Bandcamp subscriptions - Steve Lawson’s take

Bandcamp is piloting a new subscription system for artists - a whole new way to sell your music. Acclaimed solo bass artist Steve Lawson is testing it out and we asked him to tell us all about it.

Steve Lawson Terry Tyldesley

New relationship between artist and audience

How have you come to be one of the first artists to try the new system?

As an early, enthusiastic and opinionated user of Bandcamp, my work on new music economics came to the attention of Ethan Diamond who started Bandcamp, and through a mutual friend we struck up a friendship. When the idea for the subscription service came up, the way I make music was such an obvious fit, that I was one of the first asked if I wanted to try it.

What does it set out to do?

It’s pretty straight forward - instead of payments being ‘per iteration’ for individual items, you can set up the option to pay for an artist’s work annually. This sets up a very different kind of relationship between artist and audience, and potentially spreads out the earnings from recordings and takes some of the risk out of marketing a project. There’ll hopefully be less emphasis on the sales in the first week of release and more on providing the subscribers with the most brilliant value for money.

Breaking the music release cycle

What are the advantages for artists?

For prolific artists like me, it breaks the normal release cycle - there’s no way that even the press that really likes what I do can write about all of it, and it’s unlikely that radio will get behind a new album every 3 or 4 months, so having a way to release music and make some money from it that doesn’t require me to rely on the promotion of that individual album is a god-send. I’ll also, I expect, have people signing up through the year, so it will spread out the income in a more useful way.

Did you help develop it?

Every time I’m in San Francisco, I meet up with Ethan for a chat, and by now I’ve thrown so many ideas into the pot at Bandcamp, that I can’t remember what’s mine and what isn’t, but I certainly provided a lot of thoughts on the kind of service I’d want. Whether that just confirmed what they were doing already, or changed it, I’m not sure!

Bandcamp payment system

How does it work and how easy is it to use?

Like everything Bandcamp-related, the user experience is exemplary. Paying for it is as easy as can be, though it’s credit card rather than paypal, as paypal doesn’t handle recurring payments. And for the artist, setting it up is easy too - you get to choose which back catalogue albums are included and add new albums or merch items as ‘subscriber only’. It’s wonderful.

Your subscription price seems very good value, how did you work it out?

I honestly looked at what Candy Says were charging for theirs! I had been bundling a lot of my back catalogue together for £10, so I took that as a start point, and my USB Stick is £25, so I took £20 as a sort of upper mid-point, where I can provide excellent value, but I don’t need a huge number of subscribers to make it viable.

Steve Brown

Fan reaction

What has the reaction been so far from your fans and other musicians?

From other musicians, it has mostly been ‘how come you have it and we don’t?? I want this!!’ - which is coming soon..

From fans, the up-take has been steady, with a lot of people promising to buy as funds become available to them. The idea seems very popular…

How is it different and/or better than other subscription methods eg Kristin Hersh’s Cash music subscription?

Kristin really is the pioneer of so much in this space. She was the first to do a lot of the things we now see as normal. Her Strange Angels club is a tiered subscription and Bandcamp is currently flat rate (whatever rate you choose)… But the main similarity is that she is even more prolific than I am, and this is by far the best way for her to fund releasing that amount of music!

New ways of distribution

Do you think it will work for newer artists who may not yet have a devoted fanbase, or be very prolific?

I can see a lot of possible uses, for collectives, labels, record clubs… all kinds of ways of bands pooling their audiences to make distribution more viable. I’m really excited about those developments!