A Promising Development for Artists
I had recently sung the praises of new live music streaming platform Sessions Live. I had witnessed the dramatic differences between Sessions and every platform I had tried before. Sessions had begun forging a real online community committed to developing and sustaining the careers of previously unknown artists. Its founders saw live, online performance as a valuable service it could provide customers.
In that spirit, The platform issued a modest bonus to all first-time artists for their first show. I took this as a signal that they took seriously the commitment to establish a sense of worth in live music performance.
Sessions encourages audience to tip artists and makes the experience fun on both sides of the camera. Also, the platform offers the artists bonuses as incentive to schedule shows ahead of time and then keep those appointments. Over the platform’s first 10 months, those bonuses increased for artists who elicited audience engagement and tipping,
A Tone-Deaf Announcement
Over the weekend I received an announcement that Sessions decided to dramatically scale back those bonuses. That decision included making far fewer shows per week bonus-eligible. Sessions had chosen to backpedal on their commitment to getting artists paid. This especially constitutes a blow to full-time online performers. Many of these entertainers invested in upgrades to their computers, audio equipment and video gear. These artists were raising their game to deliver world-class entertainment through Sessions.
The communications team mostly disappointed me with an announcement disguised as good news for artists. The email from Sessions framed the change as “an exciting makeover to the Rising Artist Leveling program.”
I felt as though the platform’s leaders could have shown more respect for our intelligence. They could have told us prior to announcing a decision that the existing bonus model was no longer working. A larger pool of artists meant that they’d have to make difficult choices. The leaders at Sessions simply argued that artists will make more from tips and need less from bonuses. They could have presented us with their concrete strategy for attracting more tips. They could have even told us what we as artists could do beyond what we’re already doing to help the situation.
Many artists presented a strong backlash. Some modified their streamed images to appear in black-and-white. Some changed their profile picture to a protest message. Sessions responded with a 2nd email essentially doubling down on the initial message. “Bonuses are bonuses,” they wrote, framing the compensation as discretionary pay that should not be counted on as if it were a salary.
What Sessions Could Have Said
The artist relations team at Sessions missed an opportunity to communicate that they get the gravity of the impact artists are feeling. They could have acknowledged the hardship for full-time streamers. These folks had already lost their in-person gigs during the pandemic. Then, they found new hope (and proof) they could earn a living performing in a new way. The bonus system in addition to the tips conveyed a strong assurance that live music performance has value.
A better message would have been “We’re facing some difficult choices and need your understanding. We need to rethink our levels and bonuses. Otherwise, we’d have to go out of business. We’d lose our ability to serve our audience and this special partnership we have with you, the artist. You’ve worked hard to achieve your current level as an artist. We understand the disappointment and frustration you may feel about the reduction in bonuses. However, our success still connects to yours; we still want to see you earn a living at this. So, we’re enhancing our marketing efforts to bring audiences into your shows. We’re using data to drive fans of the songs in your request list to your shows. We expect this to at least double the love you earn in each of your shows.”
How Artists Are Responding
I see this announcement having an effect on artists’ scheduling strategy. Artists who played a dozen bonus-eligible concerts per week plan to scale back in response. They tell me they will only play the few bonus-eligible shows per week on Sessions. They will use those other hours to diversify into performing on other platforms as well.
My performance schedule is essentially 3 shows a week. I am not as profoundly affected as my artist friends who do this full-time. However, I certainly feel their pain. Similarly, feel the sting of having the perceived value of my work decreased. My act faces the increased pressure to elicit tips. I must justify the investments of time and resources I make to supplement my family’s income. I hope the executive team at Sessions can inject some empathy into their current handling of the situation.