They waive their fees, raise cash for Juneteenth and champion everything from vaporwave to eco-grime. Founder Ethan Diamond explains how he did it
When Ethan Diamond founded Bandcamp in 2008, he imagined it an alternative to MySpace: an easy-to-use website where bands could interact with fans and sell music. Bandcamp would take care of the fiddly stuff – transcoding music into different formats, payments, analytics – and take a 15% cut of every sale. Five thousand miles away from Oakland, California, another startup millionaire was launching his own music service in Stockholm, one that would give listeners access to everything ever recorded. Spotify would be “better than piracy”, thought its 23-year-old creator, Daniel Ek.
In the decade afterwards, the music industry remade itself in Spotify’s image. Streaming services – including YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer and Tidal – signalled that the era of ownership was over. Who would want dusty vinyl or external hard drives if they could have all the music they wanted on their phone or laptop for a low subscription price? The result of this shift, as musicians from Taylor Swift to Thom Yorke to Joanna Newsom have complained, has been paltry payouts for artists and a consolidation of power among tech companies. Spotify has rarely turned a net profit, but it has 130 million paid subscribers and managed to scrape together $100m for a recent deal to host podcaster Joe Rogan exclusively.