tips: apropos or passe?

Posted In: Performing

  • Participant
    Jerusha Amado on #188140

    Hi all,

    I play lever harp semi-professionally in Arizona, typically background music at special events held at art galleries. I have received requests in the past from patrons who have asked me to set out a tip jar so that they can put money in it; therefore, after obtaining permission from the art gallery owner, I have done so. But tips are usually pretty scant overall, and I wondered why this is the case when I see coffee baristas’ tip jars (for example) overflowing after a few hours in the morning just for serving coffee. Do any of you use tip jars at your gigs, and if so, what is your experience with them?

    Emily Granger on #188165

    Hi Jerusha – I only play one gig that I set out a tip jar. I’m a regular sub at a hotel in Chicago and we always set out a little table with our business cards and the tip jar. The tips here can range from $0 – $100. Just depends on the day, how many people are there, and if they are feeling generous after spending a large chunk of change on afternoon tea.

    I’ve never set out a jar or even asked for any other gig. I have though, received many tips on various occasions. Either in the form of the client adding it to the check, handing me some cash when I’m done playing, or once even trying to stick it in the strings while I was playing!

    When you set out your tip jar do you put some starter money in there to begin? I have noticed that if I place a $5, $10, or $20 bill instead of a $1 that the tips are usually bigger. Maybe a little sign encouraging tips? The baristas always come up with funny signs “tipping isn’t just for cows” maybe that would get a laugh and a tip out of some people? Guess it just depends on the situation. I’m curious about other harpists thoughts on this!

    Alyson Webber on #188169

    I don’t actually get gigs, yet, but I do go out and play in public quite often in order to accustom myself to nerves and an audience. When I first went out, I wasn’t intending on collecting tips as I figured I’d be so bad, no one would want to tip me! I was wrong, of course, and several people tried to tip me anyway, fumbling with sticking money on my stand with the wind blowing…

    I then added a tip jar, which simply says “Harp Strings Fund.” Now I get people who wait to apologize they don’t have any cash.

    So, either way, you’re not going to make everyone happy. Do what you feel is appropriate for the moment, read the crowd, but bring the jar in case 🙂

    Sylvia on #188172

    I love the Harp String Fund idea!
    I worked a Sunday brunch many years ago. I would put a few dollars into my tip basket to start off, just to make it look like people were tipping. One thing I noticed was if a big tip ($5 or $10) landed in there, that was the end. Nobody else would tip. Most people put ones, so if they saw a bigger bill, they probably figured their one was too small to count. Because of that, I would remove the big bill right away and stash it in my purse. I guess for Emily, it works the other way, so maybe her audience is richer.
    As Emily said, put your business cards by your tip basket.

    Jerusha Amado on #188174

    Thanks to all for responding!

    Emily, I usually put a few one dollar bills in the jar before the gig starts, and if the jar gets too full I take most of the money out of it because otherwise I won’t receive any more tips. I suspect that people assume that I don’t need any more money if the jar is nearly full, which is not true, as rates for an hour of background music have dropped significantly in my area since the recession hit but costs for strings/music etc. have increased. One thing that I’ve noticed is some patrons seem to make an effort to steer clear of me once they see the tip jar. My guess is that they don’t want to feel obligated to tip me. Worse than this, though, is when someone asks for a request and then doesn’t tip me after I play his/her song.

    Participant on #188279

    I have been playing at a local restaurant for 4 years. I always put out a tip jar. Tips vary from a low of $7 in three hours to almost $50. I set out a nice glass jar/vase with some colored glass blobs in the bottom to make it more stable and “salt” it with 3 one dollar bills. Also put out cards (from which I’ve received additional gigs) and CD’s. Don’t sell many CD’s. To put this in perspective, the average price of a dinner here is $15.00 – not a high end place. All restaurants (I’ve done others too) in California seem to expect you to put out tip jars.

    Sylvia on #188281

    I had to laugh when you said you didn’t sell many CDs. Years ago, I made some tapes and took them with me to the Sunday brunch I played. This lady bought a tape and then said…”Oh, good. Now I won’t have to come here anymore. I can just listen to the tape.” I never took tapes with me again.

    Andelin on #188288


    It occurs to me that the venue may be the reason for the difference in tips (art museum vs. coffee shop). People often enter an art museum free of charge, right? So you don’t think of it as a place where you will need cash. But people entering a coffee shop are those who a) can afford not to make it at home and b)are already planning to spend money. Tips are a funny thing.

    And about cd’s, I wonder if people even have CD players anymore. Lol. You’d probably sell more if you had it on iTunes or downloadable somewhere. Put where to find it on the card.

    Interesting comments about tip jars. I haven’t played in public much, but would like to get into doing it more, so it’s good to know about things like this. 🙂

    Jerusha Amado on #188307

    I usually have some cash in my purse wherever I go. Most people I know who are my age (50’s) do. I’m not entirely sure what the younger generations are doing. I have noticed that people in their 50’s and older and the very young (at the urging of their grandparents) tip me. Folks in the middle of these two ranges do not. So there may be an age/generational factor in all of this. I also think that it’s possible that people have not been taught to tip others for special services rendered. When I was young my family instructed me on how to tip others in a wide range of professions to show appreciation for their help to me. Perhaps this element of etiquette is lost to some in our current age of self-absorption.

    Alyson Webber on #188308

    I hope it’s a “don’t carry cash” thing. I have yet to work this experiment, though. This fall, I hope to busk next to our farmer’s market, where people will have small bills a-plenty. I rarely have small bills on me. Usually an emergency $20 and my debit card.

    I have noticed, however, that my presence as a busker does make some people nervous, as if they aren’t allowed to listen unless they want to give you money. They skirt by as quickly as possible. I am thinking of making a sign that says “Tipping not required or expected. I’m here to play for everyone.” Or something to that effect. While I am not there to make lots of money, a little compensation is nice. I wonder if I can get some people to stand around, perhaps more people will feel comfortable stopping to enjoy the music and express that appreciation.

    Jerusha Amado on #188311

    Hi Alyson,

    I wonder if young people in general don’t carry small bills, only debit cards. Maybe some of our younger harpists (20’s-40’s) could weigh in on this point. And I too have noticed some people leaving my area quickly when they spot my tip jar. Concerning your idea of a message on a sign for outdoor venues, I personally like it. Maybe you could add “but appreciated” to the end of the first sentence so that folks know that you would like them to consider tipping you.

    In my typical venue–mid-range or high end art galleries–a sign on the jar or near it would most likely be vetoed by the gallery owner as being too solicitous.

    Allison Stevick on #188312

    My two cents on “young people” and carrying cash: we don’t. I put it in quotes, because I’m not a 20-something anymore… 😉 but I still don’t know many people my age or younger who regularly have cash on hand.
    On the other hand, I DO like to tip when I see street performers, but where I live, that is not a common occurrence. I lived in the UK for a while, and it seems cash is used much more there than in the USA. Also, regulations for buskers- in most places- are far less restrictive (or even nonexistent) than in many US cities, so I got to hear LOTS of street music. I loved that. 🙂

    Jerusha Amado on #188381

    Over the last few days I’ve been investigating a mobile app called ZipTip that allows folks with a Smart Phone and a PayPal account to give tips electronically. Does anyone have any experience with this app?

    Jerusha Amado on #189053

    Just an update: Scanning a ZipTip barcode with a Smart Phone is easy, and paying the tip is not particularly cost prohibitive through PayPal (their payment vehicle) as long as the amount is over $5 but leaving a micropayment of less than $5 is costly and somewhat cumbersome. Normally to send money via PayPal as a personal payment via a credit card, the cost is 2.9% plus 30 cents, but for amounts lower than $5 (which is often what is given as a tip for a musician), PayPal charges 5% plus 5 cents, and their agreement with ZipTip requires that this money cannot be transferred via credit card; it must come through cash that the Payer needs to have available in his PayPal account. If one has cash from a refund that happens to be in his PayPal account at the time that he wants to leave a micropayment as a tip, then the transaction is quick; otherwise, he needs to make a money transfer into his PayPal account from a bank account before he leaves a tip of under $5. My guess is that receiving tips as a musician via ZipTip will most likely not become the wave of the future, at least not unless the tips equal $5 or more.

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