Flaming flag on screen at a U2 concert.

Music Needs Tipping

Dear Bands and Musicians: I like your music and want to support you. How do I do it?

Solution: I think every band/artist/musician needs a tip jar.

The Music Listener Experience: Then

Back in the old days (1990s-early 2000s), I bought a lot of CDs. I mean, a ridiculous number of CDs—I shudder to think how much disposable income I disposed of on CDs). I also went to concerts and bought swag because I was young.

Supporting artists was easy. Today? Not so much.

The Music Listener Experience: Now

These days I listen on Spotify. I realize they don’t give a great percentage to artists, but there’s not much I can do about that. Other platforms aren’t much better. For all its downsides, music streaming an incredible avenue to discover new music.

But now that I’ve discovered new artists, how do I support them?

Options for Supporting Artists

Go to concerts, buy merch, and buy the music are all typical answers. But…

Concerts? I’m a 45-year-old geezer. I very rarely go to concerts, so that’s not likely. (Though I will shell out and fly across the country for U2, so if you’re U2 you’ll do OK.)

Merch? I’m outgrowing band hoodies and T-shirts and really don’t need sweatpants with a band name across my ass that will confuse and horrify people even older than me. (Though again, I will shell out $90 for a U2 hoodie because I’m dumb. So if you’re U2, I think you’ll be OK.) I suppose I could buy merch anyway and donate it? But that seems kinda wasteful.

Music? So a couple times a year I make an old school mix tape (mix CD, in reality, but I still call it a mix tape—because I’m old) for the car. Because my phone doesn’t always magically connect and streaming Spotify uses a lot of data and other reasons. So I buy those songs off iTunes. That’s something, but it’s not much. And even that is going away as streaming and connection technology in cars and phones gets better. I suppose I could just buy an album on iTunes even though I don’t need it (I’ll still stream it on Spotify because that’s where I listen to music), but that seems unnecessary and misdirected. Something like 30% goes to Apple and who knows how much to the record company and others before the actual artist gets any (some of that necessary—producers and what not— some of it less so).

What does the artist get? In every example above, a huge chunk of the money goes to record labels, manufacturing, middlemen, etc., and not to the artist.

There Are a Couple Legit Ways to Support Artists

Kickstarter: If an artist is launching a project and you can support it on a Kickstarter or similar platform, that’s a great way to show support. But it’s usually rare, you have to see it as it’s happening, and it’s usually for new/rising artists outside of the record company system.

Fan clubs: This is actually a legit, if rare, solution. Thanks to technology like Patreon, it’s pretty easy to set up and artists keep close to 90% of the money (minus costs for any rewards). But it’s rare. Among my top 5 artists and top 5 songs, only U2 has a fan club (and as I’ve said before, I think they’re doing OK financially). But some do… Derek Webb, The Dollyrots, Kina Grannis, etc.

Amanda Palmer is really ground-breaking in this regard, first with a Kickstarter campaign that brought in more than a $1 million and now a Patreon with over 17,000 members.

A Way to Support Artists in This Dumb Technological Revolution

So what can we do? I’d love to see artists put a tip jar on their websites. Seriously, just add a donate link.

  • Easy: No complicated setup required. Even I have a donate link.
  • More of the money: Artists probably get 97% of the money (credit card processing fees), which is way more than any other option.
  • No waste: Consumerism abounds, so this would eliminate any ‘just buy it to support them even if you don’t need it’ idea. Environmentally friendly!
  • One off: As much as I like the idea of bands having fan clubs or Patreon efforts, those are usually recurring payment systems. I get why (I run one), but that’s a higher level of commitment. But $5 per month is $60 per year. That’s a lot. I’d much rather give one-off support—’I like this new single, here’s $5.’ If I like more of your songs, I’ll pitch in another $5. If I really like your stuff, then sure, $60 a year might be reasonable. So yes, do a recurring payment fan club, but start with a one-off tip jar (marketing funnel).

In this digital realm where content is free and it’s harder to get paid, we should really make tipping a standard practice. In order to work, it would need to be a widespread culture practice, both for artists to offer the option and for fans in general to take part.

For example: When everyone rabidly shares their Spotify unwrapped, there should be ‘tip jar’ links so the band you listened to for 5,000 minutes can get a few bucks. I’d chip in.

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