The 2022/2023 financial year recently came to an end, so I closed my accounts for the year and filed my taxes for OSC.
Something I noticed was that my earnings from BandCamp sales last year were down by 15% on the year before. My BandCamp earnings have traditionally, incrementally increased year on year, which prompted me to examine my releases, output and promotional engagement, to see if I could shed light on why my earnings from BandCamp have declined in the last 12 months.
Has My Music Drifted (Stylistically) Away From What My Audience Likes?
In the past, I was more conscious of making stylistic shifts. I would attempt to build bridges between what audiences were familiar with and what I was planning to do in the future. However, that's somewhat fallen by the wayside in recent years, as I've just dropped new releases of varying styles, without much, if any consideration, of how different styles of music might (or might not) be received by my existing audience.
In the above chart from the last 12 months, we can see that almost 27% of my BandCamp sales come from Full Discography purchases. Following that, it's fairly evenly distributed between Deuce, The Alpine Suite, Ambient Time, Retroduction and Funktional (before getting into one-offs and older releases). It appears that Synthwave/Retrowave, Funk and Ambient-Music are fairly evenly represented amongst my larger earners.
This is reassuring in terms of the diversity-of-genres question. However, it doesn't shed any light on why my earnings have declined.
Am I Over-Saturating My Audience With Too Many Releases?
Well, I've no way of knowing exactly, but in the last financial year, I put out seven priced releases, four name your price releases and had four physical releases on labels. That's arguably a lot of output for one artist, and so over-saturation is a possibility.
Perhaps, in tandem to this question, it's worth considering promotion, and whether or not I promoted each release sufficiently. I imagine that marketing experts would tell you that there's no such thing as "enough" promotion, however, with so many releases last year, it's likely I didn't give each release the promotional attention it deserves. Perhaps more time spent promoting fewer releases would be beneficial (as opposed to more releases that get less promotion).
Over Saturation & Source of Sales
The above chart is a breakdown of where my sales have come from (what people clicked on to lead them to my BandCamp listing in order to purchase my music).
55% of sales were generated via BandCamp itself, including recommendations, new releases showing up in people's feeds, and so on. A further 10% was generated directly from "New Release" notifications on BandCamp (automated "new-release" notifications emailed directly to my BandCamp followers). I.e. 65% of my BandCamp sales were generated directly through BandCamp's own ecosystem and in-built (mostly automated) tools.
As 65% of my BandCamp sales appear to come directly from the BandCamp ecosystem, it makes sense that growing my BandCamp followers should be an effective way to return my BandCamp income to the positive growth it saw the year before last. However, it also suggests that my other areas of promotion (social media, mailing list, etc) are relatively ineffective, which is a concern.
The Previous Financial Year
Let's compare the above chart with the data from the previous financial year.
BandCamp 67.8% 64.6%
YouTube 3% 10%
Twitter 2.1% 1%
Linktree 0.4% 0.5
Search Engine 3.7% 3.6%
Unknown 19.5% 17.1%
All things considered, whilst the numbers are (a little) different, I don't believe there's sufficient difference to justify a 15% reduction in my sales income. What I'm struck by in both instances, is just how significant BandCamp's own ecosystem is, in terms of generating sales. I shouldn't really be surprised, but nevertheless, I've always thought of BandCamp as the end destination to which I funnel all of my social media traffic to. However, it's clear that my social media isn't nearly as influential as I assumed it would be.
Social Media... What Social Media?
I am disappointed to see how little social media factors into the above charts. I've always known that I'm not great at utilising social media to its best potential, however I didn't think I was that ineffective with it.
In 2022-23, 1% of my BandCamp sales came from click-throughs from Twitter. 0.6% came from my Linktree (which I use on Instagram and TikTok), 0.1% came from Tumblr, and Facebook didn't yield a single click-through.
Admittedly, I struggle to find the time necessary to make engaging social media content. Generating polished and interactive social media posts in the way that I see other, (stylistically) similar artists doing, is an art-form and craft in of itself. I'm not sure I have the wherewithal to cultivate the nuanced understandings of multiple platforms, to increase my effectiveness in this way.
For a long time, I've opted for the announcement format, such as "Here's a trailer for an upcoming release...", and "Here's a new release...". I don't do a whole lot of promotion or engagement in-between these posts. Perhaps this is something I ought to consider exploring in more detail.
YouTube - The Exception
YouTube however lays claim to a whopping 10% of my click-throughs last year, which is a huge improvement on the year before.
In the last 12 months or so, my YouTube channel has grown from about 1,500 subscribers to around 9,100 (at the time of writing this article). This isn't due to anything I've intentionally done, but rather that the algorithm appears to have started showing my Ambient Time videos to people interested in Adventure Time. I've since noticed a strong correlation between my interactions on YouTube and the follow-through impact that has on BandCamp. It's impossible to know at this early stage of growth whether this is a one-off surge or a trend that will continue into the future.
I've always subscribed to the notion of using all of my social networks to funnel through to a singular location (well, two actually; BandCamp and Spotify). If I'm to draw any sort of conclusion from this exercise, it would be to attempt to increase the number of BandCamp followers via my most engaged social media platform; YouTube. I don't yet know how I can go about this, but it's something to work towards.
Of course, I will still continue to post on all of my social networks, as it never hurts to have a presence in as many places as possible. However, given my limited resources, I need to play the law of averages and YouTube's currently winning this fight quite comprehensively; so that is where I'll focus my attention.
Is It Just Me?
The RIAA report for the financial year ending in 2022 stated that despite growth in streaming, sales of digital music downloads had reduced by 20% compared to 2021. With the long anticipated, post-Covid recession kicking in last year, coupled with the economic turmoil caused by natural-gas and grain price inflation, as a result of Russia's illegal occupation of Ukraine, the financial landscape in 2023 is very different to that of 2021-2022.
Theoretically I should therefore expect to see a decline in sales in 2022-23. It makes sense that during a recession, people have less money to spare and so might opt to stream music (for free) in favour of purchasing music; an understandable decision.
My sales decline could purely be a symptom of the financial landscape and people having to be more measured and conscientious with their spending. Moreover, this is something that's completely beyond my control, and as I'm unable to do anything about it, there's no use in worrying. It's a wave I simply have to ride as best I can, and adapt my approaches as necessary.
There's a possibility that the decline in sales is part of a bigger picture of recession, shifting consumer patterns (globally) and further migration towards streaming. My streaming revenues in 2022-23 were up sufficiently that it more than offset the 15% decline in BandCamp sales revenue, so in some respects, my statistics are aligned with wider industry consumer trends.
Nevertheless, this exercise has shown me the value of BandCamp's own ecosystem and that as far as social media is concerned, I've probably been focusing my efforts on the wrong platforms. It makes sense to go where the audience is, as opposed to try and bring the audience to me, so whilst I maintain a presence everywhere, I should begin to direct and focus interaction and promotion more proactively at YouTube.
If you're an independent musician who uses BandCamp, I strongly recommend you do a similar exercise. In the Tools section of your BandCamp account you can download CSV files of your sales reports, and using Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel or Mac's Numbers you can extrapolate data and generate charts for the info you need.
Doing exactly this has shown me weaknesses I ought to improve upon, and highlighted blind spots, misconceptions and areas I'm not using effectively. Hopefully by doing a similar exercise yourself, you can find it equally as helpful in navigating the choppy waters of freelance, independent musicianship.
Best of luck with it all,