Bandcamp's Joe Holt on Donating Sales for Juneteenth | Live Culture

Bandcamp's Joe Holt on Donating Sales for Juneteenth


Bandcamp Record Store and Performance Space in downtown Oakland, Calif. - COURTESY OF BANDCAMP
  • Courtesy of Bandcamp
  • Bandcamp Record Store and Performance Space in downtown Oakland, Calif.
On Friday, June 19, online music store and streaming platform Bandcamp will donate 100 percent of its sales to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. June 19, or Juneteenth, is a 155-year-old holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

"The current moment is part of a long-standing, widespread, and entrenched system of structural oppression for people of color, and real progress requires a sustained and sincere commitment to political, social, and economic racial justice and change," Bandcamp cofounder Ethan Diamond wrote in a June 15 statement on the website. "We stand with those rightfully demanding justice, equality, and change, and people of color everywhere who live with racism every single day."

Earlier this year, Bandcamp launched a similar measure on the first Friday of each month to help musicians affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This Friday's initiative is part of a series. The company donated its portion of sales on Friday, June 5, and will do so again on Friday, July 3, to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Founded in 2008, Bandcamp has expanded considerably since its inception, both in size and scope. Based in Oakland, Calif., the business has grown from the passion project of a small group of friends to a thriving company of more than 70 people. In 2016 it launched an editorial page, Bandcamp Daily.

Seven Days recently spoke via Zoom call with Bandcamp cofounder, engineering director and Bennington resident Joe Holt about the Juneteenth fundraiser. [Editor's note: Holt requested that his photo not be included with the article.]

SEVEN DAYS: What sets Bandcamp apart from other streaming platforms in terms of profits for artists?
JOE HOLT: When we made Bandcamp, we had friends who were in bands, and had really bad websites. And we wanted to make their websites better. There were no music stores at the music stores on the internet at the time — iTunes had just started up; MySpace was sort of petering out. But there were no sales on MySpace.

We knew that we really wanted to create a way for bands to be sustainable and help them make their living. From the very beginning, we thought of it as a partnership with artists. We have always made a profit from the sales that bands make on Bandcamp, and it's between 10 and 15 percent.

If we were making money from yearly artist subscriptions instead, then we wouldn't be as interested in artists' sales our their success. We'd be more interested in getting as many bands to sign up as possible. Obviously, we could have had ads all over the site, and we didn't want to go that route.

From the very beginning, it was always: We'll only be as successful as the artists. That's very different from the business models of iTunes and Spotify. We give artists more money for sales than any other site. We also like to support the idea that it's not this massive-volume record store. We want to let artists and fans have a relationship.

SD: What has Bandcamp's commitment to charitable giving looked like in the past?
JH: I started Bandcamp with my best friend, Ethan Diamond. We had both been around Silicon Valley a few times and we wanted to create a company that was where we would like to work for the rest of out lives. We weren't intending to grow quickly and sell out. We wanted to create a business that we felt good about that had values that were ours.

When you are in front of a successful organization, you get to demonstrate your values and put your money where your mouth is. It goes hand in hand with a lot of our other values. We match employees' charitable contributions, and give them time off to do things like protest and make the world better.

Our first fundraiser came the spring after the 2016 presidential election. We had just created our editorial team, and the origin of that idea for a fundraiser came through an article we published about bands on Bandcamp who were from the countries affected by the 2017 travel ban. We ended up publishing that article, doing it in conjunction with an ACLU fundraiser. We decided that all of our profits for a day of sales would go to the ACLU.

Sales were amazing. We were very happy with the result. There was overwhelmingly positive support, with some niche complaints. People said, "Hey, you shouldn't be political, you're a website, you shouldn't have values." It caught us off guard but made us more informed. We can totally have values, and express them with what we spend our company's money on.

SD: What advantages does a smaller company like Bandcamp have in terms of outreach that a larger streamer may not have?
JH: I was fortunate enough to work at some good large companies, too. I was able to see them do similar things. It's not so much the size, it's if the company has a heart and soul. We've been up front from the very beginning that we have values and we're going to express them.

Big companies become beholden to lots of special interests. If they're public companies, they have to think about their shareholders, and may feel more constrained. We make no apologies for making a decision and putting our weight behind it.

SD: Why did you choose the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as the recipient of Friday's sales?
JH: I can't answer that one specifically, because I wasn't involved in that decision. I think, in general, since our first fundraiser, we've had a list of other organizations we'd like to help if we could. And I imagine they were on it and the time seemed right.

The bottom line is that they're a good organization. They've got a lot of history of doing effective advocacy.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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