Yesterday was the first day of SXSW 2021’s online conference, including a chat between former WME music chief Marc Geiger and Pandora founder Tim Westergren – now working on their new ventures, venue network Savelive and livestreaming firm Sessions. The topic was timely: the explosion of ways for artists to connect with fans and to try to earn money.
“The [industry] went from physical, to files, to streams, to now exploding into a hundred different things that have to be done,” as Geiger put it. One of those things being the monetisation of communication itself. “Chat is doing to get monetised, messages are going to get monetised… access and communication and custom things will get monetised,” he said, citing Cameo and Masterclass as current examples.
Geiger predicted that the next developments for how artists will make money in this environment “is going to freak people out”. Why? Because making money from some of these interactions does not feel natural for many musicians. “It’s not like they went and signed autographs in the old days and got paid for it. That happened at a Star Wars convention but not backstage! But it’s coming: there’s going to be one hundred different ways to make money.”
He continued: “I think we’re going into a post-Spotify earning era – I’m calling it the the digital artist monetisation era. When you look at Audius, UCPS, Patreon, Twitch, in-stream tipjars: this is going to impact artists a lot.”
Sessions has been exploring that with its livestreams, and Westergren cited a recent example of its success. “We had an artist perform and we turned on a pay-to-chat feature during her stream, and [had] 4,500 paid chats within the hour. That blew my mind.”
Geiger approved. “I know people are selling their WhatsApp number for $1,000. This is part of the suite of digital products to come,” he said. But the challenge of artists feeling comfortable with these techniques should not be ignored.
We’re used to people talking about music competing in an ‘attention economy’ with games, video streaming and other digital pursuits. We need to talk more about competition in a ‘tips economy’ too though: who will be the winners and the losers in that world, and what support will musicians need to thrive in it? Also, this may not necessarily be a “post-Spotify” era. Just as important a question is how these tips economies and other new ways of making money intersect with – and probably also happen on – the big music streaming platforms in years to come.