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Epic Games’ acquisition of Bandcamp worries independent musicians

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A person walks buy an Epic Games logo.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 20: Attendees walk by the Epic Games booth at the 2019 GDC Game Developers Conference on March 20, 2019 in San Francisco, California. The GDC runs through March 22. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Video game developer and publisher Epic Games acquired the music platform Bandcamp last week.

Epic is a multinational company known for games like Fortnite, whereas Bandcamp is a relatively small platform where artists sell music and merchandise directly to fans, with a bigger slice of the profits going to those artists.

Randall Roberts, who covers the music industry as a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, said Bandcamp has become a favorite among independent musicians, many of whom are skeptical about this new deal.

Randall Roberts: Unlike Spotify, where artists get a fraction of a cent, on Bandcamp, artists get 82% of all sales. Now these are download sales and these are vinyl and merchandising sales, but it’s a huge difference. And fans get really excited about supporting their favorite artists, because they’re artists. Especially during the pandemic, the artists who make music have really comforted people.

Kimberly Adams: How are independent musicians reacting to this news of Epic Games acquiring Bandcamp?

Roberts: Most musicians are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Bandcamp has a really, really good reputation as being an artist-first platform. So most musicians are very, very worried that this change in ownership will change that as well.

Adams: Do you think the artists’ concerns are justified?

Roberts: Yes. History has proven that corporate consolidation hasn’t really worked out well for artists in the long term. On social media, one independent artist said the Bandcamp sale indicates just how traumatized artists are by having the football constantly yanked away from them.

Adams: Bandcamp really was thriving in the pandemic. How much of that kind of growth and attention for platforms like this do you think is going to persist now that things are reopening?

Roberts: Well, that’s a good question. And that’s probably one of the reasons why Bandcamp was looking for an infusion of funds. They’ve drawn a huge listenership and a huge new fan base in the last couple years. And as a company, they need to figure out how to turn that community and those musicians into regular devoted fans, who, despite the fact that they just sold to a big company, will continue to believe in Bandcamp’s vision, which is an artist-first vision.

Adams: There’s consolidation happening in so many different industries, especially among tech companies. When Bandcamp is looking to grow, why is being acquired by a bigger company perhaps a better growth strategy than, you know, just looking for another round of venture capital?

Roberts: I would say that it’s security, and if the sale ensures independence — relative independence — within the bigger Epic Games infrastructure, and it means that Bandcamp can expand internationally and open up more avenues for independent musicians to make money, I think that there are very few downsides to it. But if Epic starts squeezing Bandcamp for more profits or eliminates Bandcamp Fridays — a once a month initiative in which Bandcamp forgoes its percentage of sales and gives that straight to the artists and the record labels — then I think that artists will start looking around for different platforms.

Related links: More insight from Kimberly Adams

Here’s Roberts’ piece on the deal between Epic Games and Bandcamp. And here’s Epic and Bandcamp’s statements on the deal and what they say the partnership will mean for continued growth. Bandcamp CEO and co-founder Ethan Diamond underlined how the company will remain an independent marketplace, but — worth noting here — Bandcamp is still a tech company that wants to grow.

Variety also has an article on why the deal, in the words of the author, may be “a necessary evil” for its expansion plans.

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