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Bandcamp sells to Epic: can a video game company save independent music? | Music

Musos and gamers were left scratching their heads last Wednesday as Bandcamp, the online record store hailed by independent artists as a bankable alternative to the razor-thin royalties of streaming, announced its acquisition by Epic Games, makers of the online gaming phenomenon Fortnite.

Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond framed the deal as a boon for artists, saying that the two US companies shared a vision of building “the most open, artist-friendly ecosystem in the world”. A blogpost from Epic underlined the need for “fair and open platforms” to enable “creators to keep the majority of their hard-earned money”.

But Bandcamp users reacted with shock and disappointment to the sale of the indie juggernaut, lamenting the loss of “our” store, as drummer and Spotify critic Damon Krukowski tweeted.

“We all just got sold,” lamented media theorist McKenzie Wark. Bemused gamers and tech experts, meanwhile, wondered what possible uses a company such as Epic – itself 40% owned by Chinese gaming megacorp Tencent – might have for the direct-to-fan marketplace for MP3s of niche musical genres like vaporwave and chiptune.

Since its founding in 2008, Bandcamp has become a cornerstone of the global underground music economy through its “pay-what-you-want” download structure and low commissions, taking a 15% cut of every sale. During the pandemic, the San Francisco-based company earned kudos for waiving that fee on the first Friday of every month, generating millions of dollars for artists, as well as donating to racial justice campaigns including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Epic has its own track record as a plucky indie, having remained largely in the hands of CEO Tim Sweeney since its founding in 1991. Like Bandcamp, Epic takes a relatively small cut from developers, setting its commission at 12% compared with Apple’s 30%. Epic even took Apple to court – and lost, at great expense – to accuse the tech giant of monopolising the mobile gaming industry. But the company’s fortunes have soared in recent years after the success of Fortnite and other free-to-play games. Now valued at $28bn, and facing its own controversies over data collection and Store exclusivity, it’s no longer a feisty underdog.

Many independent artists, already squeezed by the collapse of physical sales and – since Covid – a long hiatus from touring, see the Bandcamp sale as another disappointment in a long tradition of indie sellouts. But tech experts and neophyte musicians have also been speculating on the possibility of new integrations between Bandcamp’s vast catalogue of music and Epic’s cutting-edge game technology. These range from live-streaming events such as Fortnite’s virtual concerts, which have seen artists Travis Scott and Marshmello putting on trippy performances for millions of emoting avatars, to social spaces such as Party Worlds, designed for virtual hangouts rather than combat and destruction.

‘It has always been part of platform capitalism, where growth is paramount’ ‘… Zola Jesus.
‘It has always been part of platform capitalism, where growth is paramount’ ‘… Zola Jesus. Photograph: Barney Britton/Redferns

Beyond the busy world of Fortnite, Epic could also be thinking about easy routes into licensing music for software developers using Unreal Engine, the open and free-to-use development platform built by Epic’s Sweeney. There are obvious opportunities for integration with Harmonix, the games studio behind Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

More importantly, Sweeney is a longtime proponent of virtual reality and its buzzy reincarnation as the metaverse, the promise of a virtual 3D environment built from interconnecting spaces and social networks. “The most plausible way the metaverse is going to rise,” Sweeney said in 2020, “isn’t from one company, even Epic, building this thing and forcing everybody to use it. It’s going to be from more and more companies and brands connecting their products and services.”

In that sense, Epic’s acquisition can also be read as a play for the hearts and minds of the next generation of musicians and music lovers who have grown up in virtual worlds such as Fortnite. Rather than attempting to convert digital natives into record-buying traditionalists, the smart move could be to meet Generation Z where they already are, among the 160 million players inside the Epic Games Store.

Selling to Epic may also have presented itself as the least worst option for a company under pressure to provide returns for its early investors. Bandcamp received venture capital backing in its early years, and though the precise numbers involved are unknown, market logic dictates that VC-backed startups eventually start looking for an exit: either float on the stock market, which works for companies showing impressive growth and significant future valuation, or sell up.

Whether or not that’s the case for Bandcamp, it won’t do much to cheer up the musicians and fans who long ago identified Silicon Valley economics as the source of their woes. On social media, the deal was met with cynicism by some of the musicians who make up Bandcamp’s global community of creator-consumers. “It’s VC-funded and has always been part of platform capitalism, where growth is paramount,” wrote experimental artist Zola Jesus.

The irony is that Bandcamp has always positioned itself as a “community” rather than a marketplace, yet that community has not been given a say in the fate of the value it has created. The solution, say some artists, is to take back control – either by moving over to a platform like Resonate, a streaming cooperative owned by its users, or exploring new Web3 protocols for collective ownership. Austin Robey, co-founder of alternative music platform Ampled, advocates for an “exit to community”, a model where startups are taken over by the users and stakeholders who depend on the product or service they’ve created.

Still, no other indie platform has yet achieved anything like the scale or appeal of Bandcamp, and the shift to alternative platforms will require a leap of technical literacy that most artists and fans aren’t ready to make. In the short term, Bandcamp remains the slickest direct-to-fan operation in town – and is still paying out millions to artists.

“The products and services you depend on aren’t going anywhere,” assured Diamond in his statement. Nothing will change in the short term, is the promise – although it’s the same one that accompanies every similar acquisition. Those old enough to remember losing their MySpace music overnight may be feeling itchy. Word to the wise, advised one suspicious user, “download all your Bandcamp MP3s if you haven’t yet”.

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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