Will Gaming be the Saviour of the Music Industry?
On March the 2nd, Bandcamp CEO and Co-founder Ethan Diamond announced the company’s sale to Epic Games. In the blog post announcing the deal, Diamond enthusiastically promoted it as a step forwards toward “the most open, artist-friendly ecosystem in the world”.
By combining their expertise and resources, the two companies could move towards realising this shared vision and create “fair and open platforms” that allow “creators to keep the majority of their hard-earned money”.
But it seems Diamond’s enthusiasm is not shared by its followers. Loyal fans see the move as yet another indie sellout to corporate interests. Media theorist McKenzie Wark greeted the news with lament, “We all just got sold,” and other members of the Bandcamp community were equally pessimistic.
But is this pessimism justified? Can gaming actually help save independent music? After all, this deal is not the first crossover between the two worlds. Many popular online slot titles are well-known for implementing custom tracks or even running co-branded titles to promote major bands like Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, and others. And Bandcamp itself features a whole section dedicated to independent game soundtracks.
Bandcamp, an independent online record store, has a well-deserved reputation among artists as a fairer alternative to music streaming services. The company only takes 15% commission from sales on the site, with the bulk of the revenue going to the artists themselves. It’s also a firm favourite among music lovers, thanks to its “pay-what-you-want” download structure and its focus on niche markets and alternative music.
Despite now being 40% owned by Tencent, the Chinese gaming megacorp, Epic Games also has a track record of fair treatment towards its developers. It is also developing cutting-edge technology intending to expand the use and scope of the metaverse.
As Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney explained in an interview in 2020, “The most plausible way the metaverse is going to rise “isn’t from one company, even Epic, building this thing and forcing everybody to use it. It’s going to be from more and more companies and brands connecting their products and services.”
Seen in this light, Epic’s acquisition is a logical step in shifting the paradigms of how the music industry works. Even before the pandemic, the old revenue-earning model for artists, record sales and live performances was obviously broken. The replacement, music streaming services, have long been under criticism for not sharing royalties fairly with artists, leaving all but the most prominent names struggling to live from their music.
Integrating Bandcamp’s massive catalogue of music into the virtual worlds created by Epic Games is a chance to reach a whole new generation of musicians and music lovers. It makes an entirely new model, not just for sales but also for exposing new music and genres and creating communities of fans.
So while the initial reaction was that this was just another sellout and nail in the coffin of the independent music scene, the move might be the exact opposite. If Epic Games can leverage its huge popularity among gamers to create new markets for Bandcamp’s catalogue. In that case, we might just be witnessing the birth of a whole new model for the music industry. One that will benefit the artists and fans, and not just the corporations. Watch this space!