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Bada bing, bada boom: Baboom, the new ‘fair trade’ music streaming service

Entering into a marketplace crowded with some of the biggest names on the internet (y’know: Spotify, Pandora, Google Play, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, iHeartRadioRdioBandcampSoundCloud, Tidal), Baboom is separating itself from the pack by offering high fidelity files, a more artist-friendly revenue sharing model, and an innovative backend that pays artists, labels and rights holders directly on a daily basis.

“It’s built for the artist,” says Tucker, who joined the company after meeting Dotcom during the chaotic making of Dotcom’s album Good Times. “It’s putting artists in charge of their content but allowing them to chose how to share and monetise it, whether they want their music streamed or downloaded.”

Artists have complete control over all aspects of how their music is available on the site. Artists can choose whether their music can be streamed for free or only by paying premium users, and whether it can be downloaded and at what price. Baboom’s ‘fair trade streaming’ model also pays artists more per stream/download than any other service, paying up to 90% of its revenue to artists and labels.

But Baboom’s real selling point to artists is its innovative backend. Artists enter, on a song by song basis, the royalty splits between the artist, the label, the songwriters, the licensing agency, and any other applicable rights holders. When a song is sold, every rights holder is paid directly into their PayPal account that day and sent a report detailing where all of the money has come from and who’s getting paid what.

When an artist is streamed by a premium user, that user’s AU$10 monthly fee is split at the end of the month between the artists that user listened to relative to how many times that user listened to each artist. This is in direct contrast to the big operators like Spotify which pay artists a nominal amount per stream, and then pay each artist a share of the service’s revenue, based on how many streams the artist has received.

Artists can also have access to a comprehensive dashboard providing detailed analytics on who’s listening to their music and where. Baboom hopes these analytics will be used in conjunction with its forthcoming direct-to-artist ticketing service.

Image: Samuel Flynn Scott (second from left) of Bunnies on Ponies

From a consumer side, Baboom allows both free and premium users to stream music as lossless FLAC files (which are higher quality than the compressed files you’re used to listening to on other services), to buy songs and albums as downloads, and to use online ‘lockers’ to store downloaded songs, making them available across platforms.

“It works both for the artist and the user,” says Samuel Flynn Scott, member of Wellington bands Bunnies on Ponies (who were early to put their music on Baboom) and the Phoenix Foundation (who are yet to put their music on the service). “It’s taking what works from Spotify for the user and what works from Bandcamp for the seller and combining those two things.”

Scott, whose bands have used Spotify to stream their music and Bandcamp to sell directly to fans, has had a positive experience with Baboom so far. “The percentage that go to artists seem to be really high, but also really transparent,” he says. “With Spotify, you’re told you get a certain percentage of their profits but you have no idea where that’s coming from or going.

“There are people who use Spotify to listen to death metal but the money they pay is mostly going to pop artists, because of the way those percentages are split up.”

But, the question remains: how good is it for users? Paying artists fairly and directly is all well and good, but consumer habits show that artists’ royalties are typically prioritised well behind price and convenience.

Firstly, Baboom sounds great. I A/B tested Baboom against Spotify using the Bunnies on Ponies song ‘Nothing’, and the Baboom version was noticeably clearer, crisper and deeper, even on $15 earphones. But, its FLAC files are significantly larger than their compressed counterparts so if you don’t have consistent, high-speed internet access, Baboom can lag, often taking a few seconds to get a song going, and even cutting out in the middle as it buffers.

But secondly, and more importantly, the selection is unfortunately limited. On the internet, content is king, and Baboom just doesn’t have much of it yet. I talked to Tucker on Friday and he was anticipating some big announcements over the weekend but on Monday, the press release in my inbox on Monday morning included only a trial of a few artists from a couple of minor independent labels and distributors.

While I hope there are some bigger announcements on the way, Baboom’s ‘radical transparency’ accounting practices are unlikely to attract big labels and distributors with the artists we all know and love. But Tucker says that Baboom isn’t designed to take on Apple or Spotify. Major artists have ample opportunities to connect with their fans and monetise their music. Baboom is for the artists for whom $0.0015 per stream doesn’t scale into a workable revenue stream. And it’s for the listeners who want to discover and support these smaller artists.

“It’s a crowded market, and there’s not one solution for everybody,” says Tucker. “We’re not here to be Apple or Spotify, or knock them off their spot. We’re here to offer artists direct payment service and a fairer business model, and hope that Apple and Spotify take notice.”

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