In March of 2022, Epic Games, best known as the maker of Fortnite, acquired Bandcamp, a crucial commerce platform for independent musicians. While the purchase surprised the music industry, the marriage ultimately proved short-lived: Bandcamp was acquired again on September 28, this time by the licensing platform Songtradr.
Bandcamp is widely loved for its role in the indie music community, and in an interview, Paul Wiltshire, CEO of Songtradr, was eager to assuage any fears about the company’s new owner. “We think Bandcamp is a great platform as it is,” he says. “There’s not a need to change it into anything other than what it is.”
The plan for now, he continues, is “introduce the opportunity of licensing” to Bandcamp artists who are interested in seeding their music to various brands and platforms. “We think that alone is a really big piece, and we want to get that right,” Wiltshire adds. “That will create a lot of opportunity for the independent market and the artists on there.”
Before we get into the Bandcamp acquisition, can you explain what Songtradr does?
The genesis of Songtradr was to build a platform that made licensing easier for both sides of the marketplace. On one side, you have artists, songwriters, and also labels and publishers; on the other side it’s brands, agencies, games, apps, platforms, anyone who uses music in content, film, TV, etc. The problems associated with licensing are mainly due to fragmentation — both publishing and recording rights need to be licensed whenever you legitimately license a track. And so there’s inherent fragmentation, because much of the time there’s a publisher, and there’s a label and they’re two different parties. The same thing happens with independents, where they co-write with two different people. We wanted to build a platform that solved the rights fragmentation and brought parties together so that they could transact together.
Are there specific areas of licensing you focus on?
Where we’ve focused over the last five years in particular is music for brands and advertising agencies. We work with so many of the Fortune 500 brands around the world; we’ve got teams across Europe and Asia and Americas and Australia. We try to provide a complete solution for brands — everything from understanding the sonic architecture of that brand, to working with composers to make the right music for a campaign, to licensing music at scale if they want music for everyday use with their social media campaigns, right through to their licensing of famous track.
The second vertical we focused on was games, apps and platforms because they have a lot of technical challenges. With digital platforms, it’s more complicated. If we think about brands as being one to one, licensing one track to an ad campaign, platforms and games is like 1000s to one — many tracks being used in a game, app, or platform. We wanted to solve the big problems associated with that.
What led you to the Bandcamp acquisition?
Our strategy around M&A up until Bandcamp has been buying companies that really marry that vision of simplifying licensing. The strategy around Bandcamp was: We’re seeing a trend in the market where music is becoming increasingly important in brands and games and fitness apps and meditation apps, all these different touchpoints. And we’ve seen an increased trend in brands in particular: They want to know about the artist who’s behind the music.
We’ve built technology around being able to best match the right music to a brand or to a customer. How do we ensure the right music is used in an advertising campaign or in a game that aligns with the target audience, whether it’s the gamer or the customer that’s watching the advertisement?
We look at Bandcamp and it’s the largest independent music community in the world. You could argue SoundCloud is, but that’s more than just an independent artist community — there are a bunch of other things as well. Bandcamp legitimately has that core independent artist market. We looked at the business model, and we love the business as it is; there’s no plans to change the existing model. What we wanted to do was connect licensing to the Bandcamp offering.
This would be an opt-in only basis for the artists so that they continue to control their rights and control their destiny. Licensing is not for every artist, and we want them to be able to choose what they want to participate in. An artist on Bandcamp can not only sell their vinyl, their T-shirts, their digital album, but they can also have the opportunity to license music into multiple different areas.
We’ve seen what happens when an independent artist has a license it can be quite transformational in terms of streaming numbers. We’ve licensed music to TikTok and suddenly an artist has blown up unexpectedly because brands got ahold of it. We really believe in licensing as being a key driver for your expanded awareness of an artist’s career.
Can you explain a bit more how that tech works matching brands to songs?
We bought an AI company called Musicube last year. They scan the audio file and they create metadata points that describe it in simple terms like mood, BPM, that fairly obvious stuff. But they went a degree further: We can now predict the audience that would most align with sections of the song right down to like small fractions, like five seconds. We can look at a track using a computer amd in milliseconds understand, ‘that chorus is going to be awesome for a 18 to 23 year old female on the east coast, the United States who likes the following things.’
How does that help on the licensing side?
When you have millions of tracks, it helps us figure out, what do we pitch, what do we place, what do we suggest to a brand? If we’re using creativity on the one hand and data in the right hand we argue we get a better result than just objectivity or just data. We use the tech to help choose the music.
We will be creating a user experience that gives them the option — do you want to have your music participate in this system? That’ll be the music that we start to curate and pitch.
We want to be very clear to Bandcamp artists: They will always have the choice of where their music goes. Licensing is quite a steep learning curve for many — what does it mean, what are all the different opportunities, some are paying pennies, some are paying a huge amount. There’s a lot to unpack, so we know that’s going to be a careful learning process and it will take time to properly communicate.
My impression was that Bandcamp got a big bump in engagement during Covid. Has that continued?
Just speaking from a very on-high view from the detail that I have, there was a quite a significant bump up during that period. But it looks like there’s been a step-up that was sustained, and it’s continuing [at a level higher than it was]. More awareness was raised of what Bandcamp is; there are more fans and more artists using it. That period educated the market to be more self-sufficient online, to do more online, to make passive income a reality without being wholly reliant on their performance. It’s one of the few blessings of that period.
Songtrader is very supportive of the artist community and I come from that background. I was a songwriter and record producer after I tried to be an artist for a few years. We are musicians. It’s important that the Bandcamp audience knows that that’s where we come from, that’s what we believe in.
We really want to protect the value of music rights. We’re not trying to package up a bunch of music and sell it cheaply. That’s not what we do. We’re very much into increasing the value of music for all so when someone licenses music, they get a better result because they’ve licensed something that’s actually on brand that actually suits their time. And on the other side, that music is properly paid for and it attracts the right fees.
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