Just to drill down a bit on the messaging here, Spotify chose two phrases: “Artist Fundraising Pick” and “COVID-19 support”. The former may imply that the artists are directing fans towards a charity of their choosing; while the latter could go either way or suggest that the support is for the artist or a charitable group. This might be a bit minor, but Vice reported
that a number of musicians expressed skepticism towards how the button was presented. Spotify did not make it clear how long the button would last, there was trepidation about how it so brazenly asks for donations, and the company also showed concern over the labor exerted to push fans towards this new form of interaction.
These rather immediate issues could point towards the relatively little buy-in from either artists or fans, as there have been few reports or exclamations from artists receiving any significant payments from the button at all. (Personally, I’ve only heard at best tepid donations given.) Yet, it isn’t shocking per Dryhurst’s observations that this form of e-busking isn’t even advantageous compared to the position of a street musician. He noted on Twitter that the ability to seek out new audiences and engage in normalized performances hold advantages to just tossing a Spotify link onto one’s profile page and hoping someone sees it and feels charitable. (Obviously, a better society would properly compensate street musicians, so their work wouldn’t even need such donations.)
Digital tipping is certainly finding success on livestream platforms like Twitch/YouTube, along with smaller players in that space. Again, where fans can both offer monthly subscriptions, one-off donations, and where the platforms cater to allowing rewards and perks for those that do donate. In many ways, it’s unfair to compare e-busking to these other platforms, but observing the shortcomings can help articulate what might be needed to make this model work if artists would want to pursue it.
Other examples of donations can be found with the Tencent-owned QQ Music, and even Instagram-created
, similar to TikTok, donation stickers. Still, at least for American music fans, this form of compensation is not the norm. I certainly could see the American record industry adopting additional forms of monetary donations
for artists. Yet, until a company makes that central to its platform, the industry will keep experiencing this awkward tension. (All of the chatter about Fortnite
and the record industry would suddenly make a lot more sense in this context, as video games figured out this model years ago.)
Dave Benton, from Trace Mountains, told Vice: “In an ideal world, creators wouldn’t need to work for tips on for-profit platforms. I think the only reason it’s necessary is because of the power imbalance between the musicians and the platforms that profit off of the collective value of their work.” The issue at its most high level is that this shows just how little power artists have and how much rests in the hands of tech platforms. This is what Liz Pelly covered
when comparing Spotify’s view of musicians to Uber’s mistreatment of drivers. The issue isn’t with e-busking but rather it arrived top-down, not from organic artist demands and in many ways already feels like a discarded idea.