I would like to breath new life in an idea that was proposed in this forum a few years back: https://t.co/bcRo8UJ8d5. It is about offering fans the opportunity to donate to artists. I see it like this: we need to increase the notion of authorship again by introducing the ‘Karma Button’.
Music is very important in most people’s life’s. Fans feel a strong connection to musical artists. With streaming, the opportunity to express one’s support for the artist is lost. The monthly subscription fee goes to the Streaming Service, who seems disconnected from the artist they play and love. When buying a CD one had the subconscious expectation the money went to the artist. With streaming, the public is aware that the artist revenue on a single stream is very small.
In reality, revenues on streams are payed to the master owner, often the record label. Record labels even blocked the neighboring rights for online delivery. But fans experience a relationship with the artist, not with the label. The Karma button facilitates a payment of the fan directly to the artist, like flipping a dime in the hat of a street artist. It is a gift that should not be subject to contracts related to the music itself.
This is where the proposal of 2012 stalled. The response from Spotify was: “Spotify pays out straight back to rightsholders, the record labels and collecting societies who in turn pay money to the artists, musicians, lyricists and composers that they represent. So we do not pay straight to artists…labels do that. For this reason and since all our music is based in the agreements with labels we can't do anything about this…”. The real problem is that Spotify does not have a database of which artist has what rights on which music so they don’t know who to pay the money to.
Luckily that problem can be solved elegantly by cooperating with a neighboring rights organization such as the Dutch Sena (https://www.sena.nl/en/music-creators). Sena is a non-profit organization, working for a small administration fee, and has records of most relevant tracks, including the share ratios of the producers. Artists can also sign up at Sena themselves. If Sena is informed how much money was donated to which ISRC number, they can take care of the payment, charging only a small administration fee. This process can be automated. I had a meeting with the director of Sena and they are ready for this.
Now there is a threat. Record labels do not like distributing companies like Spotify to build a direct relationship with their artists. Spotify is strongly dependent on the record labels for their stream content so there is a risk that labels will take countermeasures. The solution is to make sure that there is just a one way connection from the fan to the artist of the donation, with Sena in between. This is in line with the Karma principle. In India a Karma action is a one way affair. One should not expect anything in return during the current lifetime. So in our case there is no need to offer a return path from the artists to express their gratitude for the donation. Spotify should explain this clearly to the record labels.
The Karma button should have a clear icon and be available on the main page of the interface where the track is viewed and started (for donating to the track artists) and on the artist page (for donating to just the main artist). It should be a ‘one click donate’ system so the threshold to pay is very low. A monthly limit per user could be set.
Keep the concept as simple as possible: the full amount minus x% administration cost will go to the artists. By doing this in full authentic honesty, trust is gained from listeners and artists. Show the route of the donated money clearly. The name ‘Karma’ also relates to this: if the middle men take too much money from the revenue stream, it will be bad for their own Karma.
But Karma also works the other way around. At the moment Spotify is arguably the largest source for music consumption. That brings responsibility to support the artists where possible. By taking the lead in adopting the Karma button, Spotify shows the world that they take their mission serious.
And it brings lots of opportunities. By adding Karma, the freemium model makes a lot of sense for artists. All fans should have free access to Spotify so everyone can use Karma to express their gratitude. Artists will encourage their fans to use the Karma button on Spotify. If they like they can place a QR-Karma code on their outings at concerts (on tickets etc), which offers the audience a possibility to give them a ‘tip’ via the Karma button on their Spotify page.
I offer this idea just for my own good Karma. But I sincerely hope that it will be adopted, since I am sure it will benefit especially the smaller artists, who do need some support these days.
HKU University of the Arts, Music & Technology, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Grimm Audio, Eindhoven, The Netherlands