The Great Music App War (God Help Us All)

So, there’s been a lot of news lately surrounding some of our favorite music apps. In particular, this video is making its way around Reddit:

(Warning: This video contains gross corporate appeasement.)

Basically, it’s Spotify complaining about how Apple seems to actively disrupt Spotify on their platform to steer Iphone users towards Apple’s platform.

Apple’s Response:

What Spotify is demanding is something very different. After using the App Store for years to dramatically grow their business, Spotify seeks to keep all the benefits of the App Store ecosystem — including the substantial revenue that they draw from the App Store’s customers — without making any contributions to that marketplace. At the same time, they distribute the music you love while making ever-smaller contributions to the artists, musicians and songwriters who create it — even going so far as to take these creators to court.

Taking artists to court? Wait…What is Apple talking about?

Spotify has every right to determine their own business model, but we feel an obligation to respond when Spotify wraps its financial motivations in misleading rhetoric about who we are, what we’ve built and what we do to support independent developers, musicians, songwriters and creators of all stripes.

Whelp… It’s pretty EH.

What makes all of this SUPER GROSS, is that this is all a reaction to this:

Spotify is looking to gain any kind of leeway it can in order to supplement a profit loss from artists being paid better. And it’s not only Spotify. Pandora and Amazon Music are also throwing a fit. Apple feels secure, because they can make up any lost profits in whatever jack-less phone they’re selling this year.

But this is all… Pretty bleh.

Spotify, Google, Pandora, and Amazon have all signaled their plans to appeal. The first three companies said in a joint statement that the CRB increased royalty rates “in a manner that raises serious procedural and substantive concerns.” If left intact, they claimed, the decision would hurt both streaming services and songwriters.

My response to this is I can’t wait to be employed so I can buy more music on Bandcamp.

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I haven’t read too much into Bandcamp’s practices, but it is, objectively, the best way to stream/purchase music from artists, right?

This article from The Baffler last year about Spotify’s creation and catering towards “streambait” is rather fascinating and, I think, pairs well with the material above.

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I can’t speak to the validity of this, but this 2016 reddit post from a musician details how much he made from each platform. It looks like Apple and Bandcamp average out to roughly the same after Paypal fees for sales on Bandcamp. However, he also says he allows people to pay what they want for his music, which skews the numbers a bit. Overall, I still prefer to go through Bandcamp whenever possible, if only to keep from feeding the beast that is Apple.

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I’m surprised to see his Spotify numbers, despite how little a cut he actually makes from the platform.

Living in Austin and knowing some independent musicians, I can attest to the fact that artists do not make much off of Spotify streams. And since the payout is split amongst publishers, record labels, and the musicians themselves, they need to get numbers in the millions to make anything substantial.

I now basically use the service to check out a band and if I like them, I’ll find a way to purchase their music.

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Yeah, I have found that vinyl is good for supporting an artist. They’re usually pretty expensive, and its the only physical music I own nowadays… My CDs are either lose or in broken jewel cases.

Bandcamp is objectively the best way to buy anything from musicians. Being able to create a free account, upload music directly and start selling it is highly underrated. It can be a merch store, as well. The only way to get on many other popular platforms is through a distributor, where you either pay an upfront fee or have them take a second cut on top of what the platform is already taking.

Bandcamp also reduces its fee the more you sell, and after over ten years, they are still the only website I deal with that I feel I can actually trust. Not going after VC or drastically changing the way they do anything. There is an uphill climb with the fees when you first start using Bandcamp and don’t get many purchases, but tbh, that whole part of life as an artist is already an uphill climb.

Yes, Spotify really does pay that little. On services like Spotify and YouTube, someone would have to stream songs of mine about 1,600 times to equal what I get from ONE $10 Bandcamp digital purchase. They are only profitable when you get a mass of people consistently listening and begin getting algorithm favor/playlist placement. I know many musicians who do not get enough streams to make back the $19.99 fee they give to Distrokid per YEAR to keep the music on the services. Because yeah, you have to get like 4,000 plays to make it back, and that’s no small feat.

Last note, vinyl’s resurgence is helping artists out but they are hugely expensive to do independently depending on where you live (thousands of dollars) and a modestly-sized run of just 500-1000 can easily clean out an artist’s savings if every single one of them doesn’t sell. So please keep in mind for your favorite artists who don’t do vinyls that it’s never as easy as just having the idea. And a lot of vinyls are being cut as part of a deal with someone who has access to pressing facilities and is going to split the profits with the artists.

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As a musician who runs a band, I would definitely prefer it if everybody bought our stuff from Bandcamp. If they’re going to use a streaming service, I’d prefer it to be Apple Music because we do make noticeably better rates from there than from Spotify, from which we tend to make garbage nothingness.

As a personal music listener I always go to Bandcamp first, but I am also an Apple Music subscriber because I love how integrated the service is with the iCloud Music Library feature, which means I can buy everything I want on Bandcamp and dump the files into my library, which are then synced to my iPhone and all my computers and appear alongside all the streaming service tracks. (And I genuinely can’t stand Spotify’s interface, which is part of it as well.)

But yes, Bandcamp is far and away the best option to support virtually any indie band you might know. Bandcamp does not get nearly enough attention for how artist-friendly and easy to use they are, and they’ve also talked about how they have been consistently profitable for ages now, so I have little fear about their health.

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You REALLY wouldn’t know from the outside just how different it is to get something on Spotify/iTunes/etc vs. getting it on Bandcamp. I think people might think we just upload everything directly. The majority of platforms require paying someone else a cut/fee or having a connection in the industry, and it often takes days to hit platforms (my distributor literally says idk, 3-5 days it should be up everywhere, let us know if it’s not). Bandcamp takes 30 minutes to an hour and it’s right there.

Bandcamp was unique for this when it launched, and it’s still unique. Other services are too complicated and unfriendly.

Yep, exactly this - we go through Tunecore to get our stuff on the various services, and I don’t care for it or any of the other go-between services. I have to pay Tunecore every year to keep our stuff on the streaming services, which (considering how little money most of them pay us) seems like a stupid move on our part, but then you have to worry about not getting heard by people who won’t use something like Bandcamp…sigh.

Bandcamp is so much simpler, with no go-betweens required to get your stuff online.

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Question for @2Mello, @Tomorrowville, and any other musicians who may be out there: @2Mello noted some of the pros/cons of pressing vinyl for independent artists and I am curious, generally, how y’all may approach making “physical” releases in general. Is this pretty much a dead practice aside from vinyl? Do you see reasons to offer CDs, cassettes, and other physical versions of your work on Bandcamp or do the potential costs outweigh the benefits? The general struggle, as far as I can tell, these days seems to be primarily between streaming and actually purchasing digital files so have a lot of folks shifted focus away from tangible releases?

I am asking as someone who used to be pretty involved, or tuned in to, a local diy music community in the aughts and a little beyond (I am cringing slightly at describing myself like this as I feel like it just makes me seem old now) when digital was becoming the norm but everyone seemed to still produce physical recordings as well–even if they were simply a vessel to provide a download code or a CD that your ripped to your computer and promptly forgot.

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We’ve never done vinyl, because we don’t feel like we’re popular enough to support it (vinyl pressing is EXPENSIVE and I have had so many visions of our apartment being filled with crates of unsold records from some theoretical minimum order of 1,000 or whatever).

We’ve done cassettes, and while they’ve never been huge sellers for us I don’t mind doing them, because it’s cheap to do and a fun little keepsake, if nothing else, for fans. I’ve even done my own cassette dubbing for a release a couple of years ago, though last time we went with a professional.

I always offer CDs, because we use Kunaki to make them, which is a nearly-all-automated CD plant in Nevada that offers them for little money but pretty good quality, and they’re SO cheap to make (and Kunaki will drop ship them on demand to our fans, rather than me having to keep a huge inventory around) that it’s not much trouble. The CD sales breakdown is interesting to me - we always have them offered for our releases on Bandcamp, and we very rarely ever get CD purchases from American fans, but have sold a bunch to fans in the UK, greater Europe, etc. But we do sell CDs at shows pretty well in the US.

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CDs are really cheap and dependable. I use Nationwide Disc for my little digipaks and I’ve used Kunaki as well. I’ve almost sold all the CDs I’ve ever made, albeit slowly for some releases, so people definitely still buy them. Maybe only because they are my one merch item.

I’ve never tried cassettes and if you go with someone who’s experienced in making them, I think they’re very cheap too.

Vinyl is just a pain in so many ways. Hard to store, weird to ship, costs thousands. I know it’s the premium, ultimate physical form of music right now but you have to be absolutely sure you will sell out.

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Wow good thread. I was recently considering signing up for Spotify premium but hadn’t put much thought into how and how much artists get paid from streaming. I shall look at the other options.

I’ve been using Bandcamp for the past few years - probably buy $30-50/mth of music. It’s obviously more than if I were using a streaming service, but I’m happier knowing that the artists are getting a decent share of it. They also have a pretty good blog for finding new artists, though even as a bit of a self-confessed hipster when it comes to music taste I find the blog can sometimes lean heavily into more experimental rather than interesting or listenable.

As a music player app I’m not too convinced, and tend to just listen to new artists on my laptop before buying and playing with a good music app on my phone.

Bandcamp is great, and I buy a lot of music there as well! You’re right about the app being bad though. It’s frustrating that there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell what music is downloaded to your phone and what is streaming. Also, on iPhone at least, you can’t buy music straight from the app. I think that has more to do with Apple’s weird app store policies though. I usually end up buying the album on Bandcamp, and then downloading it on Apple Music if it’s available there.

I wouldn’t be able to speak to issues with Apple - just use Android myself.

FWIW, I use BlackPlayer. Solid interface with plenty of customisation for usability.