Money is a difficult subject to talk about, and not just for musicians. However, musicians have more difficulty pricing their value and time because their music and art are difficult to quantify. Making things more complicated, many beginning musicians struggle to find venues that will allow them to play, and if they do, are performing only for tips. This blog post is for those musicians, struggling to earn a living doing what they love. So below are some methodical and new ways to get more tips at gigs.
1. Ask. If you want people to pay you tips, you absolutely cannot be afraid to ask for them. As uncomfortable as it may be for people, it is a necessary first step. Moreover, in venues where you are only earning tips, many customers may not even realise this reality and if asked to tip would be happy to oblige. Do this after every 2-3 songs, not too often so you don't annoy people, but frequently enough to catch people entering the café or before they leave the venue.
2. Be well rehearsed and prepared. Truth is, if you're not up-to-snuff, people won't tip out of pity unless you're on the street. You're music must be practiced and solid, and showcase your best playing and singing. Intonation, rhythm, timing, musicality, emotion, and contrast are things you should plan, practice, and incorporate in your sets.
3. Educate. Take a moment to explain what tips help cover. Of course for every musician this can be different, but if you have to travel, tips help pay for gas, food or accomodations. Tips help pay for band members you have to hire, the time you've spent practicing and preparing, your rent, your groceries. Educate people that you're not charging a cover and if they want you to keep performing in the future, any and all tips will help.
4. Have a tip jar. If you're playing for tips, have a jar or container to collect them. This is something often overlooked and some musicians resort to some crummy old fedora, but if you can take 20 minutes to glue and paste an attractive jar that is easy to see, read, and attract people's attention, you stand to collect more tips and can use it in the future. Check out the Northwoods Music Pinterest board to check out some cool tip jars; https://www.pinterest.com/lukerotto/boards/
5. Ask a friend to walk around with the jar. We all have a friend or two capable of being a roadie for a night. If they simply walk around with the jar, it's visibility increases dramatically, and if they're a great friend, they might even ask patrons for tips. Of course, remember to share a slice of the tips if your friend goes above and beyond.
6. Walk the jar around during breaks. Not only is this a time to ask patrons directly for tips, but it gives you a chance to mingle with potential fans and concert goers. Ask them what music they like, maybe you can incorporate that into your next set? Play to your audience.
7. Sell merchandise/CD's. Of course this is an extension from plain tipping because CD and tshirt sales can account for their own category. But maybe it can be as simple as a sticker or button or a free download of one of your songs. If someone puts any amount in the jar, they can have one. Not only is this a fair, attractive deal, but a button or sticker is potential advertising!
8. Profit share with a non-profit organization. My Unitarian Universalist Church does this every Sunday, where 50% of all donations will go towards a chosen non-profit organization in the community. Some people were worried when this was implemented that donations to the congregation would decrease, but in actuality, total donations increased! People are more generous when they know they're money is going towards a good cause or organization and not just someone's pocket per se. Moreover, establishing a relationship with an organiztion in town could lead to more gigs down the road in addition to more tips in your jar!
9. Have a ticket raffle. Of course this takes more involvement from a roadie, but it's a fun way to get people to spend more. Instead of 'tipping', people can purchase tickets(red stubs like at a fair) $1 for 2, $5 for 12, or $10 for 25 or however you want to price them. At the end of the night or one of your later sets, pick a ticket and share a portion of the total pot with the winner, and the rest is take home for you. Because of it's nature, make sure to ask your venue if it's alright to do this first. This is a great way to have fun, but also encourages people to stay for more of your music and patronize the establishment you're playing at.
10. Auction a song. Have a binder or listing of songs you are able to perform and on another paper have a silent auction where people write down bids. Over the length of a set, the person with the highest bid may request a song from your binder which you'll play once they put their bid in the jar. You could do this for each set you play so more people bid, or over the length of the night to hopefully increase bid amounts.
11. Live Jukebox. Since you have a binder of your songs handy, let people request a song for $1, $2, or $5 or $10!
12. Placement is key. If the jar isn't moving around the venue, make sure it's parked in a place where people can see it. This may mean more strategy; call the venue to see if they have a stool or high chair/table or bring your own stool or stand.
13. Be the 1st tipper. Make sure before you begin playing that you put some money in the jar. When people see that there is already money in the jar, they often feel obligated to do the same. Plus, you'll get it back later..
14. Be a showman and a salesman. If you're starting out, not only do you need to be a great performer, you have to sell yourself. Be confident, concise, clear, and effective when you ask people to tip you.
15. Pass the jar. Scary, I know. If you do not have a roadie and you're in the middle of a set, don't be afraid to ask the patrons to pass the jar around. Turn it into a game, "let's see if we can get the jar around the room and back up here before the end of this song!" If you turn it into a game and it's crowded, this is a great way for people to tip without uncomfortably wiggling to the jar. Plus, if it's busy, people will be watching the jar be passed and probably won't steal. Especially, if you built your jar right.
16. Fundraise. Share a current goal or project you're working on and a specific dollar amount you'd like to raise before the end of the night. Maybe you're trying to lay new tracks and need $400 for studio time, or headed on tour next week and need $200 for gas. Tell people! You'll be earning tips and advertising your work, too!
17. Don't ramble. With all of these tips, it might be easy to get carried away and spend more time asking for money instead of playing for money. Pick a few tactics and schedule them into your sets.
18. Practice your spiel. I tell my students that the moment they enter on stage until the moment they exit, they are performing. If you take the time to practice your songs, you should take time to practice your spiel, how you'll ask for tips, what you'll share about your music, how you'll explain the raffle, etc... Practice asking for tips.
19. Negotiate with the venue. If you're playing for tips and there isn't a cover, perhaps ask the management to hand out your business card with a coupon to one of your songs to every customer that mentions your band's name; it will give them more business and help share your name and music, all you have to do is tell the crowd to buy something to get their song code. Or, offer to give a portion of the tip jar to the venue if they pass out a song download code without customers even asking.
20. Be gracious. If someone tips you, say thank you. If you have to wait until the song is over, say thank you. If they walked away, walk to them later and say thank you. Obviously, through the microphone is a good start, but if you're able to look someone in the eye and sincerely thank them, you're not just polite, you're gracious and people are attracted to give more. Additionally, say thank you to the fans and customers for attending, listening, and supporting you in ways that are not monetary. Appreciation is a two-way street.
21. Get personal. When people are able to see you more than just a performer, but a human that laughs, tells stories, and is personable, they not only want to support your music, they want to support you!
Bonus. Keep Asking. Many people won't tip you. Don't get discouraged, get persistant.
For more information about Luke check out his bio at https://www.ottoperformancestudio.com/bio