Rant in B Flat…

I’ve recently been putting up lots of free download tracks on the Twelve Bandcamp site.

By giving away tracks for free I hope to at least get an email address from someone and hopefully then stay in touch and try and convert them into a paying customer at sometime in the future.

Bandcamp don’t like it when I give tracks away, especially when I do it with six by seven, they once emailed me and asked me not to do it. However, it’s very easy to just take songs off Bandcamp for free, just google it and you’ll see.

They say this about themselves and why Bandcamp is so good:

“Fans want to support the artists they love, you just have to give them direct and compelling ways to do so. On Bandcamp, fans can listen to your music, decide if they like it, and if so, pay you directly for it.”

Great. But it can also mean this:

“Not all fans want to support the artists they love, in fact, the greater majority don’t, even if you give them direct and compelling ways to do so. On Bandcamp, fans can listen to your music, decide if they like it, and if so, either pay you directly for it or just persistently take it for free”

That’s the reality.

I can show you some of the statistics for Twelve. (These are some examples but it applies to every single thing I’ve ever released on Bandcamp)

Here’s an example, just out of the hat…

A few years ago I did an album called Live at The Windmill in Brixton. 98 people downloaded it, of which 8 people paid, giving me an income of £32.00. Ninety people took it for free. If those ninety had also paid, I would have made an extra £360. So did I loose £360 on that album or did I gain 90 new fans who thought £4 was too much to pay?

So I know what your thinking: “Hey Chris, let them have it for free and if they like it, they will come back and pay for the next one.”

The stats don’t let this theory stand up because since I started Twelve, the ratio between free downloader and buyer increases as more people start to follow the project. This ratio is also prevalent across every single release. The more people that buy an album, the even more people that grab it for free. The more popular the album the higher the ratio between buyer and taker.

Take for example the album NO_COUNTRY. This was a little downbeat techno album made with an 808 and a 303 and some samples from the film No Country For Old Men.

241 people downloaded the album. Out of that, 21 people paid for it giving me an income of £50.90. If everyone who took it would have paid I would have had £583.90. When you are trying to run a business and trying to survive, the difference between making £50 and making £580 is life changing. Was that money lost or fans gained?

“But hey Chris, you didn’t lose that money, those people are now on your mailing list and they will support you live.”

If they take it illegally, I don’t get their email address. I only get the email address if I give the track away as an official free download. Anyway, if I did get their email address then I would just have the email address of someone who persistently takes music they like, for free. (Don’t get me started on the debate about live music and free downloads. It’s complete crap to think that by giving music away for free, you are somehow letting people fall in love with your music so much so that they will just start to wander into and show up at a gig you might organise.)

For some reason it’s ok to take music. When I talk to people about this, the main justification I get is this one:

“I just can’t afford it and isn’t it better for me to at least be listening to your music for free rather than not at all?”

More and more people are now cool with downloading. I used to get emails from people saying: “I don’t and won’t do downloads Chris! Please release this as a CD.”

A lot of the people who used to say that are now happy to download. So now we have more people downloading legally and more people downloading for free and more people buying vinyl. The mixture of all three keeps me going, but I know where the money comes from.

For me, when I look at the stats it’s frustrating because I know that if everybody who downloads for free actually paid, it would make the difference between six by seven being a proper touring band making music in proper recording studios and Twelve being able to do what six by seven does now; the odd gig and some nice vinyl releases.

Chris….Music is like office supplies, it’s simply morally ok to half inch it!

…and why is that?

There are no answers just yet, I’m just writing this because I wish things were different but I’m also only writing it from my point of view.

This blog or indeed any rational discussion won’t solve the debate about why people choose to take music for free. It’s all about moral judgements and people need to become aware of the underlying explanations for why they are making those moral judgements in the first place.

People on either side of the debate of internet piracy will selectively use evidence to support their claims; perhaps that is what I’m doing here? I don’t know? I don’t think so? I have all the stats in front of me but the rationality of those stats and what they suggest will in no way change the situation.

My livelihood depends on selling the music I make so therefore I will always be on the side condemning people who illegally obtain music. For those of you who do other things to earn a living and whose livelihood does not depend on selling music, and those of you who can’t afford to pay for all the music you would like to (and can) have, will defend illegally obtaining music.

Human behaviour and moral judgement is based on strong feelings of desire and social context rather than logic and reasoning.

Each side is motivated to talk about and give the explanations that defend their emotional desires.

I wonder how many great bands have gone to the wall because of this though? I suppose it’s highly probable that we lost a cure for cancer somewhere on a battlefield?

It’s just life isn’t it. It’s never black and white.

Please subscribe to Twelve.








  1. I always try my best to pay, although I often feel a little guilty for only stumping up around £2/release (as a minimum-wage lackey I’m usually at the bounds of my overdraft each month). I’m hoping you’ll be keeping the most-recent batch of 6×7 and twelve releases around for another couple of weeks cos I’m skint until payday!

  2. The debate is a tricky one. Is listening to something that is put up as a sample taking it illegally, or just taking advantage? Due to the internet, music is so ubiquitous that people don’t care about sound quality, so a lesser sounding sample isn’t worth it. There is a model to give it its worth back somewhere out there, but I can’t be sure what it is yet.

    Personally, I’ve just got on board with what you’re doing so am waiting for some income to buy some vinyl from you.

    1. Thanks William. I agree, very tricky but I think if there was a system in place so that people couldn’t take it then that would help. The police say that most theft is opportunistic. What could be more opportunistic than having all that bandcamp music at your disposal and so easy to just take. It is stealing but you sneak in and sneak out an no one sees you and you know you will get away with it. Give people that option / alternative (for anything) and 95% of us will do it. Morals then don’t come into it. On the contrary, people will find ways to defend what they are doing.

      1. Sorry, I missed this bit: “However, it’s very easy to just take songs off Bandcamp for free, just google it and you’ll see.”

        Yeah, that is stealing. And really petty considering you can listen to them on the website. And even pettier considering that if you want to listen to the songs enough times to warrant having the mp3, you’re probably a fan. Bandcamp should have an obligation to change that.

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