A Music-Selling Platform Waives Some Fees To Support Artists During The Pandemic

May 1, 2020
Originally published on May 1, 2020 7:51 pm
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With live performances either are canceled or postponed, musicians are looking for other ways to make money. They are live streaming performances, offering online music lessons and doing that old-fashioned thing - you know, selling recordings. To help support artists, the music platform Bandcamp has announced it's going to waive its share of sales for one day each month for the next three months. That starts today. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Lilly Hiatt is a country influenced singer and songwriter who just put out a new album called "Walking Proof."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRIGHTEST STAR")

LILLY HIATT: (Singing) This whole winter long I've been lost in a song.

LIMBONG: A new album usually means a tour to promote it, something obviously Hiatt had to cancel and reschedule.

HIATT: With the complete uncertainty of if the rescheduled dates will even occur, so really there's nothing solid on my books right now in terms of work. So it's been actually terrifying to have that just pulled out from under me.

LIMBONG: Enter Bandcamp. It's a platform where you can search for independent artists you like, go to their pages and listen to full songs and not 30-second samples. You can also find new bands and, most importantly, buy recordings. Ethan Diamond is co-founder and CEO of Bandcamp.

ETHAN DIAMOND: We built the whole business around directly supporting artists. And when the pandemic hit and it became clear that, you know, artists couldn't perform live and lost a big part of their income, this need to directly support artists that just became even more urgent.

LIMBONG: Usually Bandcamp takes a 15% cut of a sale for digital music, 10% for vinyl, CD or merch. But in March, after the pandemic hit, the company decided to waive its fees for one day.

DIAMOND: Fans bought $4.3 million worth of music and merch in 24 hours. It was about 800,000 records. And that was about 15 times bigger than what was typical for us on a Friday.

LIMBONG: Because of that initial response, the company decided to continue doing it. So for the first Friday in May - that's today, in case you've lost track - June and July, the company is doing the same thing. For artists, particularly small ones, saving that 15% is a big deal.

JOSHUA VIRTUE: That doesn't seem like a lot, but that adds up so much over time.

LIMBONG: Chicago-based rapper Joshua Virtue - real name Alex Singleton - used to make money walking dogs and doing other odd jobs. Now, if he earns $2,000 in digital sales...

VIRTUE: They'll take like $300 out of that. Like, that's a lot of money to lose. So it's pretty cool for me

LIMBONG: But Bandcamp is just one of many companies offering music, and a smaller one at that. Musicians often argue that the big music streaming services - Tidal, Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube - still don't pay artists enough per stream. And Richard James Burgess argues that record sales still haven't bounced back from the era of unauthorized file sharing.

RICHARD JAMES BURGESS: The impact, the disruption that was precipitated by Napster.

LIMBONG: Burgess is the president of the American Association of Independent Music, a group that represents and advocates for independent record labels.

BURGESS: What I think that the pandemic has done to some extent is exposed the fragility of some musicians' existences. There are musicians that are literally living from gig to gig.

LIMBONG: Some platforms have offered additional support - sort of. Spotify recently added a widely criticized tip jar feature. The Recording Academy created a fund for artists that ran out of money. And Facebook announced it will start allowing artists to charge for livestreams. Joshua Virtue says that the pandemic has made one thing clear.

VIRTUE: People aren't going to be able to get new music unless they actively and directly support artists now. Like, there's just no way to do it.

LIMBONG: In other words, you can't just wait for your favorite band to come around on tour. Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.