On a crisp fall day, musician Todd Bogin sat in a café in Brooklyn with a cup of slightly sweetened black coffee at his elbow. To further promote his newest project, the lead guitarist and vocalist for Whale Belly didn’t pick up his cell to text his friends the date of his next gig or flip the cap off his pen to doodle one of his signature cartoon flyers. He opened his laptop.
Since forming in 2010, indie/folk band Whale Belly has released its first album “…Smile At The End of the Slope,” recorded a Daytrotter session and claimed press on several blogs including New York’s BrooklynVegan… all without a recording contract.
“Don’t even think about labels. Don’t think about bookers. Don’t think about anyone. Build it all on your own. Let them all come to you,” Bogin said.
Alex Ljung and Eric Wahlforss launched the Berlin-based company SoundCloud in 2008 to simplify the way audio recordings are shared on the Internet, offering a platform to record or upload, share and promote original sound from music to speeches to interviews. They passed the ten million user threshold this week.
“Our users are predominantly creators using the tools to put their own content up and spread it,” SoundCloud’s Dave Haynes said. “I think the benefit is to really put control into their hands.”
Ethan Diamond launched Bandcamp to provide a streamlined online publishing platform for bands to host and sell songs, albums and merchandise directly to fans, according to Manager of Business Development Jennifer Elias.
“Musicians, whether they’re just starting out or well-established, have a lot to manage, with practice, gigs, travel, creating new music, promotion, etc.,” Elias said. “Creating a great web store from scratch where fans can listen to and buy music and [merchandise] doesn’t have to be yet another band task on a long list.”
Both sites focus on musician and fan-friendly features.
Bandcamp adds metadata to the files for easy integration with iTunes and can transcode tracks into several formats from the most compressed mp3 to largest WAV. Meanwhile, audio on SoundCloud can be shared privately or publicly by embedding or using the now recognizable waveform player. Users can then comment on the uploaded audio to share compliments, critiques and advice.
“I really haven’t seen anything negative. I usually see, ‘This part is awesome. Good breakdown. Love this song. Cool key change,’” Bogin said.
Whale Belly first used SoundCloud to post songs and gather feedback from collaborators on their first album, which was later released on Bandcamp, according to Bogin.
“It’s really great for musicians and producers to collaborate on a track and share those with their own community,” Haynes said.
In many ways, Bandcamp and SoundCloud represent the evolution and recombination of existing technologies. Bogin recognized Bandcamp as a higher quality, simplified and more customizable version of Myspace.
“Myspace is kind of like the YouTube of music. If you post something on YouTube, the quality is lessened, and it’s compressed. Bandcamp is kind of like the Vimeo where it’s hi-def,” Bogin said.
SoundCloud was one of the first technologies to integrate with Facebook and also allows users to follow each other via the site, much like Twitter.
“I think the social media aspect to this was really important because whether you’re a band, a musician or any other audio creator you want to engage with your fans or you want to engage with your listeners across those platforms,” Haynes said.
For Whale Belly, the no-fuss interfaces and easy integration of both technologies into their own website are most appealing, according to Bogin.
“If one person wants to post it and 20 people want to download it, it’s there. It doesn’t have to be promoted. No money has to be spent on it. It doesn’t have to be advertised on a website. It’s there for the taking,” Bogin said.
Bandcamp and Soundcloud also offer legal alternatives to pirating music. Fans can listen for free on SoundCloud. Artists on Bandcamp can chose to giveaway or charge for their music. In total, musicians have earned over $13 million using the platform, according to Bandcamp.
On Bandcamp’s blog, Diamond offers further evidence that the site can keep pace with free distribution platforms like filesharing websites and torrent aggregators.
Bandcamp began monitoring the starting point of each sale. They found that searches for torrents led many fans to purchase music via artists’ Bandcamp pages, music those same fans originally intended to download illegally.
Whale Belly plans to use both tools to host their sophomore album, which they will begin recording this February, according to Bogin.
“Nowadays it’s all about accessibility. Can you get to it in two clicks? If not, you’re onto the next Huffington Post story,” Bogin said.
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