The Price is Right..?
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
This article addressed selling music on BandCamp, as you can rarely determine the price of releases on most other digital platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, etc.
My current pricing structures and how I use the various features on BandCamp is the result of gradual learning and evolution. I'm by no means an expert and my approach is not calculated. I pretty much made it up as I went along over the last six years, tried different things to varying degrees of success and I'll discuss these throughout the article to help inform any decisions you might be trying to make, regards pricing your own releases.
Name Your Price
BandCamp has the option to set a release as "Name Your Price" (NYP). NYP means the customer can pay whatever they choose. They might pay nothing, or a little, or a lot.
As a consumer, I love this feature. I often see artists with NYP releases and take pride in dropping them a little money (optionally) in recognition and appreciation of their work.
As an artist, it's an immensely encouraging feeling when someone pays for something they could have downloaded for free. Even if it's a very small amount; to know someone has willingly paid when they know they didn't have to is incredibly humbling.
A promotionally pragmatic aspect of this feature is that you can opt for every zero priced (£0.00) purchase/download to require an email address submission, which you can use to populate a mailing list. I.e:
"You can have this track for free, however in return, I want your email address and I'm going to add you to my mailing list."
Over the years, I've released things at NYP and some have been a valuable source of mailing list population; fans that I can write to with news updates, and also notify when I'm releasing something at a cost. I like this approach as it feels like a much more personal and meaningful way to engage with my audience, as opposed to just posting on social media, hash-tagging up to the eyeballs and hoping for the best.
As a side-note to NYP, there's also "Let fans pay more if they want" on priced releases. I always ensure this box is selected on every priced release. Most of the time people pay the asking rate, which is fine, however there are rare instances when people pay over the asking price.
Using NYP to Increase Downloads (and thus, exposure)
I was fortunate enough to release my EP Girls ON Bikes with the indie label Business Casual. Business Casual release on a NYP basis, so there's not really any meaningful money involved, however it is one of BandCamp's largest indie labels with an extensive marketing reach; i.e. large amounts of exposure.
Due to the label's large marketing reach, Girls On Bikes (and it's subsequent sequel Boys On Boards, also released on Business Casual) received enormous download numbers, placing them high up in their respective genre charts (on BandCamp).
Listing these EPs for NYP (or rather, giving them away for free) via Business Casual has resulted in me having a long-term visual presence in my respective genres on BandCamp. This increases the likelihood of people discovering me and my music when they look up "Retrowave", "Synthwave" or "80s" on BandCamp. The end goal here is promotion and increased sales of my other music from my own BandCamp page, as well as growing my fan-base and audience.
At the time of writing this article, Girls On Bikes is number 3 in the "all-time best selling retrowave" on BandCamp. It's important to note however, that the other three releases in this top four are priced and not NYP. You could argue that I've slightly played the system here; giving away my music on such a scale that it puts it among big hitters in the scene, raising my profile; and in some ways you'd be right. However, in defence of any scepticism and/or cynicism towards this approach, at the time of release, I didn't understand BandCamp charts very well and certainly never anticipated the EP shifting anywhere near numbers it did. This was all very much a happy accident.
Returning to the idea of earning money from releasing music on BandCamp; the heightened presence of Girls On Bikes within the scene has been a crucial aspect to selling physical merchandise. The exposure gained through releasing music for free via Business Casual meant that when I organised tapes and vinyls, they sold in good numbers and within a short time-frame. This is something I doubt I could have done without the Business Casual exposure and it made me ponder the notion of listing all of my digital music as NYP and only looking to make money from physical merchandise sales. This is a point I'll return to later.
A side note on BandCamp charts: I emailed BandCamp a while ago to ask exactly how their charts are calculated (in relation to free downloads). They replied saying they have complicated algorithms that factor in paid and free downloads along with views and streams. Therefore chart positions aren't solely determined by how many people are downloading your music for a price, as streams and profile views can also factor into chart positions.
NYP Vs. Priced - The BandCamp Balancing Act
These days, OSC isn't just a hobby that pays, I am partly reliant on income from OSC, and therefore earning money from BandCamp is something of genuine consideration. I have to balance what I give away for NYP and what I charge for, in order to find a happy medium that keeps my audience satisfied whilst also helping me cover my financial overheads.
I've therefore come to consider my NYP releases to be rather like the free sample/taster of what's available if you wish to buy. Like the free samples you might get at your local supermarket or deli (intended to encourage sales).
I think on the whole my approach to NYP has been reasonably positive, and I'll discuss the financial breakdown of my NYP releases in more detail below, but first, let's look at some priced releases.
Every Release is a Pricing Experiment
I don't think I've ever spoken to anyone who's totally confident in how they've priced their releases on BandCamp. It comes back to the balancing act mentioned above, further complicated by the inescapable fact that there's a lot of very good music available on BandCamp at NYP (free!).
I've adopted an approach of treating each release almost as a pricing experiment, hoping to better understand consumer dynamics and get closer to the sweet spot between putting a price on my work and gaining a meaningful income.
In the early days of OSC, I released an EP for £4.99 and it sold a few copies in the first couple of weeks. It was part of a four-EP series and subsequent EPs each released a month apart didn't sell many copies at all. On reflection, the music probably isn't great, but I realised the price was just too high when compared to other BandCamp EPs of a similar length (12-17 minutes). CD EPs in shops at that time were roughly between £4 and £7.
I bundled all four EPs together as a single album and kept the price of £4.99. Whilst sales figures still weren't anything to write home about, it sold better. I guess this was a balance between quality and quantity when held up against other releases of a similar nature. I.e. this price undercuts your typical album price on iTunes and therefore will hopefully seem like good value for money.
With this above instance still at the back of my mind several years later, I released my Ghostbusters themed EP for just £1; knowing they were a niche product and didn't expect large sales figures. Whilst they sold better than aforementioned EP series priced at £4.99, they didn't sell quite as well as I had hoped for a 6-track EP priced at just £1.
Here we have two examples of relatively low cost releases (in terms of amount of music for the money) and neither amounted to large volumes in sales. Nevertheless, what I've come to notice over the years as the number of priced releases on my BandCamp has crept up is that I sell more and more Discographies.
Full Discography Discount
With regards to encouraging sales, this is one of BandCamp's best features in my opinion (for both consumer and artist). You can set a discounted rate for an entire discography purchase. I have mine set to 50% meaning you could spend £4.99 on an EP, or you could spend just shy of £12 and have everything on the OSC BandCamp page, downloaded in one simple, neat package!
From a consumer point of view, that's almost 8 hours of music, for the approximate cost of one full-priced CD album on Amazon. It's a win-win situation. The consumer gets a bargain and I get a sale where I otherwise might not have done.
It should therefore come as no surprise that "Full Discography" sales account for just under 45% of my total income from digital sales on BandCamp.
Good Samaritan Income
I mentioned earlier about people paying for NYP releases. As it stands, NYP sales account for 33% of my income from digital sales on BandCamp. I only just now calculated this (for writing this article), and I was pleasantly surprised, dare I say shocked that it was this high! I had to check the numbers three times to make sure I was right! It makes me feel very humbled and grateful that people's generosity accounts for a third of my digital sales income.
After 50% Discography Discount sales, NYP sales (collectively) are my second biggest earner. That's a significant factor that I think warrants careful thought and consideration when considering long term musical catalogue pricing.
What About Other Artists; What Do They Do?
The above is some of how I have utilised various features on BandCamp, and priced some of my releases. Let's discuss what I see other people doing with their pricing.
Stack 'em High, Sell 'em Cheap!
I've noticed some artists take a very financially shrewd approach. Firstly, rather than release EPs and/or albums, they just release single tracks or two-track EPs priced very low, at £1 or £0.50 (50 pence). Let's assume there are twenty singles (priced at 50p) on a BandCamp profile, that's £10 for the entire discography. However, there might also be the discography discount of 50% meaning we can buy the entire discography for £5.
The long and short of this, I believe, is that people might be more inclined (perceiving a bargain) to buy 20 single releases for £5, as opposed to buying one 20-track album for £5. It's a matter of perception. 20 items, 20 different cover arts, 20 different titles etc... versus one item, with one cover art and one title. It's the same amount of music, but the singles approach feels like more.
Whether it's an album or collection of singles, 20 tracks for £5 is a bargain, and the consumer is getting a good deal. It's simply a question of packaging and how these 20 songs are presented, that may make them a more appealing prospect to buy.
With that in mind, the singles approach is more likely to receive frequent sales, leading the to releases being featured highly on the BandCamp charts; garnishing more attention, leading to even further sales and so the cycle continues.
It's somewhat like the supermarket approach of "Stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap" and there's a lot to be said for that. It's a model I see several artists on BandCamp utilising to much success.
NYP Everything; Sell Merchandise Instead!
Another approach I see some people taking is to NYP their entire discography (for the increased download exposure mentioned above), but still earn meaningful money from physical merchandise (sort of like what I did with Girls On Bikes).
Whilst I've seen several artists on BandCamp take this approach, and I'm sure it works well for them, I believe it requires their musical finances to be fluid enough to ensure continued duplication of CDs, cassettes and vinyls. Whilst I somewhat flirted with this model for two EPs, I couldn't sustain it as I don't have a large enough fan base (yet), nor the financial means for continued merchandise manufacturing. As an ongoing selling model, I think this is probably a model that only the biggest names in any scene can really accommodate.
As an example of how NYP alongside physical merchandise can backfire (or at least be a gamble); I very much struggled to sell my stock of Boys On Boards vinyls. Expecting them to sell out within a few days, I continued to reach out to my fan-base as much as I feasibly could, yet I only sold about half of the stock.
I believe that in this instance I had reached my audience threshold; everyone who wanted one had bought one and now I was sitting on hundreds of pounds worth of merchandise that wasn't selling; seriously impacting on my financial forecasts and planning for the back-end of 2019. This is what I mean when I say that only the biggest, most successful artists on BandCamp can accommodate this model in the long term. I got lucky with Girls On Bikes and when I tried to replicate the model it backfired, leaving me out of pocket with stock I couldn't sell!
Eventually, I managed to sell most of my stock with the aid of a 25% discount sale, but it means that I didn't quite earn the money I'd planned to earn, which impacts on other aspects of my life. As mentioned before income from OSC is part of my planned income and not just a perk or financial top-up to the day-job.
This is further proof that there isn't one, surefire way to price and/or sell your music on BandCamp. I believed that Girls On Bikes and Boys On Boards were sufficiently similar, yet sufficiently different that they'd both sell equally as well, yet that appears to not be the case. People followed up on their free downloads of Girls with merchandise purchases, but that hasn't been the case as much with Boys. This leads us nicely to my next point.
Conclusion: When is the Price Right?
Honestly, I was hoping that whilst I wrote this article I'd achieve a sense of clarity and draw closer to a firm conclusion on pricing strategy, however I think the waters are still rather murky.
Nevertheless, one thing that has struck me is that (excluding physical merchandise sales and Full Discography purchases) Zoned and Girls On Bikes are my two most profitable digital releases (respectively). Both are listed at NYP and both garnished a lot of favourable buzz and critical response upon release. I also believe that, irrespective of sales figures and critical response, these are probably my best bodies of work to date (in terms of quality of music). Both have a very strong and coherent creative vision coupled with a good production value and lots of the all important fun-factor.
Bringing up the third place position my most profitable releases is the combined sales figures of the two Ghostbusters themed EPs. These were priced on the Stack 'em High, Sell 'em Cheap model of £1 per EP, meaning £2 for both (12 songs; an album's worth of music). Again, like Zoned and Girls, I believe these EPs are creatively strong with a coherent vision and good quality production value.
If I'm to take anything away from this, it would be that quality still comes out on top, as what I consider to be my best creative achievements to date, despite being free or priced at just £1 are my top earners (digitally). I.e. people are prepared to pay for quality, even if you're offering it for free.
Lastly however, the honorary mention as far as my digital sales are concerned is the full discography discount. Almost half of my digital revenue comes from full discography sales and I think if you've got several items listed with a price, you should consider using this feature as it encourages sales where there otherwise might not have been a sale.
If You Ask Me...
Based on my own experience and what I've observed of others, if you were to ask for my opinion on how you should price your music on BandCamp, I'd suggest you release your music divided up across several singles and/or EPs; price most of them around the £1 mark and set one or two pieces of music as NYP. Also setup a discography discount of between 25%-50%. Perhaps if you're to upload a full album, consider it's price in relation to short EPs you've released. For example, if a 15 minute EP is £1, then a 45 minute album should be £3.
This is inescapably good value for money, hugely undercutting the going rates on other digital platforms, and with enough promotion and publicity, the sales figures should still yield favourable financial returns. And whilst these prices may seem low and even undermining of the work that's gone into making the music (that's a different discussion for another day), I think the nature of high quality music at NYP, coupled with how easy it is to stream music from Spotify, YouTube and so on, means there's been a seismic, cultural shift in how much people are willing to spend on music (digitally); especially independent music.
Nevertheless, I believe you can take solace and have faith in low prices; and especially NYP. In my experience, as you grow a fan-base who relate to you, they will support you by paying for NYP releases. Furthermore, free downloads will always help push releases up the BandCamp charts for exposure, which, when done in conjunction with very low priced releases and the full discography discount has the potential to work out favourably.
Note: I've not included the Him and Her EPs in any of this discussion as, due to them being released on Lazerdiscs Records, I don't have them listed on my BandCamp. I know these have sold comparatively well in relation to my own BandCamp releases, however they have the marketing clout of Lazerdiscs behind them, so they don't wholly relate to this discussion. Furthermore, if you factor in the label's cut of the profits, it would be interesting to know how they might have performed as self-releases on my BandCamp, and if they'd have earned me similar profits. I guess I'll never know...