In a year from hell for most of the music industry, one online music retailer represented a lone bright spot for those musicians outside of entertainment’s upper class.
Beginning last March, the “Bandcamp Fridays” promotion allowed fans around the globe to purchase more than $40M worth of digital music, vinyl records, and t-shirts directly from their favorite artists (along with some new ones) — marking one 2020’s best digital marketing campaigns in music.
The promotion was so successful because it aligned with Bandcamp’s core brand identity as being an all-in-one service for musicians at all points of the spectrum to sell their music and merchandise directly to fans. Bandcamp rode into 2021 as the anti-corporate shining star of the music industry.
Before their Fridays promotion, Bandcamp was largely a niche platform — you may have visited in support of the debut EP of your high school classmate’s ska band or to find buy merchandise one indie band you heard on a friends playlist during that BBQ last summer. In 2021, the brand’s visibility is at an all time high, with even some of the most casual music fans being familiar with Bandcamp, after gaining more than 100K followers on Instagram and 40K on Twitter since starting the promotion.
And the impact that the Fridays promotion had on Bandcamp’s bottom line? The proof is in the pudding — Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond told the LA Times in August that sales on the platform are up 120% year-over-year. Fans also spent money on Bandcamp beyond the Fridays promotion, as the company reported more than $145M in additional music and merchandise sales from March through December 2020. That means that nearly 30% of the $600M in sales generated on Bandcamp happened last year.
It’s no secret that artist payouts from digital streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music are laughably tiny. Spotify, the industry standard for DSPs, pays out about $.003 to $.005 per stream, according to Business Insider, which means a song has to be streamed about 250 times for an artist to earn a dollar (all before factoring splits amongst the band and their record label). For artists who aren’t in the top 5% of listenership, streaming revenue has largely taken a backseat to their revenue from touring and physical merchandise sales. 2020 changed all of that, however, as touring revenue was all but non-existent and the divide between earnings tiers amongst musicians grew even deeper.
Indie artists, along with their fans and those generally concerned about the wellbeing of artists, jumped on Bandcamp Friday from the start, making purchases and spreading awareness for their favorite purchases on social media platforms. Round-ups of top releases became easy content for online publications and music writers on Twitter. Bandcamp was also uniquely prepared for the promotion, as one of the core competencies of the platform has always been its music blog Bandcamp Daily, where releases on the site are highlighted with reviews, artists and label profiles, and lists (tons of lists).
Other campaigns have attempted to rally public support for the music industry during the COVID-19 pandemic — which includes musicians, roadies, agents, venues, and many others that contribute to nearly $60B in global revenue from music — often appealing to consumer heartstrings. Joe Biden’s presidential campaign launched a now infamous ad featuring Ann Arbour, MI concert venue The Bling Pig, which was later taken down from YouTube after the club’s owner received threats. Another popular promotion came from Canadian liquor brand Crown Royal, who’s ad spot featured “Hamilton” actor Anthony Ramos and singer Ari Lennox singing Sly & The Family Stone’s “If You Want Me To Stay” to a montage of shuttered music venues around the country. There’s also the #SaveOurStages campaign promoted by the National Independent Venue Association, who were successful in lobbying Congress to pass the Save Our Stages Act in December. The bill is a $15B lifeline that aims to keep venues afloat while concerts are largely prohibited around the country, allowing them to continue to host musicians in the future, but does little by way of help for bands struggling in the short-term.
None of these campaigns, however, offered as direct a way for fans to support artists as Bandcamp Fridays have.