Bandcamp: An Alternative to Music Piracy



Widespread access to high-speed internet and affordable storage space now mean more people than ever are pirating digital music(Bhattacharjee, et al.; Marwick; Wade; ). The major labels'(and some musician’s) answer was a war on piracy which culminated in 2001 with the watershed Napster shutdown and mass lawsuits against file-sharers(Burkart; Marshall; Wade). Through their aggressive stance toward file-sharers, the recording industry, and many artists(such as Metallica) vilified and alienated an emerging generation of music fans(Burkart; Hiatt & Serpick; Wade). The demand for accessible digital music files was obvious although the recording industry was too busy arguing over royalties to embrace new distribution models and adapt to the inevitable digitisation of music(Wade). Eventually the drastic decline in CD sales forced major labels to buy into new distribution models, such as the cloud streaming service Spotify(Burkart; Hiatt & Serpick). Despite the success of cloud streaming services, these models fail to generate any meaningful income for musicians, especially independent and up-and-coming artists(many of whom are not featured in their catalogues)(Burkart; Wade). More importantly than its effect on the recording industry, online music piracy poses a threat to the musicians themselves who deserve fair compensation for their creative labor(Burkart; Gopal, et al.; Morris). As for legal music downloading services, the Itunes store– which takes a large chunk of profits, has a limited catalogue and limited format options– has a near monopoly and offers little autonomy for artists(Burkart). Through its affordances, processes and norms Bandcamp helps combat music piracy by encouraging fans to participate in a fair distribution model devoid of incessant advertising, major labels and corporate interests. Given the nonexistent cost of digital reproduction and high costs of musical production and advertising Bandcamp provides a crucial service which facilitates fair exchange between artists and fans in a rapidly changing musical economy(Burkart, Wade).

The problem with most streaming services is that users’ ability to access the music is contingent on the a monthly subscription fee a model which “enmeshes users in…a process of continual commodification of the music experience”(Wade, 169). Users are essentially renting access to a database and have no way of creating, curating and sharing their own music libraries(Burkart; Wade). Although digitisation of music has made it seemingly immaterial, for many listeners, the collection, quality and organisation of music files remains important. Faraj and Azad make the point that “technology’s materiality is more than the physical and needs to reflect the form, function, symbol, and its imbrication with the social”(239). This insistence on autonomy over music is exemplified by vinyl collectors’ who prefer the cumbersome materiality of physical music. The recent resurgence in vinyl sales(which now outsell CDs) show’s a renewed interest in alternatives which forgo the convenience offered by streaming services(Wade). Although vinyl collectors represent a niche market, many of their concerns, such as the collecting, curating and quality of music are shared with consumers of digital music who want autonomy and choice over the quality, ownership and curation of their digital music libraries(Burkart; Wade). These user demands link back to Faraj and Azaz’s insistence of the importance of technology’s interaction with the social; Hutchby’s application of Gibson’s concept of affordances also addresses this interface. 

 Bandcamp is a music streaming and purchasing website and mobile app founded in 2007. Bandcamp gives independent artists the opportunity to a create their own microsite where they can promote and sell their music and merchandise for any price and retain 90% of the profits(the rest covers admin costs). Anyone with access to internet is able to create a fan or artist account for free. Artists have the option of asking whatever price they want, with fans having the option to pay above that price(often $0)which is then paid directly to the artist. The Bandcamp model offers the convenience(accessibility) of cloud streaming services while also offering both digital and physical purchases. This access and distribution model allows for flexibility and autonomy on both sides, affords gifting, subscriptions and various format options. 

Format options!

Bandcamp is a social media platform as it is a networked database platform which combines both public and personal communication(Meikle). It is a database platform as it hosts a music, profiles, comments etc and network, as it facilitates the networking among fans and artists through their profiles and microsites.

Affordances of the comment feature are relational to the user. Although comments are public, ‘kendall’ directs their comment to the artist(personal), while ‘Sasha Savenko’ relates a personal anecdote about their favourite song of the album to the community(public).

Fans are able to contact artists directly and their comments are both personal messages to artists whilst also public as they are visible to other artists and fans in the network and in doing so combines both personal and public communication. Bandcamp also links users to artists other social networks and email via the ‘contact’ section on their microsite.

“The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill. The verb to afford is found in the dictionary, the noun affordance is not. I have made it up. I mean by it something that refers to both the environment and the animal in a way that no existing term does. It implies the complementarity of the animal and the environment.”

— Gibson (1979, p. 127), [3]

Gibson’s concept of affordances can be used to examine technology in terms of “… the possibilities that they offer for action(Hutchby 447).  A focus on Bandcamp’s affordances rather than  features better addresses the way that users interact with the technology(Azad, Faraj;Hutchby). Bandcamp’s affordances are communicated  via a tutorial which appears after creating a profile. Users are able to stream music without an account although further affordances and forms of more explicit participation require a profile. bancamp affords personalisation such as setting profile pictures, banners, biographies, commenting and following fans, artists and labels. Bandcamp does not afford direct communication between users although they are able to follow one another. in this way, actions are both constrained and enabled by affordances that they are relational to the user depending on what they are using site/app for(Hutchby). Norms encourage action on Bandcamp’s of affordances and vice-versa, for example: everyone else has set a profile picture this makes the action seem entirely natural, the affordance do so is implicit as the camera icon next to the blank square is self-reflexive. As Norman argues that well designed technology’s affordances should be easily “…perceived by its proposed users(Hutchby, 449). Bandcamp’s architecture is simple, intuitive and aided by the tutorial. Especially considering users bring with them their habitus which includes cultural knowledge used to navigate the site and ascertain its norms and affordances. So it is in many ways the habitus which informs our actions, relative perception of affordances and adherence to norms, it is “the basis of perception and appreciation of all subsequent experience”(Bourdieu 229; 1997). Norms, similar to the habitus, are “…collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organizing action of a conductor”(Bourdieu 129; 1990). Although bandcamp(the conductor) does not enforce norms, habitus does.


The Norms of Bandcamp are established through both its affordances and processes such as self monitoring/surveillance and accumulation of cultural capital. Although all users of Bandcamp listen to music, there are a many cultural fields within the social network. These cultural fields can be most obviously delineated by genre in which there is a hierarchy defined through the possession of cultural capital. Untitled.pngThe affordance of creating and displaying music collections, following and being followed by users allows for the accumulation of social capital. It is “…the complex relationships between technologies and the social and interactional circumstances in which they exist…through which they attain their meaning”(Hutchby 442). These cultural fields within Bandcamp are for the most part formed outside of this social network although for some artists Bandcamp may have been the place where they have accumulated their capital. There maybe a famous hip hop producer who  holds considerable cultural capital within their cultural field although to a punk fan this cultural capital meaningless. There could even be resentment toward a member of one cultural field who is revered within the cultural field of their music’s genre. While most users will have diverse interests, indicated by their collections some will make a point of only collecting Black Metal for instance. This specificity could lead to them holding considerable cultural capital within a specific cultural field although this capital is rendered meaningless outside of that one field. Users self monitor their collections to present to reflect their ‘refined’ tastes and interest in alternative music for example. No one is going to follow a user who hasn’t accumulated a collection. The accordance to comment on albums is self-governed by norms of polite or constructive feedback. Fans display their cultural knowledge of the artist or, their understanding and appreciation of the album through comments which are visible to the public(unless otherwise specified). There is an expectation therefore that the comment will be seen by other fans and the artists themselves. This recognition causes self-surveillance which in turn perpetuates a norm of making positive and encouraging comments which also present the opportunity to display the commentor’s cultural knowledge which can in turn translate to cultural capital within the field. Or, as Meikle puts it technology“…brings with it new kinds of demands for new kinds of ethics in everyday life…”(20).

“Social media allow people: to say or make things with others; and to have that saying, making or sharing made visible to still others(Meikle, 4).


It is Bandcamp’s affordances which make this service an attractive alternative to piracy. P2P clients and other download sites do not afford direct interaction listeners and artists, public display of collections and commenting, the ability to follow and be followed, customise a profile and voluntarily support artists. There is no viable argument about boycotting the major music labels in relation to Bandcamp’s distribution model. The processes of cultural capital and existence of cultural fields within Bandcamp not only define its norms but are the reason the service is so attractive. Pirate services do not offer the quality control, consumer choice and explore database and gifting functions. They are incomparable in terms of usability and offer little to no sense of community or affordances for explicit participation, purchase of physical recordings and merchandise. The data generated from users is indeed used for “information management and targeted advertising”, although there is no outside advertising and this information helps facilitate a more customised and fulfilling user experience(Villi, Matikainen 110).

A few months ago, we began tracking the starting point of every sale that happens on Bandcamp. In the course of looking at the data (which we’re using to help us plan out what to do next), we’ve noticed something awesome: every day, fans are buying music that they specifically set out to get for free.

For example, just this morning someone paid $10 for an album after Googling “lelia broussard torrent.” A bit later, a fan plunked down $17 after searching for “murder by death, skeletons in the closet, mediafire.” Then a $15 sale came in from the search “maimouna youssef the blooming hulkshare.” Then a fan made a $12 purchase after clicking a link on music torrent tracker What.CD. Then someone spent $10 after following a link on The Pirate Bay, next to the plea “They sell their album as a download on their website. You can even choose your format (mp3, ogg, flac, etc). Cmon, support this awesome band!”

We see these sales as proof that Bandcamp can effectively compete with filesharing and other free distribution platforms by a) giving fans a clear, easy way to directly support the artist, and b) offering them a better user experience. Our favorite recent example of this was an $8 sale that started with the search “milosh flac -torrent.” So here was a fan looking for a Milosh record, wanted a high quality flac, but didn’t want to have to sift through a bunch of torrent sites. And that led them right to Bandcamp, and right to putting money in the artist’s pocket. Beautiful.
Bandcamp Daily

In conclusion, Bandcamp combats music piracy through sheer merit– by offering a better alternative. Bandcamp’s, features, affordances and processes are not offered by existing pirate technologies. This, together with its fair compensation and flexible distribution models means that Bandcamp avoids the constraints of other legal streaming and download services while better serving both fans and artists.

Works Cited

Appleseed, Jamie. “Social media: Analyze Affordances, Not Features.” Baymard Institute. 2013. 2017

Bandcamp Daily. “Cheaper than Free”. 2012.

Bhattacharjee, Sudip, Ram D. Gopal, and G. Lawrence Sanders. “Digital music and online sharing: software piracy 2.0?.” Communications of the ACM 46.7 (2003): 107-111.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Vol. 16. Cambridge university press, 1977.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Logic of Practice. Stanford University Press, 1990.

Burkart, Patrick. “Music in the Cloud and the Digital Sublime.” Popular Music and Society 37.4 (2014): 393-407.

Crossan, Jamie. ‘Digital download site conducts study on its users’. Time Inc. (UK). 2002.

Faraj, Samer, and Bijan Azad. “The materiality of technology: An affordance perspective.” Materiality and organizing: Social interaction in a technological world (2012): 237-258.

Gibson, J. J. “The ecological approach to visual perception Houghton Mifflin.[rGRL, SR].” (1979).

Grizzard, Julian B., et al. “Peer-to-Peer Botnets: Overview and Case Study.” HotBots 7 (2007): 1-1.

King, Brad. “The Day the Napster Died”. 2002.

Marshall, Lee. “Metallica and morality: the rhetorical battleground of the Napster wars.” Entertainment Law 1.1 (2002): 1-19.

Hiatt, Brian, and Evan Serpick. “The Record Industry’s Decline: Record Sales Are Tanking, and There’s No Hope In Sight: How It All Went Wrong.” Rolling Stone (2007).

Hutchby, Ian. “Technologies, texts and Affordances”. Sociology, vol. 35, Issue 2, pp 441-456. 2001.

Marwick, Alice E. “The public domain: Social surveillance in everyday life.” Surveillance & Society 9.4 (2012): 378.

Meikle, Graham. Social media: Communication, sharing and visibility. Routledge, 2016.

Morris, Jeremy Wade. Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture. Univ of California Press, 2015.

Obar, Jonathan A., and Steven S. Wildman. “Social media definition and the governance challenge: An introduction to the special issue.”Telecommunications Policy, 39(9), pp. 745-750. 2015.

Patel, Nilay. “Metallica Sued Napster 15 Years Ago”. Vox Media, 2015. Today”.

Villi, Mikko, and Janne Matikainen. “Participation in Social Media: Studying Explicit and Implicit Forms of Participation in Communicative Social Networks.” Media and Communication, vol. 4, no. 4, 2016, ProQuest Central; Technology Collection,, doi:

Weedon, Chris. Identity and Culture: Narratives of Difference and Belonging. New York: Open University Press, 2004.

Piracy Image:*cZ7juo0LdYi0YmNLFTSYqw.gif



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