With direct-from-the-artist sales catching on and some superb tools, the question for the independent artist or label is, which tool is worth your time? We’ve seen plenty of discussion revolving around Topspin Media and Bandcamp. Bandcamp earned interest early with a dead-simple DIY digital store for artists; Topspin has become widely available more recently, but had as an early draw merch stores and free download email capture as major features, among many others.

Artist Tricil sung the praises of Topspin in April. Since then, I did my own LP release on Bandcamp, about which I hope to share experiences soon.

But how do the two compare? And how might they even be combined? Recording/mastering engineer and artist Jimmy Ether recently posted some thoughts to his Google+ account, shared here by permission:

Topspin vs Bandcamp mixed with other options
I was pretty sold on going with Topspin for the back end store and promo features for the Headphone Treats site I’m rebuilding. Until today. I’ve always been a big Bandcamp supporter, but they were just missing a few features I felt we needed for the more full-scale assault I’m hoping to make:

1) An integrated store across artists – actually, both services sucked at this (until today). It was possible in Topspin, but you had to get hacky with tags to have multiple bands in one account. Which I never really wanted anyway. Now Bandcamp lets you span any artist on their cart system, which is brilliant. Lets the bands manage their stores and I can just tie them into our site. Exactly what I wanted.

2) High-Resolution, 24-bit FLAC – Again, Topspin was going to be hacky, but doable. But wait! Bandcamp is now allowing 24bit files up to 192kHz??! How did I miss this? I’ll have to see how the download options work, but this is awesome if all pans out acceptable. With what I’m doing, it’s literally two different masterings per album (fully dynamic 24bit/88.2k… slightly more compressed 16 bit for regular lossless down to MP3), so I need to see how that’s going to work. Hopefully I can select formats to be made available for each album and just offer two versions.

3) Campaigns – this is a pretty cool aspect of Topspin which may or may not have been beneficial. Kinda nice to be able to offer a free download of an album for an email signup or Facebook like. But there are other services I could use for that… or I can just roll my own using Bandcamp download codes. And now we have G+ possibly stealing some thunder from Facebook, so it’s reminding me of all that time I spent on MySpace building followings for all the artists. Yeah, that panned out. Social media is wonderful, but you have to keep things centralized and in your control.

4) Mailing list – ummm… Mailchimp? Emma? I’d much rather integrate either of those into my site than use Topspin’s more limited interface. Mailchimp is especially interesting with their killer API, which I’ve used a little bit. I’m a reseller for Emma, so I can send mail way cheaper through them but their integration is a tad clunky and requires more coding on my end (done it before though). I’ll have to weigh that.

So, that’s my current thinking on all the music tech offerings. Speak up if you think I’m missing something though. Discussion is good. Or if your curious what I’m on about with any of the above. Happy to clarify.

That seems a good conversation starter to me, and a jumping-off point for a more in-depth discussion. The competition is certainly heating up: Bandcamp just unveiled a merchandise store, and Topspin is enhancing their features, as well. (Correction: I originally claimed that email capture at Bandcamp was a recent addition, but a reader points out it was unveiled in 2008. I could say time flies, but I will instead just admit I was mistaken. And in fairness, while competition drives enhancement, arguably user requests are the prime motivator.)

So, other users, we’d love to hear what you think, or if you have other questions about either service we can investigate or direct to the sites themselves.

And while we’re at it, Jimmy’s own site has a growing archive of information, including some recording tips – and, oh yeah, some music to hear:
http://jimmyether.com/about/

  • http://www.bassling.com bassling

    Do Topspin have an upper limit for recordings? I remember Bandcamp wouldn't allow anything longer than some Miles Davis record and I've got a three-hour field recording I want to distribute.

  • http://tricil.net/ TRICIL

    @bassling no, topspin limits by size, if it's over 600MB it will be treated like a "file" (you'll lose streamability, but that's it).

    Once you hit 1.8G, you run into an Internet Explorer bug, but I see nothing explicit about limits:&nbsp ;https://docs.topspin.net/tiki-index.php?page=Uploading+Media

  • http://hospicemedia.com Isaac Halvorson

    I run a small record label, and we've been wrestling with decision for a while now, unable to really commit to either service.

    We run on a shoe string budget, so Bandcamp's "free until you make money" system is really appealing to us. We can't really afford Topspin's pricing, so until they have a cheaper plan, it's Bandcamp for us.

    That being said, Bandcamp is quickly closing the gap feature-wise. For a while, one of the main things Topspin had over Bandcamp was its widgets, and their ability to grab an email address for a free download. But it looks like Bandcamp now has that feature, and is quickly adding others.

    Over all, it looks as though Bandcamp's is improving and innovating at a much faster rate than Topspin. If this trend continues, it will become easier and easier to make a decision.

  • http://www.onyx-ashanti.com Onyx Ashanti

    I love bandcamp.  i've been with them since they started and they are perfect because they do what they do without a whole lot of extra crap.  i've investigated the rest but i believe bandcamp is here to stay.

  • http://regend.com Regend

    i'm puzzled by what consumers really want. as a musician, i can come up with an assortment of ways to distribute product (virtual or traditional). what i really want access to is data on what consumers want and what they are willing to spend money on…or…ar they even willing to spend money?

  • http://n/a Megafrank

    I'm pretty sure that bandcamp didn't add the email capture feature recently or in response to Topspin, since according to their blog, it was added in 2008:

    http://blog.bandcamp.com/2008/12/22/free-download

  • Peter Kirn

    @Megafrank: No, you're absolutely right. I've updated the story accordingly.

  • http://trelhouse.com Rylaan

    I wonder if either site will introduce an "exclusive" system option: lower fees and a larger sales percentage in exchange for only putting your music on one site. 

  • loquat

    I really like Bandcamp, but after reading this article I will have to compare it with Topspin before my next release.

    @Regend I wish that I had access to that kind of data too. If I had a little bit better idea of what people were after I would be better able to budget.

    If I knew I could recuperate the costs of mastering a release I would be a lot more willing to have it done professionally.

  • tony

    I love bandcamp; and I am glad that someone got me into the site. Soundcloud and the rest are not up to what I think Bandcamp is. 

  • Veridical Driver

    I hope Bandcamp keep it simple. The reason I like Bandcamp is because it is so straight forward and easy.

  • http://www.restorm.com Armin

    Would like to throw restorm.com in the ring. Its still fairly early days for them, but they have some great synchronization features which keeps everything centralized. Its totally free and they have the lowest commision on music sales. Also i read some interesting stuff about simple licensing finally becoming a reality there.

    Love topspin overall design and professionality but its just too expensive for me.

  • http://regend.com Regend

    @loquat that's a good point. right now, my research method is to see what doesn't work and to have conversations with people while i'm at shows or events. i make notes on marketing materials that are handed out, what merch is being sold, etc.

  • http://jivemindmusic.com TheQuietMouth

    I'd be interested to see some sites that treat the current album as marketing and let consumers invest in the next album, like a kickstarter specifically for musicians.  I know of SlicethePie, but it's still rather complicated.  Amanda Palmer often uses BandCamp's pay-what-you-want feature, but it'd be difficult for an unestablished artist to cover their costs.  The next few years in the music industry are going to be super interesting…

  • http://www.gregsurges.com/ Greg

    I'd be curious to hear about more artists cutting out the "middle-man" – i.e. Bandcamp, etc – and handling payment/distribution themselves.

  • http://www.BandPromote.com Mike

    Wow! I just found this page googling BandCamp and Topspin. Thanks Peter and the rest of you for answering most of my questions relating to these services. 

    I rep a new multi million funded music service launching in 2012 that will incorporate many of the features from those services and others. I can't discuss much about it or divulge the name publicly due to confidential and proprietary technology. However, if any of you (bands or labels) would like to participate in our beta phase program, i'll get you on for free and have our design team create your entire profile. email me for more details and please reference this article so i see you right away. mgalaxy at bandpromote dot com

  • Bill

    Tried to buy an album from an artist’s site using Topspin. Download completed, and the file was corrupt. Clicked the link to try again and got “download limit exceeded”.

    WTF?? There’s no such thing as a download limit. I paid for the album. I can download it as many times as I need to. If I accidentally delete my copy or change my mind and decide I want to go with FLAC, then I click the download link in my receipt email and do it again. I don’t think these guys understand how the internet works.

    I’m never clicking on Topspin again if presented with the option. I’ll stick with Amazon for MP3s.

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