Quitting Streaming and Selling Directly

I’m not sure if you’ve been following trends lately, but there’s been a backlash against streaming sites. I know it’s new, as the resentment towards those platforms has been intense ever since Spotify became the first leading one, with a ridiculously low amount back to artists, but it seems there’s been a change in the narrative lately.

Where it started


From the various videos I’ve seen on YouTube, it seems like it started with Kanye West’s rejection from the different platforms where he advertised during the Super Bowl, which led to huge traffic to his site.



After watching that video, I’ve seen more and more news going in that direction, but that wasn’t new. In late 2023, since I spent time on forums, Reddit, and Facebook, I’ve seen a wave of comments from artists who were fed up and wanted to sell their music themselves more and more. The direction people were going for was to quit all streaming sites and head to Bandcamp alone with a personal shop.


I’ll share some personal thoughts about this in a post that is a bit more philosophical than technical.


The early Peer 2 Peer Era


As I was making music in the late 90s, I remember working one day, and some of my colleagues were saying they hadn’t been listening to the radio anymore since they downloaded their music instead. Knowing you could access all the songs you wanted for free was intriguing and shocking. I remember browsing for some music, mainly pop material, and barely any electronic music I liked besides The Chemical Brothers. It didn’t take long for all the music CDs to appear. Months after I checked, it fueled some internal conflict about all this. But what was clear then was that all the geeks and real music lovers I knew were keeping an eye on the coming songs.




Then I discovered the website MP3.com, where artists post their music and meet others. See it as the ancestor of Soundcloud but around 1999 or 2000. A handful of people were doing the same kind of music as I was, and it was useful for creating a little community. Not long after I was on there, I got an enigmatic message from a German guy explaining what Netlabels were and asking me if I wanted to join his under the name of Thinner. It was small, and the concept of netlabels was still in progress.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Netlabel concept, the idea was to use the highly popular stream of downloads to the advantage of artists by inserting your freshly made music in there. The logic was that since people were all getting the new music, we could benefit by adding ours. We were okay with not making any sales; it was purely to ensure our music would be heard.

And it worked.


The Thinner wave


Thinner got big at one point, hitting 40k downloads on the first days of a release. Everything was hosted on the Archive.org site, where other Netlabels also appeared. German media started looking into it and covering it. Since I was the Canadian representative, local media has approached me to learn more about it. Radiohead did the same thing not long after with a free release, and the media went wild for it. Ironically, when I joined Thinner, I had local DJs telling me it was a bad move, that I would never gain respect from serious labels, and that I would burn myself out.

The exact opposite happened. My first European tours were directly linked to my Thinner releases, and when I was performing, people would come to me, all talking about their favorite songs from my albums.

Not long after, I got signed to Hawtin’s M_nus label, which was sort of the first time someone who got known from Netlabels transitioned to a bigger vinyl label. I feel that then, people started giving some credit to the movement Thinner created.

This experience shaped how I saw Spotify appear. I remember at the peak of Thinner, Sebastien Redenz was already saying that the best way to make it sustainable was to sell songs for 1 cent. He had it in mind, and that observation prepared me for the Spotify model.

Piracy Music and Soulseek


In pair with Netlabels, most people still download music, mostly torrents or Soulseek (Still used now). I think that, with the mentality of the late 90s, people were downloading with no shame. It created a community, and while hanging out on Soulseek, I made some friends abroad who eventually got me gigs locally. I used it to share my music. Some of my precious releases leaked, and I preferred not to since it was an agreement with the label, and I saw the community from another angle. I remember someone who got the release told me that “Music is made to be free anyway.” That was a bit disappointing for them, and later on, that same person got a release out and complained on Facebook that people were sharing their music on Soulseek.


There are many ambivalent emotions regarding that, and in the end, I think it comes down to the artist to decide how their music should be shared, which is sort of what I see nowadays with the Spotify backlash.


Bandcamp and Direct Selling


Since the early 2000s, I think only one shop I experienced did things right: Bandcamp. I mean, as of a business model, because their anti-trust approach was quite disappointing. That said, it’s not perfect, and some parts are a bit frustrating, but most of it is spot-on for what, as artists, we need. Even the share of money works. I’ve always been frustrated that shops like Beatport don’t let you pick a price for your release, which I find quite dumb. If you’re a label, there are numerous tools for selling, and it works well.

I wish there was more control over bootlegging. Now and then, you see someone reselling an artist’s music without shame, but it usually gets a lot of hate.

Selling your music from a website has some flaws:

  • Costs for a secure site
  • A shopping system that evolves with the market and remains accessible
  • Updates
  • Creating traffic
  • Marketing

Those are the little parts of it, and you’re venturing yourself into the entrepreneur’s path, which is hard. I often say this to clients: until people tell you they want to buy your music, there’s no reason for you to want to sell it. Many people get depressed from their music not selling…


So, is it worth it?

Like I said, not until there is a demand. You need to feed your community first, making sure people around you love your music and will talk about it. That requires a lot of time, dedication, and patience. Few people can afford an ad at the Super Bowl, so aiming for little things first can make a difference.

But I think it could be worth it for a label that has sales, but Bandcamp is where it should start. It’s quite common to find releases on Bandcamp that have no sales. I think it’s better to wait before putting your music there. Recently, Deezer removed 26 million songs that had never been played (or were problematic), and the overflow of music is not helping anyone.


The Other Model

In parallel to all this, I’ve seen another new movement, in a way. On a topic thread, someone commented:


Music fans are basically abusive. You tell them you’re being exploited, they say they care but then continue doing it. That’s no surprise if you see how people continue buying at H&M or getting the latest smart phone. I don’t really want to give my music abroad, I want to keep it to my friends.


The conversation was about what would happen if musicians had the other mentality of not wanting to share their music with the whole world. Instead, they focused on immediate contacts who wanted to listen and play the music. There was a consensus that they’d rather give the music to 5 people who want to listen than pay Tunecore or Distrokid to have their music everywhere and see it was played 10 times. Rarity creates value, not total accessibility.


Why would someone pay for something they can have in a snap of a finger?


This conversation continued for a while, and I noticed some friends and clients going in the same direction. I played music on a friend’s birthday and checked the content of my friend’s USB stick. He had a folder with around 50 songs of an artist I had never heard from. They were all outstanding. I later checked streaming sites or shops, and none of those songs were there. My friend told me about a few artists who make songs every day and don’t sell them. Instead, they pass their music to DJs they like.


You’ll ask, what is the business model here?

I don’t think there is one, or at least it’s unclear. Some people have accepted that they won’t turn their music into a business until people are interested in buying or catching a label’s eye. They know they want their music to be played by DJs, who will eventually get someone’s attention. I think that is the motivation beyond commercializing their music. I like that a lot. It’s a follow-up version of the Netlabels, but more aimed at community building than desperately wanting to get everyone’s attention. That guy made a point, and here I am talking about him.

Perhaps, as musicians and artists, our approach must be more experimental. Running a shop is one, but I don’t think we have found the right way yet. We need more of a community with shops… Which is what Bandcamp is.

Let’s see what the future holds.


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