There’s never been a better time to be an independent musician or producer. A perfect storm of technologies and web platforms means it’s easy and cheap to make music on even the cheapest computer and publish it on the web to reach a global audience, completely free of charge.
The two main web platforms are BandCamp and SoundCloud, each of which has similarities, but both offer features that are exclusive to each site. I personally use both to reach the largest possible audience, but I was initially confused as to what each site had to offer, so to save you from going through the same learning curve I’ve tried to include enough information here to help you make an informed decision.
Before you go any further, I should state that this article was written in January 2011 and both of the sites may have added or changed features by now, but everything here is accurate at the time of writing. If any major changes take place I’ll attempt to keep this post up to date.
Both BandCamp and SoundCloud give users the ability to upload music in a range of formats and then make your songs available to anyone with an Internet connection via your own dedicated web page on each site, meaning you don’t need a website of your own to start offering music downloads. Each has a widget that you can use to embed your tracks into web pages, allowing people to play your songs directly from a page, working very much the same as the YouTube player that can be used to embed video in a web page. Each site collects statistics on how many times your songs have been played and they also allow you to publish new material to social websites, such as Twitter or Facebook, whilst also allowing listeners to share tracks by email or on their own social network pages for their friends to see. The latter is particularly powerful because it can help spread the word virally, helping you to reach a much wider potential audience.
So, that’s the basics covered, what else do these sites offer?
Both sites are free to register, so you can be up and running very quickly at no cost. As well as a free membership tier, SoundCloud has several different annual premium paid subscriptions with varying degrees of additional functionality, which are explained on their website.
It’s safe to say that SoundCloud users are more interested in dance music, whereas BandCamp caters for music of all kinds. You can of course upload music from any genre to each website.
SoundCloud allows you to upload a maximum of 120 minutes audio as part of their free offering, but you can pay for more space if necessary. This means you’re storage space reduces by song length rather than file size, so you can upload a 3 minute WAV or MP3 file and they’ll both use the same allocation. BandCamp has no limit as to how much audio you upload.
Both sites allow you to offer your songs as free downloads. SoundCloud allows 100 downloads per song with their free membership offering, whereas BandCamp allows 200 downloads per month, so if a song is downloaded 200 times in one month it cannot be downloaded again until the following month. Both sites give you the ability to offer more downloads for an additional fee.
At the time of writing, SoundCloud offers membership options from 29 to 500 EUROS per year. BandCamp makes money from selling your music, currently between 10% to 15% depending on the amount sold. Please be sure to check with each site because the costs may have changed since publication.
You can sell your music directly on BandCamp by specifying a set cost per song, or by specifying a minimum cost and allowing fans to pay more. BandCamp also allows you to sell physical merchandise alongside your music and you can include bonus downloads with songs, such as PDF documents, videos or images. With BandCamp you can also create discount voucher codes or free download codes. You can also offer a 128kpbs compressed file for free, but charge for a higher quality file format.
If you want to sell music on SoundCloud you must include a link to an external website with your song where the track can be bought. This link could obviously go to your BandCamp website, or to iTunes, or wherever you are selling your music.
Both SoundCloud and BandCamp allow you to upload compressed and un-compressed files and both stream audio at 128kbps from their players. You should upload your music in an un-compressed file format such as AIFF, WAV or FLACC for maximum quality, even though it takes longer to upload.
When a listener downloads from SoundCloud they will receive the file in the original format you uploaded. BandCamp allows the listener to download the song in a whole range of formats, from compressed MP3 to FLAC, WAV and AIFF.
In both cases, when you upload a song you continue to own your music publishing and copyright. You can elect to make your material available via the Creative Commons Licence, allowing people to re-use it for non-commercial purposes, for example.
Widgets & Sharing
Both websites allow a listener to easily share your music with their friends via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook or by email. You can also easily embed the site’s widgets in your web pages, as shown here. The BandCamp widget sounds noticeably better than the SoundCloud widget, however SoundCloud say they are always looking at ways to improve the quality of their transcoding algorithm.
Instructions on how to do this are included on each site:
I haven’t done any exhaustive or accurate tests, but SoundCloud seemed a marginally quicker than BandCamp. Obviously the speed depends on your Internet connection and the size of the file you’re uploading. SoundCloud have a desktop application that you can download and install to help manage your songs.
Now that I’ve covered the common features of each site, here are the features that are unique to each offering:
- There are different styles of player widget available. The default player, shown above, displays the song’s wave data, but the premium account allow you to select different widgets and even show your song’s artwork.
- Listeners who are registered with SoundCloud can leave feedback for your song at a set time within the track. This allows users to comment on which parts of a song they particularly like or dislike for all to see.
- Each song gets a unique URL, e.g http://soundcloud.com/herbiehopper/serendipity.
- You can view basic statistics on the number of listens as part of the free membership level; if you want to see more detailed stats you have to pay.
- You can upload a song for private access, allowing you to collaborate with other SoundCloud members very easily.
- Each user has a Drop Box, allowing other users to send you tracks.
- There are some community features, such as forums where you can communicate with other members, as well as different groups that you can join.
- There is an official application for the iPhone as well as other applications from third party developers.
- You can record straight to SoundCloud from their iPhone application.
- Your web page has very little BandCamp branding, so you can use it as your website.
- You can use your own domain name to point to your BandCamp page, e.g. http://music.herbiehopper.com, as opposed to the default http://herbiehopper.bandcamp.com.
- Your web page is search engine optimised (SEO), to help you get a better search rank in Google.
- Sell physical merchandise as well as your music.
- You can customise your web page to some degree.
- BandCamp sends data to SoundScan.
- Payments are made to your PayPal account (and will incur PayPal’s fees, obviously).
- Extensive statistics are included free of charge.
So, as you can see, each site offers you a wealth of features. BandCamp trumps SoundCloud if you want to sell your music, whereas SoundCloud provides collaboration features, helping you to work with others easily.
Hopefully you are now armed with enough information to decide whether each site – or both – are right for you. If you think I’ve missed anything please leave a comment below.