Bandcamp or Bannedcamp?
Bandcamp is censoring me. What is to be done?
I am being actively censored every day by a very popular platform for independent musicians around the world called Bandcamp.
To explain what’s happening in a simple screen shot, this is what happens when you search for my name as an artist on Bandcamp:
As you can see, neither of these artists is named David Rovics. These are apparently the closest names Bandcamp can find to the one I’m looking for, which is an artist (me) who has dozens of albums up on the platform, some of which have been there for a decade or so.
For a more thorough explanation of what this particular kind of censorship is and is not, what Bandcamp is, and why Bandcamp and censorship on Bandcamp matters, I have a Q&A for you.
For an explanation of why I tend to suspect nefarious activities on Bandcamp’s part, rather than innocent glitches, I wrote a bit about getting on lists and having weird coincidences.
Assuming we understand what Bandcamp is in a really basic sense, in what way they’re censoring me and my music, and why that’s generally a bad thing, let’s explore the impact of this censorship and what might be done to counter it.
First, why do people especially like Bandcamp, what is Bandcamp useful for, and how does Bandcamp censoring an artist impact that artist’s career?
In a nutshell, Bandcamp is one of the major platforms for distributing independent music online, and has been for over a decade. It’s not nearly as popular as music streaming platforms like Spotify, but it’s also not the same thing. It’s much more oriented towards independent music than Spotify is, and it’s also much more oriented towards serious audiophiles, since buying an album on Bandcamp entails a CD-quality download, not just compressed audio files like MP3’s.
What do people primarily do on Bandcamp?
- Stream music
- Collect CD-quality audio files
- Collect various exclusive digital perks that often come with Bandcamp purchases
- Search on the platform through various means to find new music they might like
- Support artists by paying for albums they download
- Support artists on a recurring monthly basis (like on Patreon)
To be very clear, Bandcamp should stop censoring artists, full stop. But given that Bandcamp is censoring artists (specifically me), let’s explore a few ways folks could respond to this, all of which I’d love to encourage. I’ll categorize the potential responses thusly: communicate, protest, and replace.
Do you think Bandcamp censoring artists is a bad thing that people should know about? Tell them. Share stuff I’ve written, and/or write posts or make videos or whatever else to get the word out that this is happening (and what it is that is happening, because it’s a little complicated).
Do you know any journalists, anywhere in the world? Bandcamp is a US-based corporation, but it functions globally, and the censorship they are imposing on me is also global. Maybe there’s a journalist (or an editor) somewhere in the world who thinks it’s worth doing a story on the arts in their country being censored by an unaccountable American corporation. Do you know any members of parliament in any country? Maybe they’d be interested in this, too.
It can’t hurt to write Bandcamp as well. Perhaps the folks at Epic Games (which owns Bandcamp as of 2022) care about such practices going on, or care about the bad publicity they can engender. Email them, send them aerograms, tag them on social media.
While writing Bandcamp and communicating more broadly is a valuable form of protest, feel free to start a petition, or make some noise or make some art outside of Bandcamp’s corporate offices in Oakland, California anytime!
If you look at those bullet points up there, what people mainly do with Bandcamp, they’re all things that can be done well on other platforms. Before I get into that, though, I just want to repeat that changing Bandcamp’s practices is what needs to happen, really, and I don’t want to suggest that it’s good enough that they keep censoring artists, and we can just use other platforms. No. But to the extent that it’s good to know about the other ways people can do what they do on Bandcamp elsewhere, here’s one for each of those bullet points, at least as it applies to this particular artist:
- Any of the 29 albums you can stream on Bandcamp can be found on Spotify and all the other main music streaming platforms
- For audiophiles particularly enamored of the CD-quality downloads Bandcamp offers, anyone who joins my Community-Supported Art program gets access to a folder with CD-quality files of everything I’ve ever recorded in a studio
- For folks interested in the exclusive digital perks, joining my CSA on any platform (including Bandcamp) gives people access to lots of digital and physical goodies not available anywhere else
- If you’re looking for independent musicians Bandcamp is censoring, at least in the case of this particular independent musician, you can easily search for my music on other streaming platforms just fine
- If you want to support artists by paying for album downloads as so many people who use Bandcamp do, one alternative is to make a donation to the artist on Spotify or Soundcloud when a new album goes up on one of those platforms
- If you want to support artists on an ongoing basis, as has been possible on Bandcamp for some years now, you can do that instead on platforms like Patreon, where you’ll find many of the Bandcamp artists you might want to support (including me)
While there are other platforms for doing anything you might do on Bandcamp, even talking about this can be a distraction from the main issue here: that Bandcamp censoring artists has a damaging impact on the arts, on political discourse, and on society generally.
And specifically, Bandcamp censoring me has an impact on my career and life. There is absolutely no question the ways this shadowban has, is, and will impact me. Specifically, and demonstrably, some of the impacts have been:
- To throttle potential growth of my audience
- To prevent potential album purchases, decreasing album sales
- To prevent new supporters from joining my CSA through Bandcamp, throttling the growth of this essential source of income
- To confuse people using the platform into thinking I’m not really on it, also thus throttling potential audience growth
- To raise suspicions about me, given that I seem to be worthy of such censorship, and thus must have done something wrong
This particular form of censorship is very reminiscent of the ways artists like Buffy Sainte-Marie were censored through the efforts of the FBI, as she learned through FOIA requests. They never got her albums banned outright, or had her beaten or killed or anything so overt like that. What they did, among other things, is contact radio stations to discourage them from playing her music, and praise radio programmers who avoided her music on their advice. What Bandcamp is doing with me is an automated, digital version of that, and it’s just as wrong (although it requires a lot less effort on their part than was required for the FBI agents to call all those radio stations).
It’s worth also stating the obvious here, in case anyone missed it: censoring me on Bandcamp is not in Bandcamp’s interests as a business. I make hundreds of dollars from Bandcamp every month. Bandcamp represents almost 10% of my overall income as an artist. By censoring me on their platform, they are losing album sales and losing opportunities for me to get new patrons on their platform.
This is significant, because this is how Bandcamp turns a profit every year — they take 15% of all those sales. Without less sales, they make less profit. Why are they hampering their own business this way, and not even telling me or anyone else that they are doing it, or why they are doing it? Presumably not because they’re mainly interested in their shareholders’ interest, in this instance. Presumably because someone with other interests, who holds political power of some kind, is telling them what to do.
If anyone out there has any ideas or hears about or does anything interesting with regards to Bandcamp and their censorship of artists, let me know!