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The Year of Bandcamp

November 30, 2016 Leave a comment

This year, I came to the realization that writing about music is a giant waste of time. No one is interested in finding or appreciating new music; people only want to be told that the thing they like is good, or the thing they hate is bad. And trying to describe why you love music often feels like speaking some alien language that has too many adjectives. As far as I can tell, the only people who read music writing are other music writers, who do it to check in and make sure they’re better at writing than the author.

That might be why in 2016 I finally stopped looking at music websites, which I had read somewhat frequently and used to keep up to date on new releases. (Another likely cause: the fact that most album reviews just read like advertising copy.) This made me need to find a new method for discovering music, ideally something that was separate from all the hype and noise. I came up with a nice solution: scouring the hell out of Bandcamp.

Bandcamp is mostly praised for offering a way for musicians to release music straight to their audience without dealing with record labels. More importantly, it offers a way for music to be available that isn’t curated by music websites and aggregation like Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, which have taken the joy out of discovering music by spoon-feeding it to listeners and coldly evaluating it with star or number ratings. On Bandcamp, there is just music, with only a few easily avoided distractions.

Most pieces that praise Bandcamp compare it to the old style of shopping at a record store, where you browse through the bins and try to find something that catches your eye. This feels close, but it’s an imperfect analogy, because Bandcamp has some staggeringly bad music that would never have seen the light of day in a record store. My preferred analogy is that it’s like a Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean from Harry Potter. One taste might be a complete gem, the next might be something impossible to listen to by a person who has no business even thinking about music, much less recording and releasing it for the world to hear.

That ended up being one of my biggest takeaways of my time on Bandcamp: the sheer volume of music that people are putting out there, which I find oddly inspiring even if I can’t comprehend why some of them do it. I have heard some truly horrible music and read some really long, pretentious band profiles. It makes judging some books by their cover a necessity. I skip really bad band names — especially any that is just a woman’s first name, since it inevitably ends up being a bunch of untalented dudes. And I pass over albums with bad, generic cover art — apparently I care about album art much more than I realized.

This needle-in-a-haystack approach might turn some off of Bandcamp, but I think it’s why the site is great. It makes finding good music fun again by requiring a certain amount of effort, with all the bad music providing a context in which good music feels special and not like something that should be taken for granted. And, I should add, the music itself is often every bit as good — if not better — than what is being released by bigger labels and talked about by everyone else. I found myself enjoying music a lot more this year (even though I think the overall quality of releases wasn’t as good as 2015) because I rediscovered that initial thrill I had of finding music that was totally new to me.

As the year comes to an end, I’m back in the mode of making a meaningless year-end list, which is all over the place thanks to this Bandcamp fixation. There are tons of different genres, a few different countries, and a couple releases that aren’t even in English. I’ll probably be sharing those albums in a few days, assuming I have some time I feel like wasting.

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