Playing for Tips in the Digital Age

Subway buskers and sidewalk street musicians take their acts online to earn tip money from the comfort of their homes.

While a young Billy Joel had to rely on people putting “bread in [his] jar” to make rent back in ‘73, today’s musicians are likely more concerned with how many bitcoins fans have in their PayPal accounts.

That’s because digital tipping technology now allows street drummers and guitar-toting buskers to trade in the boulevard for the living room while still getting paid to do what they love.

All musicians need is a webcam and internet connection to deliver their music to a global audience – and several companies are making it easy for viewers to reward their favorite performances with a simple click of a mouse.

We’ve previously shared info on, a multi-million dollar Chinese tech start up that allows groups to interact online in real-time via voice, text and video. Performers on that platform can earn more than $20,000 per month in digital tips from appreciative viewers, but YY is far from the only company currently utilizing digital tipping tech.

Youtube Fan Funding

At VidCon in June, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki gave a keynote presentation announcing that the company would be implementing a new “tip jar” feature.Currently in beta test mode in Australia, Japan, Mexico and the U.S., YouTube’s fan funding option is supported on both the desktop platform and Android app for mobile and tablet users.

By simply clicking the Support button on an enabled creator’s channel, YouTube users can transfer “voluntary payments” of up to $500 per day (minus a processing fee of roughly 5%) from their own Google Wallet accounts to those of their favorite artists.

With more than a billion unique users visiting YouTube each month, this new feature could become a substantial revenue source for indie artists, particularly those with many (generous) subscribers. If you’re a musician looking for a less-annoying way to monetize the videos on your YouTube channel (really, who doesn’t click “Skip Ad” the moment they can?), be sure to sign up for the beta asap.


Similar to YY, Nashville tech startup Street Jelly is an online community where musicians stream live performances in the hopes that viewers will buy and gift them “tokens” that they can then cash in via PayPal. The tokens range in cost from $.20 to $.32 each.

Artists on Street Jelly don’t get quite as big of a cut of the profits as they do through YouTube’s fan funding — the company keeps between 19.9% and 49.7%, which has contributed to it earning around $50,000 in revenue since launching in 2012.

Touted as “Open mic night from your living room!” browsing the site’s performances does feel a bit like walking into a dive bar on a Tuesday night — you might not always find the highest-quality talent, but you are likely to be entertained as a few undiscovered gems pop up.

Viewing livestreams of performances and using the site’s chat feature is free, so music fans can click around until they find an artist they enjoy, and then all it takes is a few keystrokes to reward the performer with tokens.

Hosting performances on Street Jelly is free, so even if a musician isn’t likely to rake in the big bucks, the site does provide amateur artists with a relatively risk-free way to test out new music or maybe just get over the nerves of performing live in front of an audience (the “jelly” in the site name refers to how a performer’s legs feel during a set).

DoclerMusic 2

DoclerMusic is another platform where indie musicians can play live for digital tips. It’s similar in functionality to Street Jelly but with several advanced features, such as voice communication and the ability for artists to directly connect their profiles with their Facebook and Soundcloud pages.

The basic service is free for both performers and viewers, but credits can be purchased and then used to tip favorite artists, fund private concerts, request songs, or receive music lessons.

Performers can cash out their credits twice monthly via Payoneer or PayPal as long as they earn a minimum of $100. Anything less rolls over into the next pay period, only becoming available when the necessary minimum is met.

Musicians also keep an overall smaller percentage of tips (30-60%) than via either of the previously discussed platforms, so while DoclerMusic does boast a much sleeker, better-developed website than Street Jelly, it’s not necessarily the most artist-friendly option.


Thanks to sites such as YouTube, Street Jelly, and DoclerMusic, even amateur musicians living hundreds of miles away from the nearest subway platform or beachside boardwalk can earn tips for their performances. It might not always be enough for rent, but it could probably cover the next round at the piano bar.

As the Co-Founder and Lead Writer/Editor for LA Music Blog, a Los Angeles-based music news and review website, Kristin Houser’s life revolves around music and technology. She has been an avid fan of music ever since discovering her parents’ vinyl collection while still in elementary school, and she is fascinated by all the ways technology allows her to discover new music and share it with the world. She currently manages a staff of fifteen writers and contributors at LA Music Blog, and when she isn’t scouring the internet for her latest musical obsession, Kristin frequents Los Angeles’ many music venues where she can usually be found hovering near the front of house engineer while jotting down set lists in her smart phone. She is very pleased to share her latest music obsessions and all the ways technology allows her to discover and enjoy music with iQ by Intel’s audience.


This month, iQ explores new ways we use information to empower ourselves, the environment and people around us. We look at how data collected by everything from smartwatches to smart cities is leading to better living through big data.


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