Reflecting on the Bandcamp Union

As part of my article series, I have touched on the connection between Workers and AI. In the case on Bandcamp, this relationship is unique and evolving in a way we haven’t yet seen.

The Bandcamp union comes soon after the majority share purchase of the platform by Epic Games, held by Tencent. I would say that most general users of the Bandcamp platform did not see this coming nor did they even hear about this, but there are some important details here.

Homogenization of Music Streaming

From my own perspective, Tencent is a technology and information company that understands the value in diversifying their audience. When comparing Bandcamp to standard streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple music, it has carved it’s own space in independent music across the whole world, and has allowed musicians and labels alike to build platforms they could only dream of. Apart from owning Bandcamp, Epic Games runs many other popular games, apps, and content platforms.

As music streaming has become homogenized in the past years, Bandcamp has set an example for how music and physical media can be distributed. It replaces the need to build internal technology and the understanding needed to manage and utilize this. Although Bandcamp is incredibly easy to setup, it removes the work involved in establishing this kind of platform.

I could gauge that building an internal form of Bandcamp for a label would cost about 3000$ at a median cost. This would require a heavy initial investment, meanwhile Bandcamp requires zero cost to get started. This is a primary reason why independent artists use these services of distribution, product sales, and more. Controlling this means of distribution is a powerful tool and the impact is difficult to grasp when perceiving the value of our personal information, music tastes / distates, and more.

On the other hand, building an internal form of Bandcamp for a label is a fantastic way to engage deeper with your audience, and present a professional front for artists. Beyond that, there’s so many search engine benefits to building your own platform focused on music, IE my work with Lyrical Lemonade.

What is Our Data Worth?

This brings up the question of how valuable our data is, specifically in the context of Bandcamp. As we see more companies converge and sell large chunks of data away, we are beginning to truly understand how powerful personal information can be. Even in the case of TikTok, many apps use personal information for reasons beyond app analytics, and there is very little we can do as consumers to protect these rights.

On Bandcamp, there is a lot of data reflecting the music we like and listen to. There are simple and complex algorithms to recommend new artists to you based on music you’ve added to your wishlist or interacted with before. These calculations all require data points that are created for each user, and this data can be boiled into generalizations, or using AI, it can be used more deeply. In an ideal world, this information is beneficial to our user experience and helps us connect with more artists in a complex way. In reality, this information is used to sell us other products or commodified art, and further separate us from what we are truly seeking; real human connection.

The End of Bandcamp?

I’m not sure if it’s the end of Bandcamp, but looking at how bloated Fortnite is, I hope they use a soft touch with adding more features or ‘improving’ the website. Luckily, the platform as it exists works well and helps artists grow and expand their network. Reading more info online, it does seem like management at Bandcamp might be frustrated with the union and looking to take steps against the workers organizing it. Sounds closer to the end that we may be hoping for.