We hear plenty of hype about the Web’s power for artists, but what happens in the real world? That question is doubly interesting now that Topspin, already influential in its early test run, is available to everyone. Atlanta-based artist Tricil joins us for a special guest post to answer just that. It’s a chance to peer in the head of a Topspin power user. (If anyone wants to rebut this with the Bandcamp perspective, go for it.)

I was curious, having followed this solo electronica performer, how his use of Web promotion and commerce tool Topspin was working for him. I was particularly interested in how it compared to another Web tool, Bandcamp, which has a different scope but has also seemed ubiquitous in its use among independent artists. Amidst the galaxy of tools vying for musicians’ attention, these two do appear to be front-runners.

Tricil, aka Johnny Jacobus, answers all this for us. His answers are glowing; he even worried that this might seem a little too Topspin “fanboyish” to post. But no worries here: if people are loving a tool, I want to hear about it. Johnny, take it away. (And readers, have a listen to his music, too – another reason to involve him in this question!)

To compare Topspin to Bandcamp seems a little unfair to me, for the former has a multitude of tools that go beyond streaming and commerce. Both are used by musicians like you and I to “get our stuff out there.” Tim O’Reilly said that “Piracy is not the enemy [of the artist], obscurity is” and I think that’s true. Ed.: Actually, it seems that Seth Godin said that, and Tim O’Reilly didn’t. But Tricil just said it, and someone else might, too. -PK

Be it Topspin, Bandcamp, or even SoundCloud, there are a plethora of ways to get your music out to your fans ears in much more intelligent ways than having a myspace with some tracks or hosting downloads on your own site.

Bandcamp’s charm when they came out in the post myspace-era was an embeddable, music-centric streaming site that had built in social-sharing, almost like SoundCloud with a commerce function. With Bandcamp, you can set up “In Rainbows”-style pricing of pay what you want and even do a free in exchange for an email much like Topspin. The downsides to Bandcamp are a sandboxed site with little to no css customization, so it’s harder to create a more “branded” presence going the all Bandcamp route.

Topspin is different. They seem to be the pioneers of the “email for download” thing, which to me is your first price point. You could host them on SoundCloud, Last.fm or your own site and get 1000s of downloads, but wouldn’t it be nice to tell those 1000 people about your new album with an exclusive offer to download another new track? Anonymous hot-linking downloading is great, but having permission to go Direct to Fan is even better. This is the strength of Topspin’s email platform. Additionally, you can segment your fans so I can holler at my three fans in Peoria, IL about my next show there (TBA). Geo-tagging is done by clicking on a link in a confirmation email, COPPA-compliant. No spam here.

Bandcamp’s real appeal came from the universally embeddable streaming players that work via HTML5 and within Facebook as well. As you can see from a recent Topspin blog post that bizarrely features me, these are coming to the Topspin world as well.

Bandcamp has added email for download functionality as well, but I don’t think its email backend is as robust as Topspin’s. I believe it’s through FanBridge and that’s on a separate site, whereas in Topspin, it’s all self-contained in the same app, along with stats on plays, emails, geodata, and NextBigSound integration. (NBS is amazing, it’s like Google Analytics for musicians). Ed.: Finding the exact answer to this question on the Bandcamp side is difficult, and I think best left to a story that covers Bandcamp specifically. Bandcamp added this functionality in 2008, according to a site blog post, and continues to evolve, too.

Real case scenario: I put up One Day Soon for free download as part of an upcoming Atlanta show promotion on my site. [Ed.: See link above.] I emailed the Atlanta people on my list (about 15%) a link to download the sampler from all three bands and told them where to buy tickets and asked them to share the show info with their friends. I didn’t want to tell the other 85% about a show in Atlanta they can’t go to, so for them I gave them a link to my new song and made up a contest to make the cover art for One Day Soon (right now, the cover art is the flyer for the aforementioned show, and from May 15th on, that’s a little silly). The contest is cool, I think: you post your art on my Facebook wall, and whichever one has the most “Likes” and “TRICIL-ness” wins. One email campaign for one new song, split across the country in two presentable formats.

Speaking of Facebook, Topspin has an upcoming Facebook store that’s going to look a lot like their “spinshops” (which is something they offer for every artist, self-serve or not that works like a splash page for downloaded media, a sort of “while you’re here, maybe buy a T-Shirt?”). Commerce on Facebook, without leaving Facebook. Additionally, you have the option of sharing media for a Facebook Like or a Tweet. You can connect with your fans and grow your networks too, not just via email.

Speaking of T-Shirts, one thing that Topspin does in spades is physical media and merchandise. I know Bandcamp has that BCWax thing, which seems cool. [Ed.: It's a vinyl label, though with only two releases so far, it looks pretty tightly curated!]

Topspin lets you bundle, say, a T-Shirt with an artist’s entire discography in any format from MP3 to 24-bit wav and lifetime VIP access and iPhone ringtones, if you wanted to. This is exactly what I have setup, and it’s my highest selling item, outselling $2-$4 digital downloads. People still like tangibility and the music experience really is being re-bundled. VIP access is cool, you connect with a network like Google, OpenID, FB, Twitter, AOL, and you’re given access to download specific packages. A way to cater to superfans.

Finally, one last thing that Topspin has in the tangible realm is Ticketing. You print (or save the PDF on your iPhone) and bring out your ticket to a show, and you can use the Topspin iPhone scanner (no love for the Droid or BB folk, sorry) to check in your fans. Sell a bundle with a CD, an instant download, and some tickets and you just bypassed both Ticketmaster and a record label.

So, there you have it. Here’s a bit more reading on the latest from Topspin, and a nice live release to grab. I expect this will cause us to hear from Bandcamp (and others), and hopefully even better, real-world users of those services.

I’d like to hear what you think of the alternatives out there, what’s available and what’s missing, and even if you’ve found ways of working across sites. And I hope in the process, we get to discover some new music, too. Let us know. -PK

Topspin blog:
Major Updates to Streaming Player Coming Soon, Embeddable Store Offers

The Unbundling (and Re-Bundling) of Music – interesting business analysis, including some discussion of SONOIO, the artist who recently won recognition from Topspin and whose DIY synthesizer presents a very different vision of the technology of music distribution! (More on SONOIO soon!)

http://tricil.net/ – Tricil’s own Topspin-powered site

  • http://www.fizzmatik.com Fizzmatik

    I've been using Bandcamp for a little while , and just started with Topspin. What i really loved about Bandcamp is how immediately functional it was , clean and simple , very logically laid-out. All the important stuff is there , and it just plain works. Not much in terms of aesthetic customization , but still enough to make it fit into your website.

    My debut on Topspin on the other hand , has been a litlle..rocky… Once the first "whoa ! look,you can do this and that…" passes , my account had all sorts of strange bugs , support was pretty slow ( more than a week to get an answer and get things fixed ) , ergonomy is no match to Bandcamp, documentation sometimes  refers to what seems to be earlier versions of Topspin… It pretty much feels like a "work in progress"…

    HOWEVER , it goes way beyond what Bandcamp can offer in terms of tools , some widgets look pretty impressive ( the Tweet for Media for example, although  it's not functionnal right now) , things can be customized way more than on Bandcamp , fulfillment services , etc.. 

    Topspin also comes out as more expensive than Bandcamp as it charges you for bandwith on top of the monthly fee. Both take same percentage of the sales.

    At this point i'm staying with Bandcamp as my main store, but will be using mostly Topspin social widgets, so it's going to be a combination of both. Things might change in the future depending on how platforms evolve…

  • TheAnonymousMrP

    It definitely seems to me that Topspin is geared more towards the promoting artist. I think Bandcamp definitely has its place for those who don't particularly need that. 

    I also think that the jury is still out on the subscription/newsletter-y aspect of TopSpin. Most people are fine with it (by my estimate), but I think a significant minority aren't fond of signing up for anything, irrespective of free stuff.

  • Jonah

    Sooo…costs. 15% just like bandcamp for music, 10%  tickets. $10 a month or 100 dollars a year. Free downloads will cost you, but not much @ 15cents per GB. W/ BC you can give away 200 downloads a month which can be any size and buy more credits later.

    Anyway, what I want to know is can you easily export all the data you've mined and take it with you?

  • Peter Kirn

    Yeah, keep the comments coming. So far, I'm not entirely impressed with Topspin relative to Bandcamp for simply providing album-centric stores; I like Bandcamp's design and features better. Likewise, I'm not convinced Bandcamp can match Topspin's viral tools – and 200 downloads a month *isn't* a whole lot on the Web. 

    Some sort of Bandcamp + Topspin + SoundCloud combo sure seems ideal. They're all pretty easy to use, so having to manage more than one to me still seems feasible. My experience with a *lot* of cloud apps has been that it's easier to pick a couple of great specialized tools than either, at one extreme, trying to do everything with one monster tool or, at the other, trying to manage a dozen over-specialized tools.

    But that means I'm doubly interested in how people are combining tools? (and I do respect that Tricil is all-Topspin, all the time!)

  • Jørgenstil

    I'm not gonna go in-depth into the article, although I'm most def. gonna use the information..

    I just want to let you know Peter that I love what you do, CDM is the connection between my personal and business-life.. LOVE IT! I know this sounds a little 'ass-kissery', but hey the guy deserves it! :-)

  • http://www.receptivemusic.com Brendan at Receptive

    Always cool to hear from artists who have a great strategy in place that is working.

    I definitely think this article needs a full Bandcamp rebuttal though.  Not much of a comparison!  I also agree the two services are offering somewhat different tools, with Topspin going much more in depth.

    -Brendan

    @webmusicguy

  • Tubby

    cool to hear peoples comparisons of the services. @Fizzmatik, i know what you mean about the buggs in Topspin. tried it about 6mo ago and some of the widgets were simply unusable (safari wouldn't play when embeded). haven't tried it since though and honestly, i didn't even try their support. just went to another service.

    bandcamp has been solid for – i have nothing negative to say about it. i wouldn't really say i'm "making it online" but thats not bandcamp's fault.

    so soundcloud: its great that listeners can stream all day and artists don't have to worry about bandwidth. then its up to you to use the "buy" button in the player to connect to something else for delivery of purchased content. the timed comments in the standard embedable player may appeal to some people too. brostep artists, for example do really well this as tracks that are plastered with comments definitely generate interest.

  • erm…

    That Tricil vid is a bit bloated with one-eyed Gaga-esque propoganda for my taste, but whatev's…

  • Kim

    Would someone comment….. has anyone here …. average joe made money using these services?

  • http://noisepages.com/members/nomoredubstep/ Prince Jammy

    i have made some money mostly from soundcloud linked to beatport. i decided to completely capitalize on the the dubstep phenomenon. i admit it: i made brostep and it bought me some gear including the 17" macbookpro i am using to type this pathetic text. i will not divulge any names i use for my online presence(s) as it may negatively impact my cash trickle. i fed the flock and the flock fed me. …not enough to make a decent living by any means but enough supplemental income to buy some gear and even pay some bills. it feels good to take money from people with such poor taste. …plus the whole experience has been so amusing!

  • Juno

    “Piracy is not the enemy [of the artist], obscurity is”

    This is black and white thinking. Both can be a problem. They are not opposites.

    I worry about this because unclear slogans are not a good way to analyse anything and our enthusiasm can make us easy targets.

  • http://Www.guguchu.com John Farrugia

    I think you will find that Guguchu offers the same power of Topspin eg ticketing, embeddable widgets, email tool like fan bridge, geo targeting but overall making it as easy to use as bandcamp

  • http://whiterainbowpizza.bandcamp.com white rainbow

    i love my bandcamp 

    whiterainbowpizza.bandcamp.com

  • strunkdts

    LOL @ Prince Jammy and the Brostep massive. I would love to know who you recorded as just to check ur tracks. I hate Brostep by the way.

  • http://beatjazz.blogspot.com Onyx Ashanti

    i do love bandcamp.  been with them since their first week buuut, that ticket scanner looks mighty inviting.  and the ability to assemble packages and track them looks fantastic.  i may play around with them, but also do what peter suggests, which is to keep my presence on bandcamp for its rock solidness, and topspin to play with these bells and whistles and see how/if they work.

  • http://beatjazz.blogspot.com Onyx Ashanti

    thanks for the GuguChu link!  looks much more inviting than topspin!  since we're talking about full reviews of these services, i would like to see guguchu thrown in the bunch as well.

  • Kim

    @Prince Jammy Lol … I think I will give it a go.

    I'm gonna tap into the rest-home market and make some money off over the hill people doing big band tunes that probably nobody's gonna buy.

  • http://module.co.nz Jeramiah

    I released a video game soundtrack on bandcamp in 2009 and that had over 500,000 hits on it for a PSN game called Shatter…since then every game indie soundtrack releases on there now…it's the norm, I even had bandcamp and several game composers pointing that out…the thing is Bandcamp is like a good friend…Topspin is like a mechanic. If Bandcamp had the ablity to trigger off shop in a pop up box what would be the difference? actually, you know what…It's like protools vs ableton live…there is some stuff that's better on protools and other stuff better than ableton "bandcamp" live…the decider would be how much you tour and sell teeshirts and function like a band…id say if your like me, creating musical 0's ans 1's stick with bandcamp :)

  • http://module.co.nz Jeramiah

    although, the shop function in topspin looks good…

  • http://noisepages.com/members/nomoredubstep/ Prince Jammy

    @Kim they have all that social security money money burning holes their pockets. you would be doing them a favor!

    @strunkdts you are not alone in your hatred. a great way to express your hate for brostep is to make MORE brostep! in fact, everybody should. i believe people that aren't even musicians can succeed as brostep artists. all these online services are great for unleashing this crap onto the world. and whats amazing is that some people actually pay money for it.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/danielo/ Daniel Ottini

    I will admit that I haven't tried Topspin, but I will cast my vote for Bandcamp…as my time for making music becomes more constrained I appreciate a "simpler" interface that is Bandcamp. Maybe topspin is a better site for selling T-shirts and concert tickets, but thats not my scene anyway – I just want a place I can point to for people to hear my newer music (that has not had an "official" release as of yet) and (if they are so inclined) buy it. Time saved from fighting with a web UI means more time that I can devote to what is important (i.e. music).

  • http://ftrwrkshp.com Gavin

    Coming from a unrecorded community based folk music background, I find all this a bit strange. 

    Music in not about collecting email addresses, its about human expression and communication. If people focus on this and not so much on measuring their success by the number of fans they have, they might be surprised what happens ;)

  • http://regend.com REGEND

    There was another service I use to SNOCAP. That didn't last long.

  • http://module.co.nz Jeramiah

    One more thing…its not that overly hard to setup your own shop on your own website with wordpress and a few plugins…sure..its not as cool with the amount of tools that BC and TS give you, but it does the same thing…sells music to fans…if these web based services where in plugin form that you could install on your own site that would be great. There is a whole in the market for wordpress music store plugins ! :) there are a few but they are a pain.

    @ Gavin, I know what your saying…it's meant to be like that….but depending what rocks your boat these, if you want to make Mcdonalds for the ears and rock some online web based marketing to get whatever you make out there then these services can help you do that do that.

    @ Prince Jammy, you sound like a car salesman ! haha :)

  • http://ftrwrkshp.com Gavin

    @Jeramiah, I agree :) It reminds me of the phrase, "In the future everyone will be famous to 15 people". I think as we move forward the way people view "success" in music will change for sure.

  • http://topspinmedia.com Jason Spitz

    @Jeremiah: Topspin has a WordPress plugin that makes it easy to create a Store page on your Worpress site and pull in your Topspin Buy Buttons.  Check out a video about it here:&nbsp ;http://vimeo.com/22622303

    @Gavin: Agreed, music is about expression and art.  But to earn a living from music, you've gotta sell stuff (downloads, merch, tickets, etc), and the most effective way to sell to fans online is through email marketing. You are right, though: the notion of "success" is changing as we speak. 

    To everyone who's commented so far: thank you for keeping this discussion alive and sharing your opinions! 

  • http://module.co.nz Jeramiah

    @ Jason, yeah I have seen that, It's still a external service though…I was more talking about hosting your own platform on your own site. it's just like the old days some one is always taking a percentage of something when your a musician, even pay pal @ Bandcamp use to be complety free not take 15% on every sale along with Pay Pal transaction fee's. It woul be great if you could just buy something for $50 or so & install it on your server. Currently, the digital music industry seems to be built up on startup tech companies providing platforms to indie musicians and it all ends up like a record label again. I wouldnt be surprised if Warner music, or EMI or some other old monster label is secretly running these platforms :) lol :) nah kidding, but yeah, you know what i mean? it's not really indipendant internet as much when your paying a service directly at every POS !

  • http://ftrwrkshp.com Gavin

    @Jeramiah, I didn't enter my email address in the box in the main blog post by peter, but I did click your name and am now listening to music on your site now. There is a lesson in there somewhere!

  • http://module.co.nz Jeramiah

    Cool,thanks Gavin I just clicked your's and realized you make one of my fav synths :) Nice to virtually meet you.

    yeah bandcamp has done well for me, So for now I am happy to pay to use the service, eventually, I'd love to figure out how to sell it directly on my own site !

  • http://okkana.com Adamg

    @Jeramiah, I absolutely agree with your comments about a shop based entirely within your own website without paying out fees of 15%… 

    Topspin's language says it all: 

    "and an industry-standard 15% for everything else" (taken from the FAQ page)

    Well guess what… the "Industry standard" is going out the window.. FAST. Someone is bound to step up with a realistic solution…sooner or later

  • Nutsinyomouf

    Thanks for the information. I am starting a new indie label and was considering using Top Spin services. I think you sealed the deal for me. I hadn’t had much luck with bandcamp so Top Spin seems like it will be great for what I want to do with my marketing for products.