Yesterday, Epic Games announced that, in addition to laying off 16% of their workforce, they were also divesting Bandcamp, which they originally acquired back in March 2022. (These measures are due to less-than-expected revenue from Fortnite.) Bandcamp’s new owner is Songtradr, “a music licensing platform and marketplace company,” though Epic Games will continue collaborating with Bandcamp on Fortnite Radio.
I’ve made no efforts to hide my love for Bandcamp, which has been one of the few true bright spots in the post-COVID music industry due to their transparency and ongoing efforts to support artists (e.g., Bandcamp Fridays). Thus, this announcement fills me with some trepidation, and so I beg of Songtradr: please, please, please don’t screw this up.
Honestly, I don’t know how one could possibly screw this up, given Bandcamp’s success and good will amongst artists and fans alike. But we’ve all seen companies get acquired and then subsequently altered in the name of “disruption,” “innovation,” or some other corpo-speak buzzword, and in the process, lose what made them so special in the first place. That, or disappear altogether. (Why yes, I am still smarting from the loss of Rdio. That’s kind of you to ask.)
In their announcement, Songtradr claims that the acquisition “will help Bandcamp continue to grow within a music-first company.” Then there’s this bit:
Songtradr will also offer Bandcamp artists the ability and choice to have their music licensed to all forms of media including content creators, game and app developers and brands. This will enable artists to continue to own and control their music rights, and increase their earning capacity from Songtradr’s global licensing network.
At first blush, this sounds good. Who doesn’t want to see artists “control their music rights” and “increase their earning capacity”? And to be fair, this thread by the Future of Music Coalition points out some reasons to be hopeful about the acquisition. But it all depends on how that’s actually done, and whether Songtradr can avoid the “enshittification” process as outlined by Cory Doctorow:
Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.
Bandcamp has been very good to its users, i.e., the artists who use it to sell music and merchandise to their fans and the fans who use it to buy music and merchandise from their favorite artists. (To date, fans have paid artists $1.18 billion on Bandcamp.) It’s a beautiful circle, and Bandcamp has been very successful at facilitating it while turning a profit in the process. Given that success — not to mention good PR — it’s understandable why Epic Games and now Songtradr might want a piece of it.
I simply hope that, all corpo-speak aside, Songtradr resists the desire to “innovate” and just lets Bandcamp keep doing what they’ve been doing so well for so long: making it easy for fans to financially support their favorite artists. But if they don’t — if Songtradr does somehow mess up that which has made Bandcamp so successful to date — then it’s safe to say they’ll face a true PR nightmare from both the many artists who’ve come to rely on Bandcamp as a post-COVID lifeline and the many fans who want to keep supporting them.