The Corporate Takeover of Music (Bandcamp Lessons)

In this week’s bonus episode of Leverage Time Premiumopen to all listeners, The leverNick Byron Campbell talks to a music writer Robin James and a drummer Greg Saunier from the band Deerhoof to discuss the changing corporate landscape of the music industry and the larger dynamics of our economy.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

The three are targeting a troubling development: Online music platform Bandcamp was recently sold to multinational music conglomerate Songtradr, which led to layoffs of 50 percent of Bandcamp’s workforce amid union contract negotiations, an ominous sign for the future of the last major independent music platform to sales.

In today’s discussion, Nick, Robin and Greg explore the exploitative practices that make the industry harder for working-class musicians – and what a just music industry might actually look like.



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Episode Intro – Edited Transcript

Nick Byron Campbell: There has been a big upheaval in the music industry recently. And if you’re not sure how the ins and outs of this industry relate to you, well, this story perfectly distills a dynamic that plays out in our economy and culture that definitely affects us all. At the highest level, it illustrates how large corporations and billionaires wield enormous power to change or completely eliminate the things that enrich our lives and communities.

Whether it’s Elon Musk slowly throttling Twitter, or large consulting firms leading schools like West Virginia University to close profitable liberal arts departments, or Amazon relentlessly dominating the audiobook industry, the examples go on and on.

But today we’re talking about Bandcamp, a web platform that’s been a critical part of independent music infrastructure for years. At this point, it’s the only major music platform dedicated to buying and streaming music, not just streaming, which is an important distinction we’ll explore. And it’s one of the few major music tech companies that seems genuinely concerned about the sustainability and success of music for both musicians and listeners.

Bandcamp chose a very different path from streaming giants like Spotify, and its strategy has paid off in many ways. It’s largely loved and it’s always profitable—two things Spotify definitely isn’t.

However, Bandcamp had just been sold to a multinational music conglomerate called Songtradr, which was largely unknown to music fans and musicians. Then there were massive layoffs that raised legitimate concerns that the platform would no longer be run in a way that benefits those who love and rely on music.

An additional element to this story — Bandcamp was in the midst of union contract negotiations and the entire union bargaining team was fired, which we also discuss.

It’s important in events like this that we take the time to understand what happened and is happening so we can take steps to strengthen our communities and protect the things we love and need.

And to be clear, a vibrant music community is something we all need and benefit from.

To discuss this in more depth, I will be joined by two brilliant individuals:

Robin James is a writer, editor and philosopher. Her latest book, The Future of Rock and Roll: 97X WOXY and the Fight for True Independence, available from the University of North Carolina Press. She is an expert on pop music and politics, sound studies, critical theories of neoliberalism and biopolitics, and feminism, gender and race in relation to popular music. You may have already come across her writing in posts like Jezebel or The Guardian.

Then we have Greg Saunier, drummer and founding member of the band Deerhoof, whose music you’ll hear in this episode. Deerhoof’s independence and intense creativity have been the foundation of over 25 years of incredible recording and touring. In my opinion, no other band has had as incredible a success as Deerhoof with a continuous chain of equally unique and inspired albums. Please go and enjoy their music, especially their latest album, A miracle levelnow on Joyful Noise Recordings.​

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