JOver a year ago, music streaming giant Spotify announced a new addition to its services: an innovation called Artist Fundraising Pick, which would allow people to send musicians the online equivalent of a tip. The move came as controversy began to snowball over streaming’s often pitiful returns, something that peaked in April this year, when top musicians such as Paul McCartney, Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks signed a letter calling on the British government. to finally tackle the problem.
Around the same time, there was growing speculation about Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek – whose net worth is estimated at £ 3.3bn – leading a consortium that wanted to buy the club. football match for Arsenal. In the context of this potentially vast deal, what Spotify had launched highlighted the tendency for large corporations to offer their detractors and complainers mere crumbs, but it was there: a recognition that many musicians needed. additional financial aid, coupled with an apparent attempt to shift the burden to their fans.
For groups and artists, activating the feature remains a matter of discretion. A quick dig through the artist pages of Spotify reveals that while stars like Taylor Swift, Drake, and Coldplay – and, for that matter, McCartney, Bush, and Nicks – likely won’t activate it, many less famous names have it. did as soon as they could. The pandemic quickly killed the income from live performances that keep many musicians afloat, so they could hardly be criticized; indeed, some musicians say they have come to love their constant stream of relatively modest changes.
Then again, given that Spotify’s annual revenue was last valued at nearly £ 7bn while the per-stream rate it pays artists is currently estimated to be around 0.35 pence, why the society decided to ask for contributions to their well-being from ordinary listeners? And will musicians no longer keep the money than coming in just above the subsistence level, so that no one deems them too successful to deserve donations?
Online tips are now spreading rapidly – and beyond music services. In an effort to familiarize people with spending money in their fields, most of the major internet companies are joining them. Twitter has just launched a feature called Tip pot, aimed at channeling donations to “creators, journalists, experts and associations”. YouTube is expanding a feature called Applause which does the same for its influencers and videographers; The new Clubhouse audio app, recently valued at $ 1 billion, introduced a tipping tool to “help creators build community, audience and impact.” For some people, such words can ring true. But they also have a sense familiar to tech players trying to sidestep the big questions about the dissolution of creativity in “content” and what that means for the incomes of thousands of people, such as the number of true “creatives”. »Able to earn a living from their work. seems to be decreasing, something clearly accelerated by the Covid crisis.
The story spans the shift in the ever-expanding world of platform-based writing. As traditional magazines and newspapers continually hit the slips and their model of team-based collegial journalism accompanies them, a growing number of writers and presenters are now vying for individual donations and subscriptions through platforms such as Patreon and Substack. On this last point in particular, the money earned by the most successful people seems impressive – but thousands more are doing their jobs for very little return.
Plus, just as streaming promotes wham-bam pop songs with the shortest of intros and a contagious hook built into every bar, these services aren’t focused on the kind of stubborn reporting that requires serious resources, but commentary. and controversy (as British writer Helen Lewis recently put it: “shoe leather reports, in-depth investigations and FOIA requests … rarely generate clicks per million”). Perhaps this is one of the reasons we live in an age that generates much more heat than light.
The cultural and media economy of the analog era, on the other hand, operated on a different model. Whatever their failures, the best organizations and companies that have kept the show going – from publishers and record companies to old-fashioned TV stations – have worked on the basis that the mainstream success of their biggest attractions would help subsidize less bankable talent, and also allow adventurous and motivated people to take risks. To a certain extent, this is still the modus operandi of some institutions that have successfully transitioned from the old world to the new (you are reading this thanks to one of them). But what is happening elsewhere seems quite more Darwinian, even though some online giants now want to be seen as generous benefactors – and what is telling is how all of the big rewards seem to go to things that switch in the field of vision of people, then everything as quickly disappears.
Over the past six months, there have been a slew of stories of a new mood of generosity supposedly gripping some social media companies struggling for market share. The New York Times recently published an article about the huge sums of money Snapchat apparently paid to ‘social media creators’ as it took on TikTok. Among the newly minted people who were interviewed was a woman from New Mexico who had made half a million dollars from “a video of her sister frying a turkey,” and a high school student in Maryland paid around. double that amount for “unboxing videos and fun content,” including a clip in which “she spins on a hoverboard while appearing seamlessly in new outfits.” Meanwhile, 1,800 newspapers have closed in the United States since 2004, and Rolling Stone magazine has launched appeals to help “struggling music industry workers.”
The digital glare of the 21st century hides centuries-old stuff. In keeping with how charity has always been used to iron out issues of fairness and exploitation, the new vogue for ad hoc giving seems designed to distract us from a handful of increasingly wealthy tech players, while that the people on their platforms who would like to enrich the culture with something more substantial than cat videos live increasingly impossible lives. If you are in doubt, you might want to dwell on what would happen if the veteran superstars who signed this letter start today. I think I know the answer: McCartney, Bush et al would desperately download their songs while fearing the worst – then hold a virtual pot that to all targets looked more like a begging bowl.