Bandcamp sells to Epic: can a movie game organization conserve independent audio? | Music

Musos and players were still left scratching their heads past Wednesday as Bandcamp, the on the web report shop hailed by unbiased artists as a bankable alternative to the razor-thin royalties of streaming, introduced its acquisition by Epic Game titles, makers of the online gaming phenomenon Fortnite.

Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond framed the deal as a boon for artists, saying that the two US businesses shared a eyesight of creating “the most open, artist-welcoming ecosystem in the world”. A blogpost from Epic underlined the will need for “fair and open platforms” to permit “creators to preserve the the vast majority of their challenging-gained money”.

But Bandcamp buyers reacted with shock and disappointment to the sale of the indie juggernaut, lamenting the decline of “our” retail outlet, as drummer and Spotify critic Damon Krukowski tweeted.

“We all just bought marketed,” lamented media theorist McKenzie Wark. Bemused players and tech gurus, meanwhile, wondered what probable works by using a firm these kinds of as Epic – itself 40% owned by Chinese gaming megacorp Tencent – could possibly have for the direct-to-fan market for MP3s of niche musical genres like vaporwave and chiptune.

Considering that its founding in 2008, Bandcamp has turn into a cornerstone of the world-wide underground tunes economic climate by its “pay-what-you-want” obtain construction and reduced commissions, having a 15% minimize of every single sale. All through the pandemic, the San Francisco-centered enterprise attained kudos for waiving that charge on the initially Friday of every single month, producing tens of millions of pounds for artists, as effectively as donating to racial justice campaigns such as the NAACP Legal Protection Fund.

Epic has its own keep track of report as a plucky indie, getting remained mostly in the hands of CEO Tim Sweeney due to the fact its founding in 1991. Like Bandcamp, Epic can take a fairly modest lower from developers, location its commission at 12% when compared with Apple’s 30%. Epic even took Apple to courtroom – and lost, at great price – to accuse the tech giant of monopolising the mobile gaming marketplace. But the company’s fortunes have soared in new a long time after the achievement of Fortnite and other free of charge-to-engage in games. Now valued at $28bn, and experiencing its have controversies around details assortment and Retailer exclusivity, it’s no more time a feisty underdog.

Lots of unbiased artists, presently squeezed by the collapse of actual physical sales and – considering the fact that Covid – a very long hiatus from touring, see the Bandcamp sale as one more disappointment in a prolonged custom of indie sellouts. But tech industry experts and neophyte musicians have also been speculating on the possibility of new integrations between Bandcamp’s large catalogue of songs and Epic’s slicing-edge video game technologies. These variety from reside-streaming events these types of as Fortnite’s virtual concert events, which have noticed artists Travis Scott and Marshmello placing on trippy performances for tens of millions of emoting avatars, to social areas such as Party Worlds, intended for virtual hangouts fairly than battle and destruction.

‘It has always been part of platform capitalism, where growth is paramount’ ‘… Zola Jesus.
‘It has often been portion of system capitalism, exactly where expansion is paramount’ ‘… Zola Jesus. Photograph: Barney Britton/Redferns

Over and above the chaotic entire world of Fortnite, Epic could also be thinking about simple routes into licensing new music for computer software builders applying Unreal Motor, the open up and totally free-to-use progress system designed by Epic’s Sweeney. There are evident chances for integration with Harmonix, the online games studio driving Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

Additional importantly, Sweeney is a longtime proponent of virtual actuality and its buzzy reincarnation as the metaverse, the guarantee of a digital 3D setting developed from interconnecting areas and social networks. “The most plausible way the metaverse is going to increase,” Sweeney mentioned in 2020, “isn’t from a single company, even Epic, making this thing and forcing most people to use it. It is going to be from much more and more providers and brand names connecting their products and providers.”

In that sense, Epic’s acquisition can also be read as a perform for the hearts and minds of the subsequent era of musicians and tunes enthusiasts who have developed up in virtual worlds this sort of as Fortnite. Relatively than attempting to convert digital natives into record-shopping for traditionalists, the wise shift could be to meet Generation Z the place they already are, among the the 160 million players within the Epic Game titles Store.

Providing to Epic may also have introduced itself as the minimum worst option for a business less than strain to offer returns for its early buyers. Bandcamp been given undertaking cash backing in its early years, and while the precise figures involved are mysterious, market logic dictates that VC-backed startups at some point get started searching for an exit: both float on the stock current market, which functions for firms exhibiting extraordinary development and considerable upcoming valuation, or offer up.

Irrespective of whether or not that’s the case for Bandcamp, it won’t do much to cheer up the musicians and enthusiasts who long back identified Silicon Valley economics as the source of their woes. On social media, the offer was fulfilled with cynicism by some of the musicians who make up Bandcamp’s international community of creator-individuals. “It’s VC-funded and has constantly been portion of system capitalism, the place development is paramount,” wrote experimental artist Zola Jesus.

The irony is that Bandcamp has generally positioned by itself as a “community” fairly than a marketplace, yet that neighborhood has not been specified a say in the destiny of the worth it has developed. The option, say some artists, is to get again command – either by relocating over to a platform like Resonate, a streaming cooperative owned by its buyers, or exploring new Net3 protocols for collective possession. Austin Robey, co-founder of substitute music system Ampled, advocates for an “exit to community”, a product in which startups are taken above by the consumers and stakeholders who depend on the product or service they’ve developed.

However, no other indie system has nonetheless accomplished everything like the scale or enchantment of Bandcamp, and the change to option platforms will have to have a leap of technological literacy that most artists and supporters aren’t all set to make. In the quick phrase, Bandcamp stays the slickest immediate-to-fan operation in town – and is still shelling out out hundreds of thousands to artists.

“The goods and providers you depend on are not going any where,” confident Diamond in his assertion. Nothing at all will adjust in the shorter term, is the assure – though it is the same one that accompanies each and every equivalent acquisition. Those people outdated adequate to try to remember getting rid of their MySpace audio right away may well be feeling itchy. Term to the wise, suggested one particular suspicious user, “download all your Bandcamp MP3s if you have not yet”.