absolutely free-to-use advancement system created by Epic’s Sweeney. There are obvious possibilities for integration with Harmonix, the games studio behind Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Much more importantly, Sweeney is a longtime proponent of digital reality and its buzzy reincarnation as the metaverse, the promise of a digital 3D environment built from interconnecting areas and social networks. “The most plausible way the metaverse is going to rise,” Sweeney claimed in 2020, “isn’t from a person business, even Epic, developing this thing and forcing every person to use it. It is going to be from more and far more firms and manufacturers connecting their solutions and solutions.”
In that sense, Epic’s acquisition can also be read through as a participate in for the hearts and minds of the subsequent generation of musicians and music enthusiasts who have developed up in digital worlds such as Fortnite. Fairly than attempting to change electronic natives into report-obtaining traditionalists, the wise transfer could be to satisfy Generation Z where they by now are, between the 160 million gamers inside the Epic Video games Retailer.
Offering to Epic may perhaps also have offered itself as the minimum worst selection for a firm less than pressure to supply returns for its early investors. Bandcamp obtained venture funds backing in its early years, and even though the exact numbers concerned are unfamiliar, industry logic dictates that VC-backed startups ultimately start looking for an exit: possibly float on the stock market, which functions for businesses showing amazing growth and sizeable upcoming valuation, or promote up.
Regardless of whether or not which is the situation for Bandcamp, it won’t do significantly to cheer up the musicians and fans who long ago discovered Silicon Valley economics as the supply of their woes. On social media, the deal was achieved with cynicism by some of the musicians who make up Bandcamp’s worldwide local community of creator-people. “It’s VC-funded and has often been part of system capitalism, where by development is paramount,” wrote experimental artist Zola Jesus.
The irony is that Bandcamp has generally positioned alone as a “community” relatively than a market, yet that community has not been given a say in the destiny of the benefit it has made. The solution, say some artists, is to choose back manage – both by shifting in excess of to a system like Resonate, a streaming cooperative owned by its consumers, or discovering new Internet3 protocols for collective possession. Austin Robey, co-founder of alternate audio system Ampled, advocates for an “exit to community”, a product wherever startups are taken over by the people and stakeholders who depend on the products or company they’ve developed.
Still, no other indie system has however realized nearly anything like the scale or appeal of Bandcamp, and the shift to alternative platforms will call for a leap of technical literacy that most artists and followers aren’t all set to make. In the limited expression, Bandcamp continues to be the slickest immediate-to-supporter procedure in city – and is however spending out millions to artists.
“The items and services you rely on aren’t going wherever,” assured Diamond in his assertion. Nothing will transform in the small phrase, is the guarantee – although it’s the exact one particular that accompanies each and every comparable acquisition. Those people old ample to don’t forget losing their MySpace songs right away may possibly be feeling itchy. Word to the wise, advised one suspicious person, “download all your Bandcamp MP3s if you haven’t yet”.