I realize the Bandcamp App came out all the way back in October (remember 2013?), but up until a couple weeks ago, I was an unlucky victim of planned obsolescence. My previous phone —the Samsung Galaxy Ace (aka the poor man's iPhone)— was stuck with an Android operating system that could no longer be upgraded to the version needed to use most modern apps. So I had a phone that worked but didn't really work. And I was Bandcamp App-less all the way until Jesus's birthday, when a hand me down iPhone 3GS was bestowed upon me. [I suppose an iPhone 3GS could also be considered a poor man's iPhone, as it probably only has about a year left before its no longer smart enough for new apps. To quote a tweet from Gorgeous Bully on this topic: “the futures bright, the futures broken”.]
Since I couldn't use the app myself for what felt like forever, I ended up on iTunes & Google Play reading what other people were saying… which caught me a bit by surprise. I mean, the overall rating on Google Play is a solid 4 stars (and on Apple it has a 4+ rating), but there were quite a few very low ratings and some pretty shitty reviews. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought the app sounded great and I've also grown used to either no one talking about Bandcamp, or only positive things being said. But this was not the case with this App, especially over on Google Play.
Now, as someone who has used the internet before, and more specifically, has seen many Google reviews that totally conflict with my own opinions, I didn't really give too much weight to any of the above naysayers. But it's impossible to unread the things you've read, so when I first started using the app, a lot of these comments were stuck in the back of my head as I experienced things for myself.
Well, I've used it now, and if you ask me, the only way the Bandcamp App can “suck” is if you don't buy music (or at least don’t buy music on Bandcamp). Granted, I too wish that there was a few more 'discovery' options than just the weekly radio show, but I'm also aware of the Pandora’s Box that would be opened if Bandcamp suddenly made their entire catalogue available to browse / listen in a free and easy to use mobile app. Supporting music by actually purchasing it is important, and I think it's a good thing that Bandcamp keeps making this forgotten concept the driving force behind everything they do. And yes, I'm sure some people will say that Bandcamp only does this so that they can make money themselves… but I would argue that making your business model dependant on people buying music is the most “pro music / musician” business model a company could have (especially when when contrasted to the Spotify commercial I remember hearing, the one that literally said something like “you'll never have to buy music again”).
At the time of writing this, I have 133 musical gems in my Bandcamp Collection. After downloading the free Bandcamp App, I now have access to 133 musical gems on my phone, all the time. How could that be anything but sweet? There are things that I would like to see added to the app and improvements that could be made, but I'll have to save that for another post as this one's already gotten quite long and I haven't really got to my main point yet…
What's Really Great About The Bandcamp App
The digital age has made music extremely disposable. As someone who runs a blog and follows other music blogs, this fact is extremely magnified. What's new right now is old before the end of the day. We don't live with albums like we used to. For the large part, we just skim albums, quickly decide if they're a 'yay' or a 'nay' and then jump right back into the water trying to catch up with the impossible flow of content. We make playlists. We put things on shuffle. We've got multiple tabs / windows open all the time (Soundcloud, Youtube, Bandcamp, iTunes, Music Blog, Spotify, Twitter etc) and we jump from one to the other before even the shortest of punk song could finish playing. It’s not the right way to experience music, but it's a hard habit to break. The internet is just so damn shiny.
Well, the Bandcamp App seems to have been designed with the above paragraph in mind.
It gives me access to all the music I've said “this is so good I want to buy it”, and it gives me that access on a device that I always have on me during the times when blocking out everything else and just listening to music is at its most doable (i.e. on the bus, in a coffee shop, walking around… basically anywhere but on my computer). All those albums that have long been buried and lost in my iTunes, all those EPs that have been bumped from the queue to get on my phone's limited storage space… they're now always in my pocket. Every single one of them. This alone is a great thing.
But here's the kicker: I can only listen to these albums one at a time. There is no shuffle button or playlists that can be made. You pick one record from your collection and press play. Something about this “restriction” feels strangely familiar and pleasantly nostalgic.
Bandcamp has basically made an app that forces you to listen to music the way people used to listen to music (you know, like “back in the day”). If you don't remember, people used to put a record on at the start and then let it play until the end. And they could only listen to the music they had purchased (i.e. you can't drop the needle on a vinyl that isn't in your house). In a way, they've created a digital record player to play your digital collection, which has almost felt like literally having 133 vinyls and a little record player in my pocket (and this lil' record player also has a bonus radio dial… it can only be tuned to one station, but luckily it's a pretty good station).
I realize listening to digital releases ‘front to back, one album at a time' has always been possible (and it's something I try to do), but my hand has never been forced like this before. And because I can only listen to my collection one album at a time… I've spent the last couple weeks really listening to my collection. Like ‘track 1’ to ‘track end of the tape’ listening. And it's been a very ear opening experience.
So to all those people dissing this app… you're doing things wrong. The app (or at least the current version of it) is not meant for 'music discovery', it's meant for 'music appreciation'. Take it from me —a guy who has spent more than a normal amount of time continually trying to discover fresh tunes— finding new music becomes completely pointless if you don't actually stop and listen to what you've found.