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Bandcamp vs Beatport – Clash of the Titans

The landscape surrounding digital music consumption is constantly evolving. As an artist or label manager, keeping on top of how best to reach the right music consumers whilst looking to maximise revenue for your beloved music can be a trying business. Rather than opting for exclusivity, the general rule of thumb for most people releasing music is to exploit as many avenues, channels and platforms as possible, rather than putting all of your digital eggs in one exclusivity basket (though Beatport does offer slightly more favourable rates for exclusive tracks). As such, calling this article ‘Bandcamp vs Beatport’ is somewhat of a misnomer, as it’s not like choosing between Android and Apple for your next 2 year phone commitment; you can, and many do, have the same music for sale on both platforms simultaneously. Buy hey, let’s not let that fact get in the way of a good fight!

First of all, a quick bit of history: Beatport has been on the scene since 2004 and has gone through several iterations since then. Aimed primarily at DJs, both amateur and professional, it has been the number one source of new (and now old) electronic dance music internationally for most of that time. Bandcamp is the new(er) kid on the scene, entering the arena in 2008. Like Beatport, they are based in the US and have a growing global reach. In February 2018, Bandcamp announced that 600,000 artists had sold something through the site, with payments to artists exceeding $270 million. As of this September 2019, that figure had soared to $421 million, with $8 million of that spent in September alone. 

Ethos: key differences 

With Beatport, you always get the feeling that Beatport – the platform itself – remains the biggest character in the room. Whereas with Bandcamp, you do get the impression that the artists and labels themselves are allowed to take centre stage. On Bandcamp artist pages, for instance, you can fully customise the look of the page and customise its features, adding links to social pages, external merchandise sites, your website, and basically making the page your own. Whereas on the Beatport artist pages, once verified, you can add a photo and a bio and that’s it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just depends what you consider to be important. For some, just having an artist page on Beatport with easy access to purchase all of your back catalogue is all that’s required. An other key difference with Bandcamp is that anyone can create a page. You don’t need to be affiliated with a label or digital distributor, unlike with Beatport (though you can of course be both the artist and label and get on Beatport).

Genres

Despite Beatport now featuring over 30 different genres including ultra-niche terms like “leftfield bass” and “organic house”, the platform is very much centred around electronic dance music in all it’s glorious permutations. Bandcamp, however, is a lot more open and, as you would expect, populated by bands and ‘traditional’ musicians (as well as electronic and dance music producers). For some, this will mean that Beatport isn’t even really an option (though these people are unlikely to be reading this article in the first place) but for many, it will mean having visibility on both Bandcamp and Beatport, such as uber-hip disco house producer Peggy Gou. It’s worth noting that you have to pick one genre per track on Beatport, which can cause a headache for those who have a fairly eclectic sound. For instance, Peggy’s tracks are individually filed under various genres on Beatport, from ‘Indie Dance’ to ‘House’, whereas on her Bandcamp artist page, where multiple tags can be used in lieu of selecting one genre, her 2019 smash Moment EP has the more esoteric descriptors: “electronic, peggygou, house, techno, Berlin”. So if you prefer not be put (or put yourself) in a box, Bandcamp offers you more scope for scatty-as-you-lie self identification…

Buy or stream? Buy AND stream

Bandcamp have offered streaming for some time now and Beatport have now joined the party, but with a key difference. Bandcamp users can stream all the tracks they’ve bought at no additional charge, so you don’t need access to wherever you’ve downloaded files (if you have even got round to downloading them). Beatport, however, now offers a Spotify-like subscription service where you don’t need to have bought tracks, you just have access to their whole catalogue of music. For a price. Beatport Link lets you access and stream from the entire Beatport catalogue straight to your DJ software, so it’s very much aimed at DJs rather than your casual listener. Currently it works with Pioneer’s Rekordbox DJ and WeDJ apps, with Virtual DJ joining the party as of 2020. Subscribers are able to create playlists on the Beatport site and add songs to them. They can then access these playlists (and search the 9 million+ catalogue of tracks – gulp!) whilst DJing. There are three subscription tiers: the basic Beatport Link (US$14.99 / £11.99 per month) comes with streaming and the ability to make playlists on Beatport. Beatport Link Pro (US$29.99/ £22.99 per month) comes with all that, plus an ‘Offline Locker’ with storage for up to 50 songs (like Spotify Premium offline mode). Finally, the top-tier Beatport Link Pro+ (US$44.99 / £33.99 per month) gets you all the above, but with storage for up to 100 songs in the Offline Locker. So it is quite pricey. But you have to remember that Beatport traditionally was a pay-per-track download only site, and for artists and labels to make any money from streaming, some money has to come in. Which brings us on nicely to…

The Monies 

Bandcamp has become known (and loved) for the comparatively generous cut it gives to musicians and labels: a whopping 85% of music purchase revenue. At the time of writing, this compares to only 60% on Beatport (though it used to be only 50%!). For comparison, iTunes pays out 70%. But this is for music purchases only; what about Beatport’s new Link streaming service for DJs? I hear you ask. Good question. 

The announcement of Link understandably had labels who make decent money from biting their nails. Beatport have stated that they create a royalty pool to share with all labels and then distribute based on number of plays via Link, with the per-play pay fee will change depending on subscriptions/plays. Whether this new model will prove financially fruitful for music creators and labels is yet to be seen, but Beatport have said that  the per stream rate is “very likely to be higher than other streaming services” and that they are putting “the lion share of the LINK revenue into label payments.”

As far as good old-fashioned downloads are concerned, the current cost per track to customers on Beatport is between US$1.29/ £0.99p and US$1.00 / £1.49, depending on newness and exclusivity. Bandcamp, however, allows the artist/label to set the price. In fact many artists set up a pay-as-much-as-you-like approach for some releases (sometimes starting from zero), which, somewhat paradoxically, can bring in substantial revenue, as the people who get the music for next-to-nothing (or nothing) end up doing some free promotional work for you; bigging you up to other music fans who are perhaps more solvent and actually get their wallets out.

One thing to remember is that, as well as the label taking a cut (often 50%, unless you’re the label too, of course), with Beatport you need to also pay a digital distributor a cut, and it’s worth noting that Beatport are only taking on new business from established distributors.

So if we simplify things and say that a track costs £1.50 on Beatport:

Cost of track on Beatport – £1.50

Net income minus Beatport cut – 0.90p

Label income minus distribution cut – 0.70p

Artist income @50% – 0.35p

That’s not a lot left for the creator of the music.  Though significantly more than you get for a few streams on Spotify…

A special mention here for Bandcamp’s Covid response: on March 20, 2020, they waived their revenue share in order to help artists and labels impacted by the pandemic. The Bandcamp community showed up big time, spending $4.3 million on music and merch—15x the amount of a normal Friday— helping thousands of struggling artists make ends meet. Now isn’t that great?

Little differences that can mean a lot

For DJs, things like knowing the BPM and key of a track, as well as the specific genre can be very useful. Beatport provides information on all these elements, scanning the tracks you upload to calculate the BPM and key (you don’t have to do that yourself). There are no such features on Bandcamp BUT what you do get is the ability to listen to a whole track before buying it. Unless you pay for one of the subscription services, with Beatport, you only get to listen to a predetermined one minute section of the track, which can be frustrating.  There are some DJs who care more about this – the actual music – than what BPM or key it’s in! 

Another item in the pros column for Bandcamp is that in addition to digital music releases you can also sell CDs, vinyl, and even cassette tapes. Not to mention all kinds of merchandise. Finally, although Beatport is the digital dance music download specialist, with the option of downloading purchases in high quality WAV files (the preferred format for serious DJs), they charge more to download these than standard 320kps MP3s. Whilst it could be argued that this is fair enough, given that WAV files are much larger than their MP3 equivalents, it should be noted that Band Camp charge the same amount regardless of the format. You may of course think this right and proper and would expect to get more money from customers for WAVs, so we’re not going to put this in the pro or con column for either platform.

And the winner is…

As you can now appreciate, though occupying a similar space, Beatport and Bandcamp are very different animals. Though slightly pipping Bandcamp in annual revenue, Beatport is very much focussed at DJs of fixed-BPM electronic (albeit many millions of DJs, including hobbyists, all around the world), thus ruling out much of the world’s music output. So Bandcamp, in a sense, have that in their favour, especially if you, as a consumer/music lover, have very broad musical tastes. But Beatport really does know its audience. They know what DJs want and how to segment, package, and present it. For the artist and label, though, in terms of flexibility, customisation of pages, and financial remuneration, there can be only one winner: Bandcamp.

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