Bandcamp Announces Vinyl Service, Partnering with Pirates Press in Emeryville

Signage at Bandcamp's new Oakland offices goes up on Jan. 17, 2019. (Sam Lefebvre/KQED)

Bandcamp, the popular music streaming and merchandise service newly headquartered in Oakland, announced on Wednesday an upcoming expansion into vinyl manufacturing as an added service to independent artists.

In a blog post, Bandcamp co-founder and chief executive Ethan Diamond described vinyl as “an important expression of fandom,” and often inaccessible for small artists to manufacture due to cost and complexity. Only a small percentage of artists sell vinyl through Bandcamp, yet record sales on the site have grown 600 percent in the past five years. Bandcamp aims to streamline production and order fulfillment, he explained, with “no out-of-pocket costs” to artists.

Earlier this year, Bandcamp opened a small record showroom and venue attached to its downtown Oakland office with promises to support the local music community. Now the company has partnered with Pirates Press, KQED confirmed, an Emeryville vinyl broker that contracts with a plant in the Czech Republic to manufacture records.

(Second Line Vinyl, a new record manufacturer whose offices and plant are located in Oakland, was also considered as a partner.)

Pirates Press, which moved offices from San Francisco to Emeryville in 2016, developed what they estimated to be the first brand new vinyl press in 30 years in 2015, boosting its overseas production capacity to 120,000 units daily. Owner Eric “Skippy” Mueller said many of his Bay Area employees are musicians and label operators who use Bandcamp. “We’re excited,” he said. “There’s a lot of connected knowledge.”

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Bandcamp's vinyl service, expected to be publicly available later this year, collects various existing services under their single roof. Artists would crowdfund a record through the site, effectively allowing fans to pre-order a given title. With the fundraising goal met, Bandcamp then manufactures the record through Pirates Press. Artists would then sell the record on their Bandcamp page.

No rates for the service were announced. Bandcamp promises artists “complete control” of pricing and retention of ownership, although the company’s share of revenue, or any potential fundraising fees, weren’t detailed in the announcement. The company currently keeps 15 percent of digital sales and 10 percent of physical merchandise sales.

Also part of the deal is order fulfillment, but it’s unclear where the merchandise will be stored. (Bandcamp currently relies primarily on artists themselves to ship orders, and Pirates Press doesn’t warehouse stock, Mueller said.) Likewise, the announcement didn’t mention availability for independent record stores or distributors, or physical copies for artists to sell themselves, for example at shows.

(KQED provided a list of questions to Bandcamp.)

Mueller said Bandcamp has been working with Pirates Press to develop an interface for artists to provide production materials, simplifying a process for which many labels use multiple professionals. “It’s ideal for small bands, even some labels,” he said, estimating the production minimum will be 250 copies.

Essentially, Bandcamp is assuming duties traditionally performed by labels and distributors, which Diamond characterized as “costly and risky."

"Dealing with fulfillment and returns can be incredibly time-consuming,” wrote Diamond. “The new service eliminates risk, since fans’ orders finance the pressing, rather than the artist or label.”

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