Just a few weeks ago, I wrote that I wasn’t making any significant commitments until the end of 2017, including advisory roles. Well, I should have put an asterisk on that. Earlier this week, I signed up as an advisor to Bandcamp and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
This formal advisory role happened really organically. I’ve been talking with the Bandcamp team informally for years and have always loved what they are doing and how they are doing it. Way back in the summer of 2010, I had lunch with Ethan Diamond and Shawn Grunberger, the co-founders of Bandcamp, and we compared notes on a lot of topics (I was CTO at Etsy then). Over the years, we’ve kept in touch. I just happened to have a lunch set up with Ethan and Josh Kim (Bandcamp COO) the week of the Etsy announcement and it was really fun. They asked me to be an advisor and I couldn’t resist getting involved. (Note: this doesn’t mean I’m looking more generally for other opportunities. Bandcamp and their focus on music just uniquely fits into how I want to be spending my time.)
Here are just a few of the things I love about Bandcamp:
1. The music
I love music and particularly love the independent music ecosystem and its constituent parts: the bands, the labels, the venues, college radio, music writers, and platforms like Bandcamp. Way back in the day, I ran the Duke Coffeehouse (more of that story here) and briefly had a show on WXDU. I have spent a lot of time in my life nerding out with friends on the aesthetics and taste of various indie labels and consuming vast quantities of music writing. I’ve long had a habit of throwing a handful of 33 ⅓ books into my carry on bag (the best book series of all time and the perfect form factor for travel — be sure to check out if you love music).
Back to the music: today I’m very much enjoying Agent blå’s self-titled record, which is the Bandcamp Daily “album of the day.” (more on Bandcamp’s awesome editorial below). This is great writing: “Skörvald, Gustavsson, and Alatalo used to play Joy Division covers together at local open mics, and Agent blå manages to capture all of that group’s darkness with none of the nihilism.” For people who’ve been looking for Joy Division without the nihilism or just about any other bands that operate outside of the Music Industry Industrial Complex, Bandcamp delivers.
2. The vision
It’s not just the music, it’s the vision and philosophy behind the company. From their about page: “Bandcamp makes it easy for fans to directly connect with and support the artists they love. We treat music as art, not content, and we tie the success of our business to the success of the artists who we serve.” Yes!
3. Artist-friendly model
The ethos is expressed in Bandcamp’s Fair Trade Music Policy: “Bandcamp believes that music is an indispensable part of culture, and for that culture to thrive, artists must be compensated fairly and transparently for their work.” But it’s not just an aspiration. The economics are also completely transparent and artist-friendly. Bandcamp’s share is 15% on digital items, and 10% on physical goods plus payment processing fees. Everything else goes to the the artist, usually 80-85%, and they pay out daily. This is how you build a “fair, sustainable music economy” (as the policy states). That’s awesome and no one else is doing it like Bandcamp.
4. Sustainable long-term operating model coupled with founder control
Bandcamp was founded in 2008 and has been profitable since 2012. They haven’t taken much outside money and maintain full control of the company.**
5. Excellent editorial.
I love great music writing and the team at Bandcamp clearly does, too. They hired a top-notch editorial staff and launched Bandcamp Daily about a year ago (see launch post for more on the vision). My favorite feature right now is “Better Know a College Radio Station.” Reading Bandcamp Daily feels like hanging out in a good neighborhood record store or having a conversation with a friend who’s hanging out with you at 2am at the college radio station helping you pick the next track you’re going to play.
I’m looking forward to helping the Bandcamp team out in any way they find my help useful — should be very fun!
** (elaborating on point #4 above) I’ll probably write more about this at some point, but I learned a lot about financing, ownership structure, and control over my tenure at Etsy. When I joined Etsy as CTO way back in 2008, the intention to be a public company had been stated months earlier (“Our goal is for Etsy to be an independent, publicly traded company.”) We didn’t go public until 2015, but five rounds of venture financing even before I stepped up to CEO in 2011 were very clear steps along that path. Nothing wrong with that — it’s the way things work when you take venture money, unless you want to sell the company — but that’s a particular path and Bandcamp has set itself up to go down a different road and that’s really interesting.
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