Op-Ed: Let My People Tip

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Last Friday, independent music marketplace, Bandcamp, waived all of their fees for 24 hours. Many labels joined in by also agreeing to waive their cut of Bandcamp revenues, and the combined effect was that music fans were able to download MP3s and buy merch from artists with the knowledge that all of their money would go directly to their favorite artists. In that single day, music fans sent almost 4.5 MILLION DOLLARS to artists.

Let’s be real. Almost all these generous music fans were not purchasing merch, or even MP3s. They simply wanted to get money in the hands of the artists that they love. They wanted to tip artists, who they know are underpaid and struggling. Artists obviously appreciated this much needed generosity, with some telling me it was the most money they’ve ever made from their music in a single day.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea. It’s common for fans at live shows to hand artists or their touring team cash, either in the form of a tip or indirectly by buying something they don’t need at far above the asking price. And yet, in the age of online streaming, getting a tip to an artist via the internet (outside of Bandcamp’s 1-day promotion) is extremely difficult. Fans have to ask the band directly for a PayPal, or Venmo account, and the entire process is awkward and inefficient. Artists and fans both feel uncomfortable, and it results in online tipping being almost non-existent.

Somehow, the simple concept of a tip jar doesn’t exist on any of the major streaming platforms. Or should I say the American streaming platforms. Asian streaming giant TenCent has long made fan tips a huge part of its business model (although it takes an outrageous fee on those tips). How come Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube, and TIDAL can’t do this? The simple answer is that they can, but don’t want to, or don’t care enough to bother with it.

Image result for please sir can i have some more

Fortunately, the screaming of starving artists has reached a crescendo that not even the corporate overlords can ignore. Today, as part of it’s response to coronavirus squeezing the last bit of life out of the music industry, Spotify announced that at some unknown time in the future it would be adding a button on artist pages for artists to pick a foundation to donate to. Importantly, those donations could include the artist themselves through a “verified funding page”. Who knows what the fuck that is, but long story short, Spotify is letting you know that they can add a tip jar any time they want.

It’s about time that Spotify drops this charity veneer and adds a permanent tip button to every single artist page on their platform. It goes without saying that every other platform should follow suit. Artists deserve to be able to receive tips from their fans, and the streaming platform should be taking any sort of cut of these tips, full stop. Artists were struggling in the streaming economy as it is, making only around $450 for 100,000 plays, and this financial strain has only increased with the end of touring for the foreseeable future. Tips would provide a new and much needed income stream for everyone from the biggest stars to small local bands.

If artists stand up and demand this change, it can happen by the end of this miserable month. Spotify is asking all artists on the platform to let them know if a tip jar is a good idea via this LINK. Please let them know that tips are a necessity and that artists should be entitled to 100% of these tips, and encourage other artists to do the same. It’s past time that we LET FANS TIP.


Henderson Cole // @HendoSlice

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