Tip Jar Ideas for Musicians

Photo by Sam Dan Truong. Source: Unsplash

As a musician trying to make your way in today’s industry, it goes without saying that you should have a tip jar at your gigs.

However, simply plopping down your open guitar case at the foot of the stage — while certainly better than nothing — is not going to maximize your haul of tips. And you do want to maximize your tip haul, don’t you?

Believe it or not, the type of tip jar you have certainly does matter. If you want to make as much money as possible, it’s important to play into the psychology of your audience, and do things that will encourage them to tip you.

But, why not my guitar case?

Listen, we know you have seen the classic image of a musician busking with an open guitar case. You’ve seen it in movies, and you’ve probably seen it in real life, too.

The thing is, you are not busking. You are a professional musician who takes themselves seriously, and thus you should have a serious tip jar.

While it’s easy to romanticize the busker, there is a time and a place for using a guitar case as a tip jar and a wedding or bar gig is certainly not it.

Most buskers do not get more than dollars and cents in their guitar case at a time, as people throw these musicians their loose change when they bring them joy throughout their travels.

You’re not looking for dollars and cents. You’re looking looking for tens, twenties, and higher. To make that happen you need to set yourself up for success.

Use a clear tip jar

It’s easy to just throw a little metal bucket, basket, or other non-clear container on the stage and call it a day, however this is not the move.

Your tip jar needs to be clear, and here’s why:

Metal buckets and other such containers are commonplace at bars, and are used for many other things aside from tip jars. They can be ash trays, trash bins, and yes, even tip jars. But not very good tip jars, because they tend to blend in among the decor at your typical bar.

Also, people’s eyes are drawn to money. If people can’t see the money, they you are relying purely on the generosity of strangers and not the psychological impact of the money itself.

When you have a clear tip jar, people are constantly noticing the money. This causes them to consider the tip jar, even if its subconsciously at first.

Then, you wow them with a song, and all of a sudden they’re reaching for their wallets and rushing over to throw a twenty dollar bill in there.

The strangest thing here is that the more full the tip jar gets, the more money that people are likely to put in there. Once it gets going, there’s a snowball effect that leads to you going home a happy musician.

Prime the tip jar

Right from the start, there needs to be no question about what that container is at the foot of the stage. Everybody who looks in your direction for longer than a few seconds should know exactly what it is.

Put a fun label on it if you want, or simply write “TIPS” on it in big bold letters.

Since this is the age of technology and less people are carrying cash, you might want to include your Venmo handle so that people can send you a virtual tip!

We also recommend you start with some money in the tip jar. That way you can break the ice yourself by being the first person to tip the band, taking away that often difficult first step from the audience.

It may feel strange at first, but it goes back to our earlier point about people’s eyes being drawn to money. You put a fresh, crispy $20 bill in there, along with a few other bills, and nobody will miss it.

In this way you are also setting a higher standard for the tip jar right from the jump.

Nobody has to see you drop the money in, either. You can toss it in there while you’re out in the van and simply carry it in that way.

Glass vs. Plastic tip jars

Since it’s decided upon that you need a clear tip jar, now it’s time to decide between the two clear options: glass or plastic. There are pros and cons to each, but they are both good options.

Glass

Pros

  • Offers classy look, and is perfect for a more upscale event where people will be dressed in formal attire and not partying too hard or near your equipment. This could be a country club, fancy steakhouse, or charity event.
  • Cheap and easy to find. Glass containers are a dime a dozen and can be found at your local thrift store in many different shapes and sizes for just a few dollars.

Cons

  • There’s no question about glass being delicate. If it gets knocked over it is liable to break. This means if you’re playing a rowdy event like a wedding or a late night bar gig, you may want to skip the glass.
    • A glass tip jar could even break in the midst of your gear on the way to the gig, which would leave you without a tip jar.

Plastic

Pros

  • Much more durable than glass, and is not likely to break if knocked over.
  • Even cheaper and easier to find than glass, with an even greater variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
  • Plastic containers can be put to multiple uses, including carrying smaller gear items to and from the gig. You do not have this flexibility with glass.

Cons

  • Not as classy of a look. While some plastic containers can look quite nice, it will be tough to find one that would look as great as its glass equivalent.
  • Lightweight and prone to being blown or knocked over. At an outdoor concert on a windy day, you will have to worry about your tip jar blowing over, sending all the money inside flying.
    • Putting rocks in the bottom does help with this, but it takes away from the look and may lead to drunken hooligans putting rocks in your tip jar.

Our recommendation is that you have a couple of different tip jar options, and you decide which one to use based on what kind of gig you’re playing.

For the fancy stuff, you can bring your glass container, and for the parties you can bring your plastic one.

Now get out there and bring home the Benjamins!

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