How do you turn a standard music gig into a high-paying affair? Step one: make it easy for fans to tip you.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Good-paying gigs are hard to come by, and while it seems to me that more and more places are hosting live music these days, there’s a lot of competition for those spots. So, when you do land a gig, or a steady stream of gigs, making the most of the event is critical, and that includes doing what you can to earn more than just what the venue is paying you.
Working to boost merch sales is one way to add to your night’s payout, and working the tip-jar angle can also be a way to add to your take-home pay. Here are a couple of ideas to try at your next gig.
Different gigs yield different results, and the tenor and vibe of a particular night will affect how much you collect in tips — some nights just flow and some crowds are more generous than others. But there’s one indisputable fact: if you don’t provide a tip jar, your chances of getting tipped are near zero.
But that’s not where it ends — if you don’t actively promote your tip jar, you will get a lot less than if you encourage, remind, and cajole your audience into stepping up and putting some bread in your jar.
Having a physical jar placed close to the band — but preferably not directly in front of you — is something of a requirement. Having a visible, physical jar, marked “Tips,” or “Band Fund,” or “Strings & Sticks,” or something clever and provocative is just a prerequisite. And not putting it directly in front of the band is helpful as that can be intimidating for people. Not everyone wants to be in the center of the action, and forcing folks to step into the spotlight could be one way to keep them away.
But, in addition to the physical jar, setting up a QR code that leads folks directly to your PayPal, Venmo, or tip jar app is another way to make it easy on folks. Someone at the back of the bar, or someone sitting at a corner table, can show their appreciation by scanning a code and sending you money without getting out of their seat.
Print up some cards with a QR Code and place them on tables, along the bar, or wherever your audience can easily access them. Laminate the cards and use them over and over again at your gigs. Put one on your tip jar table, hang them from your mic stands. Give your audience every possible chance to send you a tip and add to your take on the night.
And, of course, let everyone know, with multiple reminders throughout the evening, that you’ve got a tip jar or folks can just scan the QR Code and send money right to you.
Vote for a tune
My cover band has had success with what we call the “Tip Jar Challenge.” We put two tip jars out and post a sign on each with a song title. Then we ask the audience to vote for the song they want us to learn — or the one they want us to play as the closer for the evening. They vote by putting their tip in the jar for the song of their choice. This approach has multiple benefits.
First, we get to pitch the tip jar by framing it as an interactive experience. Rather than constantly reminding people they can tip the band, we drum up excitement about YOU having a say in what we play, or at least voicing your opinion on what song/artist you prefer. This could work for original bands, too — have your audience weigh in on what cover song/artist they’d like to hear you perform.
Second, it gives some incentive to stick around until the end of the night (if they’re choosing a closer) or come to the next gig. It’s an easy way to keep hyping your next show: “Come out next month, we’re here every second Saturday, and we’ll be playing ‘The Chain’ in May thanks to your vote!” We’ve even, on a couple of occasions, learned the song on a break and performed it that night.
You can also use a QR Code to direct folks to a page on your site or a Google Form where they can vote for the song of their choice. Make sure to include a link to your PayPal/Venmo from there to encourage tips.
Merch discounts, social profiles, and email lists
Got a merch store, YouTube page, or social media presence you’d like to direct your fans to? Your QR codes can get them there. Set up a discount code they can access and apply exclusive to them because they scanned the code at your gig.
It’s also always a good idea to build your email list at a gig, and using a QR code to direct your fans to your email sign-up page is another way to make it easy for them to get on board. If you’re offering a merch discount, ask them to get on your email list first. You can do that for on-site merch sales as well. Scan the code, plug in your email address, and get a discount on the spot.
QR Codes are easy to produce
There are a host of free services online that can produce QR Codes for you, including QRCode Monkey, Canva, and Beaconstac, which also has a paid version that touts increased security and other features. Do your own research and find one that’s right for you. Most provide customization options that allow you to add logos, select shapes, and re-use a code — which can be perfect for a recurring song vote or a variety of discounts over time.
Posters, flyers, postcards
Of course, you can add a QR code to all of your printed promotional pieces to drive traffic to your tip-jar apps, website, socials, YouTube page, Bandcamp page… wherever you want your fans and potential fans to go. Even if you’re busking on the street, add an easel with a poster and include a QR code there. You can accept tips and provide access to your online presence even if a passerby only has a few seconds to spare.
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I know a lot of you out there have a ton of great ideas to share when it comes to enticing patrons to support you and rewarding them for doing so. Add your comments below and share your experience with our readers.
Andre Calilhanna is a decent writer, drummer, and vocalist, as well as a terrible pianist and guitarist. He’s also a book editor and blog manager of the Disc Makers and BookBaby blogs. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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