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This One Time At Bandcamp : The Evolution to a “Legit” Online Music Store

After Four years into beginning its service for indie artists, Bandcamp has finally got the look of a legit online music store. The site has slowly been making changes over the past few months to appeal more strongly to consumers as an alternative to iTunes and Amazon, starting with the launch of fan profiles in January. With the April 9 revision of its front page, the site now resembles a storefront rather than a sales pitch to meandering troubadours, all the while maintaining the same humility that has characterized its grassroots approach.

It’s high time too – the unique service has attracted a diverse crowd of artists spanning the globe to link a multitude of new scenes, some of them emerging on the site itself. The web-only phenomenon of Vaporwave, a micro-genre of a dozen or so artists mashing up vintage muzak and corporate imagery, exists in almost no other form than a scant handful of albums available as name-your-price releases on Bandcamp.

This is an example of the kind of no-samples-cleared effort that has made Bandcamp’s web image difficult control. The staff has given musicians countless options for designing their own pages, uploading their own material, and selling it at their desired price without typical barriers such as screening for content. While this has given a launchpad to homespun efforts such as The Alabama Shakes, whose debut EP was launched exclusively on Bandcamp in 2011, such albums often shared the Bandcamp bestsellers list with bootleg albums, unlicensed remixes, and Rifftrax-style audio commentaries.

The current evolution of the front page solves that by mostly populating it with staff picks and editorials. Potentially embarrassing best-sellers are mitigated to a browsing list at the bottom of the page, while the new Bandcamp Weekly webcast hosted by radio personality Andrew Jervis promises a more editorial-focused front page.

It’s not a perfect system – it takes a little clicking around to find out that Twelve Reasons To Die, the upcoming Ghostface Killah album, is available exclusively for online preorder despite having spent the past few weeks in the now-deceased Bandcamp top five list. 90’s kids would rejoice to realize that the soundtrack to Banjo Kazooie has made a surprising comeback on Bandcamp, now available for purchase directly from composer Grant Kirkhope, although it’s doubtful that “Bubble Gloop Swamp” would gel with Bandcamp Weekly’s vinyl-minded playlist.

These concerns are probably less than crucial – if you like Amanda Palmer, you’re certainly not going to be the last person to find out she’s selling all her stuff on Bandcamp now (more likely you’re the first person to ape at everyone about it constantly if you’re a true AFP fan). Bandcamp specializes in making sure artists have control over their own product and a distinct storefront with lots of customization options. Their new main page doesn’t diminish this – it legitimizes its artists as part of a real community rather than just a homepage for high-tech beggars.

Written by Michael Bowman @SoSoActive

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