Discovering New Music on Bandcamp

Depending on your personal demographic identifier — that’s my semi-PC way of saying “your age bracket” — the word “Bandcamp” might conjure up some vastly different imagery. To some, it may evoke thoughts of Allan Sherman’s simple yet clever 1963 Camp Grenada narrative, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.” Others closer to the millennial designation may conjure up the not-so-innocent singsong voice of Alyson Hannigan in 1999’s American Pie, wherein the, er, adventurous flautist recalled, This one time, at band camp….” (Decency regulations prevent us from going any further.)

At any rate, neither of these generational markers quite encapsulate just how wonderful and sonically fulfilling the Bandcamp site and service is. Founded in 2007, Bandcamp works with multiple-thousands of artists and labels to provide music fans with direct access to digital music and merchandise with limited interference or outrageous tacked-on fees.

Lest you think Bandcamp is some kind of lo-res indie-music hostel-cum-feeder system, well, think again. Many Bandcamp participants provide a myriad of hi-res download and streaming options once you’ve decided to make a purchase.

For example, witness the contents of the Bandcamp catalog for one of my favorite avant-guitarists, Kaki King, someone whom I’ve yet to hear play the same thing twice in any configuration, whether it be classical or contemporary. Live at Berklee, King’s April 21, 2017 live session with the Porta Girevole Chamber Orchestra at The Red Room @ Café 939 with Kari Juusela conducting, offers eight different download options, ranging from lossy MP3 to lossless FLAC/ALAC and WAV/AIFF. And the price remains the same regardless of what version you choose (more on that in a bit). A lossless file of “Magazine,” originally cut for King’s 2004 Legs to Make Us Longer longplayer, teems with fresh drama, from the flurry and fury of her acoustified intro notes to playing off the various volume swells of the string and horn sections respectively.

Naturally, being the inveterate and unapologetic collector that I am, I also wound up purchasing the Berklee CD from that very same Bandcamp page of hers — an option I particularly like having at my disposal, especially considering the fact that King herself told me she wasn’t sure she’d ever release this recording physically, but high fan demand made it quite necessary.

After I saw British slide guitarist Jack Broadbent open for Lynyrd Skynyrd and Peter Frampton in New Jersey in June 2016, I immediately sought out his work on Bandcamp once I got home from the show. First, I scooped up his 2015 offering Along the Trail of Tears. “Far Off Galaxy,” recorded on a Zoom H4n handheld recorder, is as haunting as any vintage acoustic blues you’ll hear — a perfect blend of the man’s emotive, echo-laden vocals and aces-high slide-guitar prowess. Loving what I heard, I went back and clicked on downloading the remainder of his digital discography, which consisted of 2016’s ever-poignant Portrait.

On the hunt for more aural challenges, I was quickly hooked by the Denver-based folk duo Alright Alright (a.k.a. alrightx2) and the consistently clever male/female dynamic put forth by the married creative team of Seth and China Kent. Their October 2018 release Nearby covers a lot of the right bases, from the strings-and-choir-driven wishing-well aspirations of “Be Kind” to the slow-building smoky-twangy revelations of “By the Bed.”

Most of you reading this know how much I love progressive music, so it’s no surprise that Stick Men — an outward/forward-thinking trio consisting of bassist Tony Levin, guitarist Markus Reuter, and drummer Pat Mastelotto — was an obvious choice to add to my Bandcamp collection. That said, I also wanted to be exposed to artists whom I wasn’t yet familiar with, so I took Bandcamp’s suggestion to give German multi-instrumentalist/improvisor Andreas Scotty Böttcher a try. While he’s no Klaus Schulze — yet — the synth-driven stereo-soundfield ping-ponger “Rondo for Some Sleepless Nights,” the expansive opening track to Böttcher’s 2014 effort Prog Rock 2.0, was quite a promising portend of things to come.

These are but a few of the artists floating my Bandcamp boat, so you get the idea. And, as mentioned earlier, the buy-in cost is quite appealing. Prices vary from artist to artist and project to project, and many of them also have an “or more” option. My feeling/advice here: be as generous as you feel you can be. The base price for many Bandcamp artists’ lossless offerings is often lower than what you’ll find on other services, and since you’re more directly supporting their livelihood via this portal, you’re helping them create the best product they can. Win-win, I say.

For me, Bandcamp is no holiday excursion or one-off endeavor — it’s become an embedded part of my listening life. Sing it, everyone: “Hello Muddah, hello Faddah, here I am at Bandcamp Nirvana.”